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Off-Topic: ‘Common Sense’ Outage at Energy Australia

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Today we had a statewide power outage (accross Victoria/Australia – the state that Melbourne is located in) – that started at about 3:45pm for me. It wasn’t nearly anything as bad as what the guys in US have experienced (and in fact only ended up lasting 3 hours wheras up to 15 hours was predicted by my power company) – but the opposite extremes of temperature we are getting over here made it a little more challenging.

Its summer in Australia – and we have had quite a few pretty hot days – today being 40 degrees Celcius (104 Fahrenheit) – and some really intense bushfires has made life hell for a lot of people (well over 1 million hectares of land has been destroyed in Victoria alone over the past couple of weeks). Sadly – many of those directly being effected by the bushfires are farmers – and have also been enduring a crippling drought over the past few years (with a few extreme weather events destroying what crops they have grown).

So anyhow the reason for writing this post (other then to talk about the weather) – was to have a bit of a whinge about my electricity company (Energy Australia) and their (lack therof) common sense in dealing with the power outage.

Here goes….
When the power went out – first thing I did was check the fusebox outside – all good. Being unsure if it was an isolated problem (that needed to be reported) – or something affecting everyone  – I decided to give them a call. I was unable to get through on my mobile (possibly due to power outage?) – and managed to dig up an old ‘powerless’ phone from the garage so I could use the land line.

When the phone is answered (busy on first 4 attempts) – I get the usual automated system – ‘please enter the dept you want to speak to etc etc’ – and it also gets me to type in a number to indicate where I am located. I’m put on hold I get a couple of messages telling me that the ‘next available operator will be with me’ – and weirdly, apart from that there is dead silence on the line (no hold music or advertisements about their business).

While I’m waiting – there’s no message/announcement whatsoever indicating any power outage is occuring – so I am beginning to think its just my local area.

25 minutes later I am finally put through. I should mention that I’m also in the front room of the house (sort of like a sunroom) as I need power to use a phone anywhere else – and the temperature inside has climbed well into the mid 30’s – with no ventilation. So this environment isn’t helping my mood.

Operator answers – and makes me go the full 9 yards on verification (asks for my life history – dob, address,account etc etc)..

Me :  (Frustrated – its now 30 minutes into the call). Hi – There’s a power outage at this location. Is there any known issues in my area. (she has my full address by now)..

Operator : Oh… are you in Melbourne… Yes there’s a statewide outage – I can see it on my screen.. The power will be out at least until 9pm (5 hours away) – although probably won’t be back on until tomorrow morning.

Me: (dawns on me that I’ve been on the phone for no reason). Oh – is there some reason why Energy Australia couldn’t just have put a general recorded announcement rather then me having to wait 30 minutes to find this out? And why did you have to go through the entire verification when you knew I was in Melbourne already (I entered this at the start of the call)– wasn’t it obvious what I was calling about?

Operator : (Puzzled as to why I would even say this) Umm No…. There’s no recorded announcement..

Me: So this outage is effecting everyone in Victoria?

Operator : Yes..

Me: Ok – so you have 2 million operators standing by to take each call individually and explain to everyone what is going on?

(I should note that this figure is probably an exaggeration – but they are one of the main power providers – and there’s I think 4-5 million people living in Victoria)

Operator : err. No… (still doesn’t get it)..

Me : Don’t you think it would make sense to have an announcement.. You think you are busy now – wait until everyone gets home from work and wants to cook dinner – your systems will be completely overloaded. Do you think you guys might save everyone a lot of pain and just put an announcement on there so they don’t have to wait on hold?

Operator : Err.. Yes that’s a good idea…

Me : So you are going to make this happen..

Operator : (Non committal / vague response) – Umm I’ll put in a request..

(I realize at this point that nothings going to happen and quickly finish the call)

And just to point out too – this operator is Australian (not located in India – which may have been an acceptable excuse).

So anyhow – I simply can’t understand why a company like that doesn’t realize the win-win situation all around is to just put a recorded announcement indicating there’s a mass outage. That way everyone can find out what they need to know quickly (and make appropriate plans) – and operators can be left alone to deal with more serious/urgent issues. However – with no recorded announcement – each and every customer has to wait on hold for ages (and the phones probably would have got jammed as people started to arrive home from work or cook dinner) – all so the operator could repeatedly tell customers the same thing. 

At least they could have some override in the Operators autocue/script (for these situations) – so they don’t waste your time with a full verification check just to see whats going on. They are after all a power company – and outages are not some totally ‘rare’ event – so you would think they had better measures/processes in place to deal with it.

Its just plain dumb. And totally frustrating for the consumer (and a waste of time when the issue at hand is already causing headaches).

Interestingly enough – I’ve experienced this exact same issue with both my ISP and my Webhost/Email provider. That is, they refuse to post any information on their ‘status’ pages of mass outages – and force you to wait ages to speak/chat with a live operator just so you can find out the same problem is being experienced by everyone.

I’ve pulled each of them up on it quite a few times and they simply won’t change their ways, nor offer any explanation why it hasn’t been done. Both these companies have status reporting online (both of which are also generally unaffected by outages) – so it’s not like they need to do some additional coding/deployment before it can be seen. The systems are in there and working – they just need to use them…

<phew> ok – got that out of my system…. now it’s back to enjoying air conditioning, electricity and all the wonders of the modern world. (how on earth did they manage hundreds of years ago!)..



Written by mobilewares

January 16, 2007 at 1:58 pm

Posted in General

One Response

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  1. Surprising that they don’t routinely use recorded announcements. Our local electricity retailer down here in Tassie does use recorded announcements for larger outages (not very common) that uses caller ID to automatically tell you that there is a known outage in your area, but you can wait on the line if you still want to talk to an operator. Similarly Netspace is the ISP I’m with and they’ve used recorded messages in the past to let you know when there are large scale outages.


    January 17, 2007 at 2:11 am

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