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.)

Not-so-clever photo editing

Mashable reports on an unbelievable blooper from a company that really should know better.

Microsoft published at least two different versions of an ad, editing the photo in one. The change made was to replace the head of a black man–and only the head–with the head of a white man. While the change is not as noticeable if one only sees the Polish version of the image, it’s glaringly obvious if one sees both versions.

This was a PR disaster in the making from the beginning. To their credit, Microsoft did issue an apology in a prompt fashion. But really, you’d think Microsoft would know better. So should their ad agencies. It would make more sense to have extra models and shoot two pictures. It’s understandable to localize advertising, but it’s inexcusable to be this sloppy and this insensitive about it.