Left in the dark: Reliant drops the ball

If you live in any of the areas in Texas where electric utilites have been deregulated, you have probably heard of and may even be a customer of Reliant Energy. And you’ve likely seen the TV commercials where they poke fun at “Power Incorporated,” a fictional too-big-to-care retail electric provider. As alluded to on a recent post to my other blog, Quinn’s Big City, we (my mom and I) were suddenly left in the dark by a customer service blunder, where none other than Reliant plays the part of “Power Incorporated.”

It all started in the middle of my afternoon nap on February 21. I heard the computer in my room switch off shortly after noon, which was a bit unusual, but I figured it was electrical maintenance in the area, or a blown transformer, or something of that nature.

Fast forward to 4 pm or thereabouts. We are still without power. I send mom a quick text message asking if she knew why we’d be without power. While waiting for her response I call Centerpoint (the utility company which handles outage reports and actually maintains the wires on behalf of the retail electric providers; I’ll try to explain this in comments if I’m confusing anyone). Of course, Centerpoint proceeds to tell me it was a disconnect ordered by Reliant, which I confirm by noticing a red seal on the electric meter.

We find out later that Reliant had been sending the bills to an address where we no longer were receiving the mail for (specifically, a townhouse that had been sold months ago). Apparently, instead of asking if the billing address was current, the customer service representative at Reliant that handled the activation just used the address they had on file from the last time my mom was their customer, assuming it was still valid. That, folks, is Reliant’s “Power Incorporated” moment. It takes only a few seconds to ask “what’s your current billing address, is it still 123 Elm Street or should it be the new service address at 4567 Apple Drive?”

To their credit, Reliant did own up to their screw-up and our lights were turned back on later that evening (we were originally told they would not be back on until the next morning), turning a near-disaster into a slight inconvenience. My concern remains, though, that this could easily happen again to someone else. It’s only common sense to make sure the address is still valid–especially when the computer database’s “last updated” date for a customer’s address is years into the past, as it was in this case. (If they are keeping the address, certainly they know when it was last updated, and if nothing else, know when this customer last had service through their company. If not, of course, that’s an even bigger problem.)

2 thoughts on “Left in the dark: Reliant drops the ball”

  1. I hate to say it, but you guys were partially in the wrong here. Unless they shut you off almost immediately after missing your first bill, didn't you wonder why you weren't receiving any bills from Reliant? Keeping track of the incoming bills and outgoing payments is something that everyone should be doing. I have a small checklist that I had laminated and use a dry-erase marker so that I can check when a bill comes in, and when I've paid it each month, that way I know if something is missing, or hasn't been paid. In other words, if you had realized you were missing a couple of Reliant bills, you would have been able to call and say "uh, we haven't been receiving bills, what's up?" and not have your power shut off, even for a few hours, and avoided the whole fiasco.

    Yes, Reliant should have checked the address when they signed you up, and it was a boneheaded thing on their part to assume you were still using the same address, despite service being elsewhere, but at the same time, you should have realized you hadn't received anything from Reliant as far as billing was concerned, and wondered why.
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  2. While I do realize this, Reliant also had (at least) my mom's current mobile phone number (which hasn't changed in about 10 years) and according to her, they never called it to ask where their payment was.

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