Let me ask you a question:  What would your reaction be if you received a $700.00 gas bill in the mail today?  Would you be surprised?  Maybe a bit confused?  Outraged?  Well, if you are like me, my first reaction was: “WHAT THE FUCK? ARE THESE FOLKS CRAZY?    Now, maybe you aren’t as free with cuss words and foul language as I am, but when I opened the envelope and saw the amount I owed Washington Gas I pretty much hit the roof.  After all, as far as I could tell my furnace was operating pretty much as it has for the past three years, likewise my kitchen stove, and I hadn’t detected some massive gas leak either inside or outside my house over the past month.  Plus, my bill also included a “Disconnection Notice” if I didn’t pony up by April 26.  So, I thought, what the hell is going on here?  And almost as much as my shock over my $700 bill, was my dread at having to deal with Washington Gas "customer service."  Not quite as much fear and loathing as when I have to deal with AT&T and/or Comcast both of which seem to be populated by people who haven’t a clue about why those of us who inhabit the real world hate these two organization SO VERY MUCH.  But I digress.

 Screwing up my courage and willing myself into as close to a nirvana-like state as practical under the circumstances, it occurred to me that I should check out my account online.  Which I did.  Except the very first page after putting in my ID and Password, was a page asking me to revise my password.  In very explicit terms, by the way:  between 8 and 16 digits, at least 1 capital letter, and to include numbers and at least one symbol.  “Oh,” I thought to myself, I hadn’t been there in over a year, "I guess they’ve upped their security."  Logged in and:  NOTHING!  My name, yes, but no account number, no address, phone number, no past bills, current bill or anything that resembled data and information.  “Damn,” I thought, “they’ve dumped me from their system. How odd.” (A “WTF?” passed through my brain just then.) I mean leave it to a public utility to simply erase my very existence from their records.  

Thing is, my Washington Gas account has been on auto-pay as are most of my utility accounts since I spend so much time outside the U.S. every year.  This has been my standard SOP  for at least four or five years.  Reluctantly, I punched in the telephone number indicated on my $700.03 bill for “Customer Service” not daring to even think about what this phrase might mean to the WashGas folks.   After answering a few security questions, the women asked “What can I do for you today?”  “Well,” I said, “I’ve just received a bill from you for $700.05 and I’m a bit shocked about that, plus you seemed to have deleted me from you online system.” 
“Mr. Sorg,” she continued, “ I want to apologize to you for this situation.  You see, some 200,000 accounts on auto-pay were deleted from our system.  It’s no fault of yours, but back in November we had a problem and that’s why you have such a large bill and why your information doesn’t appear on our system.”  She didn’t say that they had been “hacked” but I sort of filled in the blank there.  She continued:  “Let me take care of this right now for you.  As for the amount of your bill, that is your gas usage since last November 2015.”  Good news.  “Also let me reactivate your online account for you.” 

I have to say the woman could not have been more polite and helpful.  I can imagine what other customers might have put her through given that $700 is not exactly pocket change.  I’m thinking “rage,” “wrath,” and “fury” here.  But it all worked out in the end although it’s going to take some time to reinstate my auto pay so I sent them a check, much relieved, thank you very much.  I’m still curious about why it is that I hadn’t heard or read about the destruction of a couple of hundred thousands of customer accounts in the news.  Hmmm.  Odd that.

But here’s the deal.  Since this account was on auto-pay from my checking account, I had no idea that it wasn’t being paid.  I also didn’t notice that I hadn’t been receiving paper bills from the gas company.  Yes, I do check out the transactions in my checking account (although I have not balanced a check book in maybe two decades, if not longer.) so the absence of a payment to Washington Gas wasn’t something I would really notice.  Not noticing that I wasn’t receiving paper bills at home?  All right.  Who can explain?    It’s the aging process. 

I actually got the massive bill last Thursday.  I thought I had better take a day to calm down, so that I wouldn’t threaten whoever was randomly selected to handle my customer service case when I called with bodily harm or murder.  But then my loathing for all things having to do with “utilities” and "Customer Service" over the phone made me put it off until Monday.  And, as things have turned out, I’m glad I did.  When your week starts off with an event you imagined would be a disastrous foray into the nether world of “Customer Service” that is verily defined as "We Don't Really Give A Shit" and "Are You Kidding Me?" coupled with pleadings, negotiations and threats and it turns into a rather pleasant, if surprising, experience, what could be better?  The week is looking good!  So far!  But then I do have a note on my desk that I have to call Comcast.  WTF?

Have A Good Day!    

NOTE: Just tried accessing my Washington Gas online account that I "created" this morning.  Put in my ID, then my 12 place passcode: 2 numbers, 9 letters (one a Cap) and a symbol.  Got an error message: "E-mail and Passcode Don't Match."  Ah, so I must have entered my new info incorrectly.  Tried one more time making sure that I entered the correct passcode.   Same error message.  OK, I thought, maybe if I use my old one it will work.  No such luck.  Now I'm locked out of my account.



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