PG&E issues apology for billing mistake

August 23, 2010 7:57:38 PM PDT
A San Jose condo owner is breathing easier tonight after PG&E threatened to shut off her power, then later admitted it made some mistakes. It's a case with some dramatic twists and turns.

PG&E has acknowledged several mistakes. First it under billed this woman, then it overbilled her before threatening to cut off her power and the utility now says it's sorry.

Janice Paredes first noticed a problem when she received a bill in January for $255; that's nearly three times more than the prior month.

"When I saw that, I thought, oh my gosh," she said.

She made several calls to PG&E before finally getting an explanation. It seems PG&E had under billed her the prior month and added the under billed amount onto the next month's bill.

"I said it doesn't make sense. It's too much. This bill is not correct," Janice said.

And she was right. By lopping both bills onto one month, the utility put her into a higher tier. The more energy you use, the more you pay and PG&E eventually adjusted her bill by $177.

"We wanted to obviously as we've done with this customer apologize. We did make an error," Matt Nauman from PG&E said.

This is one of many apologies PG&E has issued of late.

"And when some customers called us with questions, we weren't as responsive as we should have been. That's unacceptable and for that we sincerely apologize," PG&E VP of Customer Service Helen Burt said.

"We have reached out and apologized to them," Nauman said.

"We certainly do want to apologize to the customer," Jeff Smith from PG&E said.

Dr. Kit Yarrow is a business professor at Golden Gate University. She says PG&E gets good marks for mastering the art of an apology.

"There's something very lovable to consumers about an apology," she said.

But she says apologies only go so far and the company needs to get its act together.

"And so if the company makes the same mistake over and over again, ultimately their apology is seen as insincere," Yarrow said.

For Janice, the apology and refund didn't put an end to her problems. There was the issue of the past due reminder notice which threatened to shut off her power if the past due amount was not received before March 26.

That threat was lifted, but she also wanted a full explanation of how her refund was determined. She said months went by and no one would give her one.

"I was done. OK, I might as well send a letter to Michael Finney and I know they'll take care of it and it worked," Janice said.

We got her a full accounting of her refund and she's now satisfied.

"I wanted to say thank you for getting me the information that I had been trying to get from PG&E," Janice said.

PG&E learned from its mistakes and maintains that customer service is improving.


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