Our customers really only want three things: reliable service (no outages), a fair price and good service when needed. I have written about our reliability (https://www.notlhydro.com/outages-blog/) and our rates (https://www.notlhydro.com/notl-hydro-rates-comparison/) so would now like to discuss our level of service.
NOTL Hydro tries to provide a level of service befitting a local service that is effectively owned by the residents and businesses it is serving. This is also the direction of our Board. The following are some of the ways we try to achieve this:
- In person customer care. If you need some assistance you can come to our office at 8 Henegan Rd anytime during office hours which are 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM every business day. The only exception is the week between Christmas Day and New Years Day when we are closed. Do not try this if you live in St. Catharines, Thorold or many other municipalities. At our office you will be taken care of in person by one of our Customer Service Reps. I used to be proud of the fact that at our office there was only a waist level service desk between our representative and our customer. The pandemic meant we had to install a glass barrier as well but we still try to make it welcoming.
- Via e-mail. You can e-mail us any time at firstname.lastname@example.org. These e-mails are accessible by all our reps and are responded to the day they are received or the day following if sent after office hours.
- By phone at 905-468-4235. Calls to this number can be picked up by any of our representatives. As per our scorecard, https://www.notlhydro.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/NOTLhScorecard2020.pdf, 90% of calls to this number are picked up within 30 seconds. There are times when call volumes are high (usually outages) so you may end up at voice-mail in this case but this is not often. If that happens, please leave a message and we will get back to you. After hours, and occasionally at busy times, our calls are forwarded to a call centre service. This call centre is located in the Niagara region and we have been using them for many years. They know how to get in touch with us after hours if needed.
- Connection or operational issues. Our engineering technicians also deal with customers on a daily basis. This would usually be for any issues related to your connection or changes to your electrical connection such as upgrades but could also be related to electric cars or solar panel installations. It is usually a qualified electrician who deals with our engineering technicians (they speak the same lingo) but it can be the customer. To meet with our engineering technicians, we ask that you call ahead and make an appointment.
- Disconnects. Removing service for nonpayment may not seem like a service but our staff do everything we can to prevent customers getting to the point that we have to disconnect them. In addition to the required reminder notices and disconnect letters we also call customers many times to encourage payment or make arrangements before we get to the point that a disconnection is necessary. This includes providing contacts at support agencies and calling other family members if we know this is an acceptable option. Some months we have been able to get to the point of not having to disconnect anyone.
- Welcome to Niagara-on-the-Lake. NOTL Hydro is often one of the first points of contact for new residents to the Town. In addition to getting these customers set up for electricity and water, our staff are often able to provide other important contact information so the new residents can be set up with other services such as gas, internet and the post office, provide them with some directions to get around town or provide them with important information or contacts such as for garbage pick-ups.
- High Consumption. If a customer has a sudden increase in consumption a representative may reach out to them. More commonly, customers will call to try to get an understanding of how they are using so much power and what can be done. Our staff will show the customer how to access and use our online platform (Customer Connect) and walk through their profile with them. The consumption patterns can sometimes identify the use of power (furnace fans for instance) and NOTL Hydro representatives can provide some guidance for other next steps or corrective action.
- Outage alerts. We get alerts when there is an outage and have occasionally restored power before a customer is even aware they were out. That is not unusual. However, sometimes we get alerts when the customer still has power. When this happens, it is often that there has been a partial loss of power. The customer still has electricity so is not aware of a potential problem. We follow up on these and are often able to identify and correct the problem before this becomes a full outage.
- Power issues. NOTL Hydro sometimes get calls complaining about power quality or no power when we can tell from our instruments that our power is getting to their meter. By regulation, we are not actually allowed to do any work on the customer side of the meter. However, we will often still go and investigate, and sometimes test, as we are often able to give our customer guidance as to the nature of the problem and what needs to be done to correct it.
- NOTL Hydro deals with a lot of contractors and developers. We also get a number of compliments from contractors and developers. They like us because we deal with them in the same manner as we deal with our customers: with respect, by listening to their needs and by acting in a timely fashion. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, we often require developers and contractors to pay the maximum allowable share (often 100%) of new installations as this helps keep rates down. The developers and contractors would actually prefer this to paying less but getting much poorer service. Some advocates of a consolidated electricity distribution industry argue that developers and contractors would then only have to deal with one utility. I suspect the developers and contractors would rather deal with multiple electricity distributors, many of whom will have service like ours, than one distributor with poor service.
The best way to provide good service is to have a good team and to have a strong message that we are here to serve our customers. This does not mean that the customer is always right. But it does mean that we treat our customers with respect, fairly and in a manner that we would like to be treated.