I had an unfortunate situation with my power company earlier this month. I need to put it all down before I forget the details, and so I have something simple to point to as I continue to try to get a response from Georgia Power.
In mid-May I got two letters in the mail from Georgia Power, which to me came out of the blue. Prior to this mess, I believed myself to be a perfectly upstanding customer of theirs.
- The first letter informed me that my payment to them for the previous month’s power bill bounced, for which they were charging me $30.
- The second letter informed me that because of multiple late payments and this bounced one, I was being charged $150.
I was very confused, frustrated, and alarmed at these. Surely there had to have been a mistake. So I called their customer service line to get more information and ask for these to be removed or waived, since I was skeptical I had done anything wrong.
I was on the phone for half an hour discussing and disagreeing with the representative. Here were the problems:
$30 – Bounced payment fee
I knew I had changed bank accounts for payments recently. But I went on the Georgia Power website and switched the numbers on “My Payment Accounts” earlier in the month. Apparently I needed to also change the completely-independent “Auto Pay” account for this problem to not occur. So despite trying very hard to make sure this banking transition to a new account would be smooth over many online payment sites, I failed.
$150 – Lost deposit
As a person paying their own power bill for the first time, I had no idea that the time frame to pay once receiving the bill was not the month for credit cards, but rather, after receiving email notification, only ~5 days. “Draft day”, to my naivete, did not immediately signal “due date” to me. So I had been paying my bills late more than half the time. This, combined with the other problem, made me lose my deposit, which apparently I will get back in a year, now that I know this and can pay on time regularly. But I’d bet this is a mark against me in the future.
My thought on all this is that I deserve blame for my negligence, but not all of it. I don’t even think most of it. I’m not making a fuss, and I’m trying to be fair.
For the first issue, the bounced payment, why would data called “My Payment Accounts” be totally separate from automatic payments? Why would I not get a larger reminder than small blue text below the page that doesn’t emphasize the difference? I remain frustrated at the unintuitive website and information they keep in isolation.
For the second issue, I was given no notification that anything was wrong or that I had made any mistakes until this month. I instead had the impression that everything was fine! I was told by the customer service rep that looking at the payment date on the online list and comparing it to the date on the PDF of the bill is enough indication that I was paying late. That is apparently all I would need to see to know I was perpetually paying late.
Not, perhaps, being emailed about it. Ever. Not, perhaps, any text on the bill that said, “late” or showed anything was wrong. Never mind the fact that I have little reason to read my bill when the total and payment pages eliminate that need. The bill gives zero indication that anything is wrong. The website does not notify you. Only after you pass some threshold where you owe them money are you notified.
The customer service rep even mentioned the possibility of my power being cut off! Would I have been warned or cautioned before then?!
What kills me about all this is that I am not a customer to worry about. This all feels so needless. I am stable, I can easily pay my bill, and I already ate the first fee just so I didn’t owe them anything immediately. Just let me know if I’m doing something wrong!
Half an hour on the customer service line got me nothing but sympathy and another number to call the next day. I did call “executive service”, and got voicemail. Eventually I got a return call while I was away that asked for the wrong person. Still playing phone tag up to now.
Like I mentioned to the customer service rep I talked to, I had a positive impression of Georgia Power until now. I’d like to keep it by seeing some acknowledgement that this situation was preventable in part on their side. A better-designed website and earlier (or any) notice of issues would have solved the problem a while ago.
(Edit on 29-05-2014)
After tweeting this at the Georgia Power Twitter account, I got a response in the morning. I gave them my email address to continue the conversation asynchronously.
Just a bit ago I noticed an email from Gaydrea Brown at Georgia Power/Southern Company that said a few things:
- Mrs. Evans, who I called on the second line, removed the security deposit payment after the first missed call.
- Ms. Brown was waiving the $30 fee.
- More information and advice on how payments work, which will hopefully be unnecessary with me having automatic payments in place properly now.
- They were going to pass along my comments to those who might be able to act on them.
From Ms. Brown to Mrs. Evans to the rep on the Twitter account to the original customer service rep who, while she couldn’t help me much, did give as much information as she could, everyone was kind and helpful. I’m happy to leave this situation quite positively, with more information for myself and a good interaction with the company.