There is a great problem with monopolies: they don’t have to offer any unique proposition beyond their mere existence. Where I live in Houston, I have a great number of electricity providers to choose from. I have two national internet service providers. When it comes to water and natural gas, I’m stuck dealing with a local monopoly.
Now Centerpoint Energy is not a bad company. Their performance in the stock market is indicative of the fact that they are doing something right at the corporate level.
However, they garner overwhelmingly negative reviews from social media outlets. People hate Centerpoint Energy with a fiery passion, one normally reserved for telemarketers and snake oil salesmen.
I recently dealt with the absurdity that is Centerpoint Energy when a payment that I made failed to clear. I have a new checking account with Discover Bank, which I opened to take advantage of an introductory offer. I have paid bills consistently and on time for the few months that I have been residing at my new home, so my history with Centerpoint is short.
When this payment failed to clear, I called Discover Bank and asked that they waive the fees that they had assessed on my account as a one-time courtesy. The representative on the other side of the line happily obliged, and told me that I would be liable for any fees assessed during the rest of the year. No problem, I said. I was going to make sure that this situation would never arise again.
Then I tried to contact Centerpoint Energy. Their website makes it challenging to find the regional office. From my account view, they would much rather I fill out a contact form, with the assurance that my concerns are important to them. I sent a brief message advising that I had some issues with my new bank account, that I had remitted payment once I was aware of an issue, and that I would like the fee on my account waived as a one-time courtesy.
I waited for three business days, but no response was forthcoming.
I then scoured their website in search of their phone number. With this piece of information handy, I called in, and kept dialing zero until I was connected with a human being. This took roughly five minutes of holding on the phone – not egregious, but definitely nothing to be proud of.
I explained my situation to the voice on the other end of the line. “Sorry,” that voice said back, “We do not waive fees when the customer is at fault.”
I paused for a moment, then asked, “Couldn’t this be done, just this once?”
The representative shot back, “Everyday we handle calls just like yours, and we can’t reverse that fee.”
“Our bank charges us those fees”
I explained that I called my bank, with whom I have a limited relationship, and that they were able to waive the fee on their end. Banks assess fees all the time. There is no such thing as a fee that cannot be reversed by a bank, not one that they have noted in an account holder’s ledger.
The representative made clear that she was unable to help me. I asked to speak with her supervisor. A brief hold ensued.
I was on the phone with an individual who identified herself as being representative number one’s supervisor. I explained the situation. “Sorry, we can’t help you,” was the response. The supervisor’s voice told of her annoyance at having to deal with a baffled consumer. “It’s not in our policy to waive these charges.”
I then asked to speak with the supervisor’s supervisor. She put me on a brief hold, told me that her supervisor was busy, but that I’d receive the same response. I said that I would still like to speak with this individual. She took down my name and contact information and promised a call back.
This call never came through.
I tried again three days later. Once again, I was met with the same response. Once again, I asked for a supervisor. This time, a man’s voice rang through. He was similarly unhelpful. I asked for his supervisor who was, again, unavailable. He took down my contact information and promised a phone call back, again assuring me that nothing would be done. The error was not on their part, he said. I asked under what circumstances a fee might be reversed. He suggested that if someone on their end made a clerical error, say, entered the wrong number while drafting an account, then such a fee might be reversed. As if there are real human beings inputting numbers — but who knows: a local monopoly doesn’t have to be technologically sophisticated, because there is no competition.
I waited once more. Again, this call from the man’s supervisor never came through.
I resigned myself to paying this fee one time. But never again. Never again will I allow a payment not to clear because of an error on my part. Never again will I rely on Discover Checking’s online banking system for bill payments, because their hold period on funds is too long. But that is a story for another time.
Until then, the complaints against Centerpoint Energy will continue to fall against deaf ears. The company will continue to amass a small fortune, in part because it has trained its people well in the art of refusal. The consumer will rage against the lack of grace shown by Centerpoint Energy, and Centerpoint Energy’s shareholders will continue to reap the dividends from so many automatically assessed fees.
I will invest in Centerpoint Energy because they will continue to perform well, up until the time comes that their precious local monopolies are destroyed. Perhaps then, they will be moved to change.
Until then, fuck Centerpoint Energy. Certainly not its people, mind you. Fuck this monstrosity of a company for its inability to serve the needs of its customers beyond the bare minimum required of it. Fuck Centerpoint Energy for allowing supervisors at its call center to let requests die, unattended.
For that matter, fuck most local monopolies.