For nearly a day, I couldn't reach MLGW about my power outage | Weathersbee
As I was about to whip up my favorite green smoothie Monday morning, my blender quit working. So did my television. And my lights. And my ceiling fan.
My electricity had been shut off. And until after 4 p.m., I was in the dark as to why.
I was in the dark because I wasn’t behind on my Memphis Light, Gas and Water bill. Nor was there an outage in my neighborhood. There was no storm. No tornado.
Baffled, I called MLGW’s customer service number for answers. What I continued to get was an automated response about high call volume and to call back later.
Because my cell phone had dwindled to 20 percent power, I didn’t have a lot of later to work with. So, I drove to MLGW’s headquarters on Main Street in hopes of talking to a human. But its offices were still closed because of COVID-19.
Then I took my laptop and phone to a Starbucks to recharge and to work. I tried reporting the problem on MLGW’s chat feature, but I kept getting disconnected.
Mercifully, I had a tax appointment – and as I vented to my accountant about the prospect of returning to a dark apartment, he made some calls for me.
Turns out he knew people who knew people at MLGW.
I was finally able to reach a customer service supervisor who explained that my power was turned off because I failed to return a residential service agreement. The federal government requires such an agreement to ensure I’m not a terrorist.
Apparently MLGW mailed the agreement to me months ago, but for whatever reason, I never received it.
Maybe it will turn up in my mailbox along with all the other magazines and correspondence that was mailed out months ago. Or maybe it’ll turn up in one of my neighbors’ mailbox, as have a few pieces of mail.
But although the representatives who helped me get my power restored that night did a splendid job, I can’t stop thinking about how were it not for coincidence, I might still be sitting here in the dark two days later – and still in the dark as to why.
Power outages could lead to tragedy for some
I also can’t stop thinking about while my problem would likely wind up being more of an inconvenience for me – I had someone I could stay with as it was being worked out – it could be a crisis for other MLGW customers.
Crisis – as in someone struggling to afford 5 to 6 percent more for inflated food prices watching it all spoil because somehow, no one at MLGW called them to notify them that their power was about to be shut off because of some missing paperwork.
Crisis – as in someone’s home dialysis machine being shut off because no one could get through to an MLGW representative to turn the power back on.
In Memphis, where a third of Tennessee’s dialysis patients live, that kind of disconnect could lead to tragedy.
Crisis – as in an asthma patient in a city that has one of the nation’s highest asthma death rates being unable to breathe because he or she can’t power the nebulizer.
Also, Memphis and Milwaukee are the nation’s second poorest cities – and the Centers for Disease Control has found that most impoverished households are cell phone-only households.
Meaning that for many Memphians, calling MLGW back later to see what’s going on with their power isn’t an option if they run out of power on their phones. They can't even report a life-threatening emergency if they're out of juice by the time someone responds.
Meaning that MLGW must do better.
But, West said, “This problem has our full attention, and I’m talking to our board about this issue. We are aware of the seriousness of it…”
MLGW must ensure others don't endure this
In the meantime, a few options exist.
If MLGW could place at least one or two representatives in its downtown office, that could help.
Even if they encounter long lines, the notion that a customer will, at some point, move up in the line to talk to a real person about his or her problem is more comforting than an automated message perpetually directing them to call back later.
Second, MLGW should consider holding a job fair strictly to hire call center workers. West said the jobs pay around $30 an hour, so it might attract enough employees to alleviate the shortage.
Again, this column isn’t about me as much as the MLGW customers who aren’t me.
It’s about those customers who don’t have the connections to help them get to an MLGW supervisor who could fix their problem.
It’s about those customers who can’t get an answer on why their power is out but can’t afford to refill their refrigerators if that outage causes their food to go bad. It’s about those customers who must have power so that their kidneys are cleansed, or so that they can breathe.
MLGW must ensure that no customer endures what I endured.
All because they couldn’t get a human on the phone.
Tonyaa Weathersbee can be reached at email@example.com
Memphis Breaking News and Sports 2022, Memphis Breaking News and Sports Home page, 31 March 2022, Memphis Breaking News and Sports.Available from: https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/news/columnists/tonyaa-weathersbee/2022/03/31/mlgw-shut-off-my-power-took-day-find-out-paperwork/7218629001/. [31 March 2022].