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Meaningless Guaranteed Standards: My Interaction with JPSCo Ltd.

We had a power cut at our residence on Sunday March 8 2020 at 5:00pm. Service was restored some 17 hours later on Monday March 9, at a little after 10:00am. This was the second such extended power cut in only weeks. In following up on this particular outage, I called JPSCo’s 888 Customer Care line at 7:00am on the Monday morning. I provided the requisite evidence of our initial report the evening before and the response that I got on Monday morning from the customer care agent compelled me to document the entire ordeal and it got me thinking…

What exactly does a “Guaranteed Service” Mean?

According to the Office of Utilities Regulation (the OUR), The Guaranteed Standards are performance measures that guide the provision of utility services delivered by the National Water Commission, small water providers and the Jamaica Public Service Company Ltd. If the companies fail to honour the agreement, the customer is entitled to compensation which is applied as a credit to the account. Customers should know their rights and hold the utility service providers accountable.”

There are several Guaranteed Standards for 2014 to 2019 where JPSCo is concerned, covering issues from disconnections, to incorrect billing, to emergencies, etc. Check them out on both the OUR website and JPSCo’s own website.

In the wake of this latest extended disruption of service, I revisted the guaranteed standard related to emergencies. JPSCo is supposed to respond to emergencies as follows:

Response to Emergency calls within five (5) hours – emergencies defined as: broken wires, broken poles, fires.

Now I am not sure if a power-cut to a residence is defined as an emergency. However, whenever I call the 888-225-5577 number to report an outage, I am told that JPS will respond in 1 to 6 hours after the report is made. No problem, I will work with the 6 hours. I accept that as my Guaranteed Standard from the JPSCo as it relates to residential outages.

JPSCo

My Specific (Latest) Story with JPS

When our power was not restored more than 12 hours after logging the report, I wrote to JPSCo. I called their corporate office and secured email addresses for the President of the Company, the COO, the Senior VP Energy Delivery, the Senior VP Customer Services and a few other JPSCo employees whose email addresses I had on record, since the service reliability from JPSCo in my neck of the woods has been notoriously poor from the first day we moved there. Here is the email I sent on Monday March 9:

Dear Sirs:

We lost electricity to our residence in Coopers Hill St. Andrew at 5:00pm on Sunday March 8, 2020. It was a clear, cool evening, with a light breeze. There was no explosion heard when our service was interrupted.
My husband, copied on this email, in whose name the account is, called the 888 Customer Care line and made a report at 5:03pm:

Our reference number is 178xxxx.
I left for work at 6:23am this morning, Monday March 9, 2020 and service had not yet been restored.
I followed up with a call to the 888 number at a little after 7:00am this morning and was advised that a team had not yet been dispatched.
How come?
Isn’t there a service level agreement in place where JPS commits to responding in 6 hours after a complaint is lodged?
I queried this with the agent on the line and her response was that
“the morning teams start their shift at 7:00am so one will be dispatched as soon as possible…”
But we made our report at 5:00pm the previous evening. So why were we held hostage until the start of the morning shift? I reiterated your service level agreement to the agent and asked her what next? What happens to the customer when JPS does not honour their SLA?
Her response was:  “I can escalate for you.”
Please put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Would this response reassure you? Would this response enlighten you?
In the absence of your product (electricity) information is the next best thing.
A more appropriate response would have been: “I see where more than 6 hours has elapsed from the time of your making this report, Kelly. I will immediately escalate this and here is what you can expect to have happen.”
Additionally, I was unable to get a sense from your Customer Care agent as to how widespread the issue was and the root cause of the issue. I’d like to know. It has been our experience that the more we know, the better for us. We have often used root cause information to guide your company in restoring power in our neck of the woods. You see, your service reliability is notoriously poor in Coopers Hill, St. Andrew. Multiple weekly power outages are the norm for us.

In summary, here are my issues:
1. JPSCo’s response time to power outages is unsatisfactory. This is the second time since the start of the year that you have failed to live up to your service level agreement in this regard in Coopers Hill St. Andrew. It feels as if this stated SLA is simply a statement with zero meaning or implications. What do we get when you renege on your commitment?

2. There appears to be a huge disjoint between your Customer Care operation and the operational reality on the ground. All your agents appear to be is a one-way messaging service. You could cut costs by getting rid of them and simply instituting a voice mail system. They add zero value in their present configuration to my reality. Ideally, they should be able to connect with the operation and provide meaningful information to your customers in terms of nature and extent of outages and root cause information. It is not uncommon for different agents to provide conflicting information when pressed about the same outage.

  • I invite your comments on my issues as outlined.
  • I’d also like to understand what happened in this specific instance why on a clear evening, we lost power and more than 12 hours later, we were still without power.
When JPSCo doesn't deliver
When JPSCo doesn’t deliver

The JPSCo Response

I received a telephone call at 11am on Monday March 9 from a gentleman who identified himself as a Dispatch Team Lead. He asked if service had been restored. By this time, service had been restored, at a little after 10:00am. He promised to answer my specific questions as to the root cause of the outage and why it took 17 hours to remedy.

We spoke again at approximately 3:30pm that same day, and he advised me that windy conditions contributed our service interruption, that they had a high volume of outages responding to, and that a fallen tree limb had been found to be on lines carrying electricity to the area. He assured me that I would get a formal reply from JPSCo.

I also got informal feedback from another JPSCo employee on Tuesday March 10 who I know personally and who saw me ranting on Twitter on this latest power-cut. She confirmed what the Dispatch Team Leader told me the day before, and she too promised that I would get a formal reply.

As at today, March 16 2020, a week later, I have not received a formal response from JPSCo.

So What Exactly Does a Guaranteed Standard Guarantee?

Based on the feedback I received from the various JPSCo operatives I interacted with in the wake of that 17 hour service interruption which started March 8 2020, I have concluded that a team had not been sent to deal with our issue until 7:16am March 9 2020. A team was only dispatched 14 hours after the report was made. So what exactly does the Guaranteed Standard mean to me?

Perhaps I will get an apology, maybe an explanation, but nothing more. Maybe a breech in the guaranteed standard will cause an internal department to be marked down in some sort of an appraisal system. So what! At the end of the day, the Guaranteed Standard is a promise to the Customer, and if that promise is not kept, how is the customer compensated? So far I’ve gotten informal apologies and partial explanations from caring employees and no official explanation or response to my 2 specific questions. I still want to know why it took more than 14 hours for a team to be dispatched to deal with my report.

When a Guaranteed Standard Guarantees NOTHING, here is what happens:

Customers believe NOTHING that comes out of the organization.

The President of JPSCo, Emanuel DaRosa, put out a statement geared to reassuring Customers that his organization was ready to deal with the COVID-19 global pandemic and its potential impact on on Jamaica. Click here if you’re interested. It means nothing to me. And by now you understand why.

Minister Fayval Williams and Emanuel DaRosa, President of JPSCo
Minister Fayval Williams and Emanuel DaRosa, President of JPSCo
Photo credit JIS

It is funny (not really though) that in a press conference on Friday evening past, the Minister of Science, Energy and Technology, Fayval Williams, in giving her update to the nation about our preparedness in the wake of the global pandemic caused by COVID-19, not 3 minutes after reporting that JPSCo had given her assurances that they were ready for any exigencies, we experienced a power-cut! Unbelievable.

What exactly is JPSCo’s Culture when it comes to Customer Service?

I think there are employees of the organization who really want to delight their customers. I think many of them wince when the public criticizes the organization they work for. But….

I am disappointed that all the feedback that I’ve received to date on my specific complaint and questions has been informal and not even acknowledged by the executives I took the time to write to. It feels back-doorish and almost clandestine. Why haven’t they even been able to say to me that they have been instructed by executive management to deal with my issue? Why is executive management so silent? Lead from the front and demonstrate to the staff that you value the customer and take feedback seriously!

The Way Forward

The Customer interface via the 888 number needs to be empowered with more information than they have access to at this time. They are merely one-way message boxes.

  • They can never tell me with any certainly how widespread an outage is.
  • I wish there were a system in place for customers to be updated on the root-cause of the outage. A system generated text message upon resolution that is automatically sent to the cellular phone number associated with the account.
  • The fact that it took over 14 hours to dispatch a team to deal with my issue means that you have resource constraints. So why make promises you can’t keep? Or better yet, increase your capacity to respond to issues in order to meet your own guaranteed standard.
JPSCo Linemen at work
JPSCo Linemen at work
JPSCo Photo

2 thoughts on “Meaningless Guaranteed Standards: My Interaction with JPSCo Ltd.”

    1. Hi Nadene. How does what exactly compare with international best practice? I can better address if you are more specific. I made a number of recommendations and levels a number of criticisms in my post.

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