The power company reinforces the value of great service

I recently had a great customer service experience with San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), my local power company. They're pretty much the only game in town if you live in San Diego and use electricity. Fortunately, SDG&E realized that good customer service is still good business.

The Situation
An SDG&E contractor broke a sprinkler pipe in my yard while working on some SDG&E equipment that is adjacent to my lawn. I called on a Sunday and filed my initial claim, but was told that the claims department wouldn't open until Monday. Someone would call me then.

I braced myself for the expected hassle and runaround, but what followed was a trio of surprises that exceeded my expectations.

A gentleman named Mike from the claims department called me on Monday morning. I was truly surprised to get a call as promised.

Why is this such a big deal? Too many companies don't call in this situation. That prompts another call from the customer. And another. And another. It aggravates the customer but also wastes valuable company time to deal with the some complaint over and over again. It's always better to put the problem in the hands of a person who can fix it and let them fix it right away.

I was bracing for a mountain of bureaucratic paperwork. Instead, Mike simply apologized and suggested I use my own sprinkler guy to do the repair. He told me I could send the bill directly to him and he'd make sure I got paid.

What?! Where is the bureaucracy? Where was the expected accusation that I was somehow trying to rip them off? What's up with this helpful single point of contact business instead of making me call another number and re-explain the problem?!

Mike's actions made things easy for me but they also saved SDG&E a lot of time too. Making me wade through a maze of bureaucratic steps would make it necessary to employ a legion of bureaucratic gate keepers to patrol the maze. Problems can and will happen, but customers shouldn't have to suffer more than necessary to get them fixed. Mike was able to resolve the problem with a minimal amount of contact and effort on both sides.

A reimbursement check came in the mail a few days after I sent my receipt to Mike. I had expected it to take forever to get my money, so it was a real surprise to get the check so quickly.

Wait - aren't big utility companies supposed to be evil?

It turns out that being evil can be much more expensive than doing right. Let's imagine my check didn't arrive quickly. I'd probably call again. The labor cost of that extra phone call would offset any marginal savings gained from delaying payment. In fact, each time I called, the company would be deeper in the hole. Better, and cheaper, to just send the check and get it done.

So there you have it. A customer service lesson from the utility company. Be on the lookout for flying pigs!