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Opinions Mon, 20 Jun 2011

Stand up if you hate ECG

Saturday Diary

Stand up if you hate ECG

Millwall Football Club is based in South-East London and until the last decade or so had a fierce reputation for uncompromising hooliganism. Its terrace chant or song is known as “No one likes us but we don’t care”. This could well be the official slogan of the Electricity Company of Ghana, indeed not just a slogan but a belief at the heart of its customer care policy. It would appear that ECG goes out of its way to antagonise its customers, or at best treat them as something the dog dragged home. There is no other rational explanation. However, I need to digress with this caveat before I tell you how ECG ruined my entire weekend from Friday to Sunday without any need whatsoever. The people working at ECG are not bad people; definitely no worse than the general population. But they work for a bad company, and the company is bad because it has brought with it all the bad traits of a state-owned monopoly that we thought had been left behind in the old century. ECG appears not to have learnt the basics, including the often quoted adage that the customer is queen and king. Otherwise how can you explain what happened to me? I am a prepaid ECG customer, which means technically ECG owes me money even before it supplies me the electricity I pay for. If ECG fails to supply, as is frequently the case, there is scant little I can do about it, although ECG, as is its wont, will blame it on the other components in the power supply chain. By another of those peculiar ECG quirks, I could only buy power from the ECG office in Accra Central, and given the distance and the traffic buying electricity is a complete day’s production; remember that ECG offices work the “normal” working day. Last week Friday I went to the office to buy power and stood in the queue for nearly 40 minutes. Now, think about this. We can assume that the number of people buying power at the Accra Central office would increase at lunchtime for obvious reason and as such the number of people serving customers would also increase, but that is not the ECG ethos. The queue kept lengthening and customers twitched and jerked in nervous impatience; it meant nothing to the staff some of whom could have been deployed to the payment counters to shorten the time spent by customers in the queue. It did not happen. There was a lady in the queue who kept sitting and standing in order to relieve her discomfort due to physical disability. You would think the ECG staff would give her priority service. It did not happen.

After 40 minutes my turn came and that is when the drama began. The lady at the counter told me that she couldn’t sell the power to me because my meter had been changed. I assured her that as at the time I was leaving home my meter had not been changed but I wouldn’t know if it had been changed in the few hours since I had left home. This brief exchanged excited a small crowd of other ECG people – the very people who could have helped at the counters now took an animated interest in the meter wahala. I was advised to go to Room 5 to have the issue resolved. I went to Room 5, where a kind gentleman informed me that indeed my meter had been changed. I assured him that my meter had not been changed. He then ran a check on his computer and confirmed that indeed my meter had not been changed. He suggested that his people could have come to my house to change my meter but couldn’t do so because I was absent. Two questions: one, why is it that the information available in Room 5 cannot be given by those at the payment counter ? Second question: why can’t ECG print simple cards announcing to absent customers that an employee from the company had visited their premises and provide a number for the customer to call? Is this rocket science or do we need foreign exchange or government directive to practice this practical and commonsense communication? Not our beloved ECG.

But the kind gentleman had not finished with me because he informed me further that the software that runs my type of meter had been deleted from their computer. How that was possible while my meter still ran and consumed my money was a technological mystery but I realised that talking science would not help me so I asked the kind gentleman what to do. He said they would install my new meter on Monday, so I asked further what to do if my power ran out before then. He advised me thus: if you have two fridges switch off one of them to conserve power. I was surprised he didn’t tell me to go outside and read by moonlight. With that advice ringing in my head I went my forlorn way, possibly to spend my weekend in the dark. In truth, I knew that I had enough power to last the weekend, or possibly even up to Tuesday, if I switched off my fridge, microwave and any modern conveniences around! I went out of town for a couple of hours on Saturday and was surprised to find my meter changed while I was away. The ECG meter people simply went into my house and changed my meter without my notice or permission. Remember we are talking of a company working on the Millwall Principle: No one likes us but we don’t care.

The new meter, unlike the old one, came in two parts: one to enable the flow of power and the other to hold the card and transmit information to ECG. The curious thing is that ECG appears to be moving against the technological trend that sees different units being integrated and miniaturised. In any case, the card holder was left outside with the card sticking out; any bloody-minded hooligan could have slipped into the house and taken the card away. I shudder to think of what ECG would have done in such a situation; it would take a minimum of six months to resolve.

So, at this point I had a new meter but apart from the owners instruction or manual, ECG had not provided any information, for example about where to load the power or even a number to call. Stop dreaming, this is Ghana’s own ECG we are talking about! I had to navigate my way around the new equipment, and soon discovered that there would not be enough power to last till Monday. I tried to call the kind gentleman but no joy and started scrambling for any information that could help me buy power for the weekend.

My search took me to many places in the Eastern parts of Accra and the nearer reaches of Tema, and most outlets, while being sympathetic could not help, either because their machine had not been configured to take in the new cards or the card was giving an error signal. On Sunday night, the inevitable happened and the impending darkness duly arrived. On Monday, I arrived at the ECG office to find Room 5 full of sad looking and frustrated people. To a person, they all had stories similar to mine. The kind gentleman asked one of his staff to “clean up the errors” on my machine, but when I got home the machine still could not read my card. It took a team to come from Central to do whatever magic was required to give the electricity I was ready to buy three days earlier.

I have to repeat that the people – as human individuals – working at ECG are good people but they are working for a despotic monopoly that has not found an imaginative and visionary way to respond to the demands of customers and customer care in the modern era. This may not be deliberate; despite whatever our national constitution says, ECG can do things to us that the President and the National Security are barred from doing because I can change the government if I am not happy with the party in power but we are all stuck with ECG if we don’t want to read by moonlight or want to drink our pure water a little colder. ECG is aware of the power of such monopoly and this has willy-nilly defined its attitude towards its customers. Take it or leave, is the message. ECG - No one likes us but we don’t care!

As I have discovered talking to other ECG victims, if I were to shout: Stand Up if you hate ECG, the entire country would be on its feet, and ECG’s reputation would be assured.

gapenteng@hotmail.com
Columnist: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi