How Many Different Ways Does This Say Disconnect?

by Marianne Richmond on February 19, 2008

Bob McCarty at Bob McCarty Writes sent me an email today thanking me for using his photos in my recent post about the tragic shooting in Kirkwood, MO and suggesting that since I was in marketing I might be interested in his photos of an Ameren UE billboard.

burying-power-lines-bob-mccarty.jpg

As he notes on his blog, this billboard which is partialy obscured by hanging cable and phone lines, is part of the $1billion Power On program that has as one of its components a “substantial underground cabling effort.”

The program apparently was initiated following numerous power outages over the last several years throughout the AmerenUE service area. We live in AmerenUE land and have been through several multi-day power outages resulting from trees falling on power lines. I have written about these adventures in the context of gratitude for the hot coffee and free Wi-fi at Panera Bread.

However, Bob’s photos illustrate the other aspect of those power outages: power lines disconnecting the company from its customers.

During both power outages that we experienced (one in the depth of winter and one in the summer heat) AmerenUE was completely inept at communicating with its powerless customers. During the first outage, when one was finally able to reach AmerenUE, the first choice granted by the automated system was to make a payment. It went downhill from there.

In a world of technology the friendly folks at AmerenUE insisted day after day that they had no idea when crews would be working in my neighborhood as if the guys in the trucks got in them each morning and flipped a coin to decide where they were going to work that day. No schedules or plans here.

During the second outage, similar disconnect. At the end of our ordeal we received an automated call informing us that crews would be in our neighborhood that very afternoon after our neighbors had phoned to tell us that the lights were on and the crews were leaving.

As I read the press release tonight about Project On which is a three year program(I must have missed it in July…..damn wires!) I was struck by four especially disconnected statements by AmerenUE:

  • Thomas Voss, Ameren UE President and CEO states: “We know what out customers want. When they flip the switch they want their lights to come on.” Now, this is what I call keen customer insight.
  • Voss is appointing a FULL TIME project manager for the{$1 billion} project. Well, I think that is probably warranted….500,000 residents without power in November 2006. Yes, this is a full time job for a company that has 1.2mm customers.
  • In April 2007, AmerenUE hired an “experienced consultant” to evaluate “its reliability and storm response.” Hmmmm, well 1.2 million customers and a storm, half a million without power I would have to say unreliable. No charge.
  • And maybe the “forward look statement” clause is my favorite: ” Statements in this release not based on historical facts are considered “forward-looking” and, accordingly, involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those discussed. Although such forward-looking statements have been made in good faith and are based on reasonable assumptions, there is no assurance that the expected results will be achieved. These statements include (without limitation) statements as to future expectations, beliefs, plans, strategies, objectives, events, conditions, and financial performance.” Sorry, about all those things we just said….well, maybe/maybe not. But we are interested in a dialogue with our customers. Press 1 to pay your bill.

So Bob, thanks for the photo heads up of yet another company that disconnects with their customers. Unfortunately, we don’t have a choice about doing business with this one.

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