Friday, July 29, 2016

 Customer Service

As a consumer with a problem with a product or service you have many options. You can return to the retailer where you will find the clerk, manager or owner to file a complaint.  At a larger business a whole department is set up to handle returns or complaints.  On your utility, phone and other bills you can find an 800 number for customer service.  If all else fails the Better Business Bureau, the state’s office of consumer protection, the local media outlet and finally the legal system.
As a business owner and a dealer for many products we do not have the same options as a consumer.  Many times we are left with the costs of repairing equipment that should be covered under the manufactures warrantee.  For the retailers and service centers getting support and satisfaction can be impossible. 

These are some of my stories of searching for customer service.


One would think that the propane industry would focus on safety.   After 40 years of pumping propane this is not true. We have fired suppliers twice because of safety issues.  Our current Propane filling station has been modified since the state of Pennsylvania safety inspectors approved a system that had 2 safety gates that would have been blocked during an emergency. 

Agway Petroleum supplied us with propane from 1971 until 1994.  For the most part Agway as a company did a good job when it came to addressing safety issues.  However, safety is a 24-7 job and when employees at the local supplier got sloppy Agway Nazareth was fired. 

In the summer of 1993 Agway added an additional liquid propane storage to the Forks Township store. Unknown to us the workers cracked a fitting between the two tanks this cracked fitting created a small leak.  The workman apparently reported the leak to the local manager however they decided it did not need to be fixed.  During the summer the propane leaked and quickly evaporated. However, during the bitter cold snowy February of 1994 the leaking propane gathered under the snow and the cold weather did not allow the propane to evaporate. 

We first ignored the slight odor of propane however when the odor got stronger and was an obvious leak we contacted the local plant manager.  After 2 weeks we again called the local Agway distributor and the manger reported that parts had been ordered to fix the leak.  When I questioned how he knew what parts needed to be ordered since the untouched cover of snow proved that the system had not been looked at.
I gave the manager 24 hours to complete the repair,

When they system was not repaired the next day I gave an ultimatum to the Agway Manager.  He had 1 hour to get workman on site or I would call 911 and report the leak.  Within an hour Agway workers were digging through the snow and replacing the fitting.  They used very colorful language in describing their displeasure of being forced to work out in the cold.  A week later I hired a new company.    


In dealing with large companies with dozens of levels of management you need to understand that at the top are company officers with hopefully sound and honest business practices that spend their days working on ways to improve products and service.   

However when you call the 800 number for customer support you are hoping the CEO answers the phone, however you know the CEO doesn’t talk to consumers.  After hours on hold and discussing your customer service issues with different levels of customer service many consumers just give up.  Defective products, ineffective customer service is not good news in the board room however the bad news never reaches the upper levels of management.  

Somewhere along the management tree a roadblock is erected to prevent complaints from reaching upper management.  

AmeriGas is a bad company in a bad (the propane) industry.

When we hired AmeriGas in 1994 we received brand new Storage, pumping and measuring equipment.  The contract mandated the AmeriGas would maintain the equipment and make regular safety inspections.  As a large volume pumping station the equipment was used hard it had not been maintained as promised.  by 2014 breakdowns and safety issues were increasing. 

The local manager mostly ignored our complaints of malfunctioning equipment and showed his annoyance by stopping automatic deliveries and adding our name to the past due accounts robo-calls even though we were up to date with payments.  I found a way around the plant manager to get propane deliveries by calling the after hours emergency line and get my propane dispatched from the call center.  Finding support for equipment breakdowns and safety issues was a different story.  I decided I needed to do an end around both the local manager and the emergency center.  E-mails failed at the call center the employees did not use real names and would not pass the calls onto a supervisor.  This didn’t stop me from calling other numbers in the system.

One day trying to handle an equipment breakdown I got a full name and a phone number from a Call center employee.  When the local manager refused to dispatch a repair truck I called my friend at the call center.  Instead of reaching the call center the call was answered by the parents of the call center employee.  I guess the rookie employee was so flustered instead of giving me a fake number he blurted out his parent’s number.

In requests to speak to the boss of the local manager I was told that he works in an office without a phone and when they needed to converse with him they would send an e-mail that would be answered in a few days.

(I am picturing this rouge manager sitting on top of a propane tank much like Marlin Brando in Apocalypse Now.)

Less than an hour after the polite phone call to the parents  Col. Kurtz the rouge district manager was on the phone threatening me.  I was told If I ever called the number again I would be sued out of business.
 I agreed to discard the number if I could get the number at the regional manager’s office.  With a few more threats he hung up.  My next call was from the local manager begging me to discard the number in the end the local office decided to replace the dangerous gallon meter.

I got the gallon meter replaced however now the regional manager got involved with continued harassment so when they refused to address another safety issue I hired a new company.  

AmeriGas lost a large steady account because they refused to address customer service.  

When I see an AmeriGas ad I think how stupid they are.  They are paying to find customers on one side and losing customers because of sloppy safety practices and customer service.