Monday, December 29, 2014

Direct Energy Woes Continue with Recent Customer Service Issues

Recently I decided to get rid of my Direct Energy water heater. Our family needed to investigate a new furnace and Air Conditioner as well as wanting to add a Natural Gas BBQ line for our BBQ in our backyard. The opportunity presented itself to investigate which was more economical, to continue to rent with Direct Energy or purchase our own. 

The first stop was to pull the facts together by investigating the Direct Energy Water Heater rental charges on our Enbridge bill. When we began investigating our options back in July 2014, Direct Energy's monthly charges are on bill were $25.49 plus $3.31 in HST for a total of $28.80 per month. 

I had noticed that Direct Energy had been quietly increasing the rental rates of the hot water heaters on a yearly basis between $0.50 and $1.00. So I knew the price probably was only to increase instead of stabilize for a while. But how would this compare to owning?

I started by searching out reputable companies in the local area who were referred to me by either friends, condominium management companies and consumer choice awards. I wanted to make sure that I could trust a company with our large investment in replacing our Furnace, Air Conditioner, BBQ line and, possibly, hot water heater. After receiving the referrals, Googling them and trying the BBB ratings, I began asking for quotes. Fast forward through the summer and Ottawa HVAC was selected. 

I did a quick calculation and found that in five and half years I would have recouped the purchase price of the water heater in comparison to renting with the current Direct Energy rates.  With a 6 year parts and labour warranty along with a 8 year tank liner warranty I easily was covered by both a reputable company and a well known brand name water heater warranty. So no need to fear the Direct Energy threatening marketing letters that if my water heater were to break I would be out hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for some obscure part.  Add in the fact that, according to a number of sources, the average water heater lasts between 8 to 12 years with Direct Energy claiming up to 16 yearsThus, by the time all was said in done, owning seemed better than renting.

I communicated with Ottawa HVAC off and on until September. They gave me a complete list of instructions about the days they were coming, what they expected to happen and the time frame they hoped for barring any surprises in construction that might pop up. Ottawa HVAC did a top notch job on the place and only needed 1 extra day due to bringing a short ladder. But they apologized and had it fixed the next day. They even did all the paperwork for the
Ottawa Hydro / Ontario Power Authority rebates on the new furnace and A/C and submitted it and took back the water heater to Direct Energy at no charge.  Great company!

Direct Energy though was another story.  

I knew going in there was likely to be issues.  The Toronto Star's Consumer Columnist, Ellen Roseman, has written extensively on consumer issues involving Direct Energy both in her printed columns and her blog.  A simple search in Google of "Ellen Roseman Direct Energy" is enough to make your head spin.  So I went into investigating the Water Heater return knowing I would have to do meticulous notes as there was likely to be issues and runaround.  

Even before giving Ottawa HVAC the go ahead, I did my homework on how much it was going to cost for Direct Energy to end my current contract and accept the water heater rental unit for return.  I had read many a horror story of others being charge outlandish rates by Direct Energy to end their contract and be charged $75 to have them come and pick up the unit.  Then of course there were the Water Heater return horror stories like Michael James' where the water heater was returned and signed off for and yet Direct Energy continued charging them the rental rate

So I wanted to Direct Energy to confirm with me what exactly was going to happen for the return and how much this was likely to cost before I started the water heater process.  In other words, lets get Direct Energy to clearly explain over the phone, with them recording it for "Quality Assurance Purposes" of course, what exactly the process was step by step and costing before blindly going forward with little success. 

Note:  Below includes the phone records.  Phone numbers were obtained either via reviewing my Enbridge bill or searching via Google.


The Research

Below are the section of the phone records I wrote on the phone call with the Direct Energy Water Heater Rental Department.

August 20, 2014 @ 4:40 P.M. - 1-866-554-5591 - called Direct Energy Rental Department and spoke with "Michael", a Customer Service Representative in the rental department. He pulled up my file and we went through it together.  I asked the  Questions and  Michael, at Direct Energy, answered the questions below: 

Question: What are the charges to return the water heater?

Answer:

- No cost to drop off.
-No billing would occur after the unit is returned.
-RMO slip is provided to contractor upon when completed with an Rental Removal Order number printed on that. Make sure to get a copy of it for your files.

Question: What are the steps to return them?

Answer:
1. Get a reference number by calling the same number you reached me at, from Direct Energy which is good for 30 days.

2. HVAC company removes and returns water heater.
3. HVAC company receives RMO slip.

4. Customer gets RMO# and if possible, name, date, and time equipment was returned.

5. Check next bill for correct charges.

The Return


Ottawa HVAC scheduled the work at my home to begin September 8th with the Hot Water heater being the first on the list for removal and the tank to be returned to Direct Energy on September 9th. 

Following Direct Energy Michael's Instructions I set forth to begin the return process.

September 8, 2014 @ 2:20 P.M. called 1-866-554-5591 and spoke with Charles.

Asked for Return Reference Number. Charles transferred me to rental team for Number. Kira picked up. Kira put me on hold and call dropped.

September 8, 2014 @ 2:26 P.M. called 1-866-554-5591 - no answer

September 8, 2014 @ 2:31 P.M. called 1-877-334-1846 and spoke with Chandra. Chandra gave a return authorization number of ########-#

I also requested from Chandra that a "no mail" option be enacted so Direct Energy would not send advertising mail after contract was up.

September 9, 2014 - Water Heater Returned to Direct Energy Rep "Chris 4" at "FSL Location 17 - Climec" by Ottawa HVAC (Company TSSA# ####). Tank Serial # is ###### and was removed on September 9th. 

Note: on further research the tank was returned to this Climec in Ottawa. 

After the return, I wanted to double check how the billing would work in terms of timelines. Again, I wanted Direct Energy to explain the billing process, while recording the call for "Quality Assurances Purposes", before things went awry.

September 10, 2014 @ 9:59 A.M. - 1-877-334-1846 -spoke to Tina
Went over how the billing sequence would work.
- 30 to 60 days a credit would be issued .
-next Enbridge bill will be credited for differences.
-Billing will be reconciled to date of return.
Sixty days for this entire process to correct itself? Things were to smell a little fishy. I decided to do a little more research.

September 10, 2014 @ 10:04 A.M. - 905-943-6944 - billing # on Enbridge bill for Direct Energy.
- Spoke with Amad
-couldn't tell me how long after return paperwork would take before seeing credit on bill.
-said he would note on account that water heater was returned and paperwork forthcoming.
-Transferred to water heater return department.
-Call dropped.

September 10, 2014 @ 10:13 A.M. - 1-866-334-1846
- Denver picked up and I asked for manager.
-Denver brought up account and put me on hold.

September 10, 2014 @ 10:17 A.M. - Ashley Manager/Supervisor picked up. 
-30 days for billing to reconcile
-pay next bill in full
-Refund from date of return will be done to Enbridge Bill.
-2 weeks to confirm return of water heater then send paperwork over that Ottawa HVAC has.

Awesome, 30 days (i.e. the next Enbridge Bill after the September bill) everything would be fixed supposedly! Even better a "Billing Manager/Supervisor" confirmed it. Things were looking up a bit. 

The Billing Fiasco

On September 21, 2014 I received my regular Enbridge bill dated September 16th in the mail. I paid the $25.49 + HST charges for Direct Energy in full as directed by Ashley.

On October 23, 2014 I received the my regular Enbridge bill dated October 16, 2014 in the mail.  Interestingly enough there was a charge of "$5.10" for water heater service between "September 13, 2014 -September 18, 2014."   How was this possible considering the water heater was returned on September 9th and signed off by a Direct Energy representative?  So what were the charges for September 13th for and where was my refund for the unused rental term from the September bill?

Ashley's own billing department had also proven her wrong.  This was going take unnecessarily longer than 30 days to fix and closer to previously promised 60 days.  No wonder, it was going to take 30 days for Direct Energy to screw it up and then another 30 days for Direct Energy to fix it.

But here is where the story gets even worse and frustrating.  Direct Energy was obviously willing to obfuscate the issue so much  I would forget about it.  Here is Direct Energy's tactics that I came across:

- repeated dropped calls.
-representatives & "managers" refusing to listen admitting Direct Energy was incorrect.
-representatives and managers issuing case numbers that later proved to be incorrect
-false claims of customer engaging "legal representation" (i.e. lawyer)

But I refused to submit to Direct Energy's various attempts to basically make a no cost water heater return cost something.

Back to my written phone records:

October 23, 2014 @ 3:15 P.M. - 1-877-334-1842
- Jessica picked up.
-transfers me to billing.

October 23, 2014 @ 3:16 P.M. 
Sandra from billing comes on very low volume. Call drops 2 minutes in after she attempts to get my
information.

October 23, 2014 @ 3:18 P.M. - 1-866-386-1134 - Direct Energy Phone number on Enbridge bill.

-Leonar picks up.
-Confirms Direct Energy received water heater on September 8, 2014 based on what she sees.
-Says Customer Service Supervisor would need to resolve this issue.
-puts me on hold.

3:29 P.M. -Leonar gives me Case # ########, repeats it back to me to ensure correct number record and transfers me to Customer Service Manager.

3:32 P.M. - call dropped.

October 23, 2014 @ 3:33 P.M. - called 1-866-386-1134 - number on Enbridge Bill for Direct Energy.

- Patrice picked up.
-Not billing and would transfer me.
-call dropped.

October 23, 2014 @ 3:36 P.M. - called 905-943-6944 - number on Enbridge Bill for Direct Energy
-Tim picked up.
-explained full story of Water Heater Return and issue with charges.
-told case# was incorrect and new case number is needed.
-I refuse to take new case number and request to be transferred to Customer Service Manager
-repeat request to be transferred to Customer Service Manager.
-3:46 P.M. - transferred to Customer Service Manager.
-3:53 P.M. - Customer Supervisor (didn't get name) picked up. and I explained issue.
-3:58 P.M. - put on hold by Customer Service Manager
-4:07 P.M. - call dropped. 

October 23, 2014 @ 4:09 P.M. - Sent Tweet to @directenergy
-requesting assistance and explaining poor Customer Service.

October 23, 2014 @ 4:11 P.M. - called 905-943-6944 - number on Enbridge Bill for Direct Energy.
-asked to speak to billing manager.
4:29 P.M. - no billing manager available as no one picked up after being transferred, so hung up.

October 23, 2014 @ 4:30 P.M. -@directenergy requests DM of phone number to have someone contact me.
-send back my phone number via DM for Direct Energy to follow up with. 

At this stage, I've attempted multiple times to deal with Direct Energy directly to resolve an easy billing issue that any customer service focused company could have easily taken care of.   But Direct Energy was definitely not interested with proof in their methods of obfuscation.  It was time to step it up a notch and get Direct Energy's attention to see what I could do.  

First step, I decided to make sure Direct Energy definitely took notice of my issue, I  tweeted to Toronto Star's Consumer Columnist Ellen Roseman (@EllenRoseman) who I know is a customer service professional in terms of righting wrongs with many a company.

October 23 @ 4:11 P.M. - Ellen responds via Twitter that I should send an e-mail to her with all the details.

It took me a little while to type out all my phone into an e-mail to forward to Ellen. Meanwhile the Direct Energy situation continued to evolve.

The second step was to contact the actual company that issues the bill and accepts payment on behalf of Direct Energy, Enbridge to see what they could do. With Direct Energy having permission to bill on via Enbridge, Enbridge must have a way to help out their beleaguered clients.

October 23, 2014 @ 4:38 P.M. - call Enbridge Billing at 1-877-362-7434
-Ashley picks up.
-Explain the issue with Direct Energy hot water heater return and billing issues.
-Ashley confirms $5.10 on the October 16, 2014 bill is incorrect and I have options. Enbridge does not want to charge their customers incorrectly and Direct Energy is responsible for ensuring correct billing for their products.
-45 days dispute registration through Enbridge where Direct Energy must contact you to resolve situation.
-Ashley calculated I should receive $5.76 credit back overall on September 16, 2014 bill due to incorrect charges by Direct Energy.
-Ashley said I could hold back $5.10 + HST from Enbridge Bill for Direct Energy charges. Enbridge wouldn't charge interest due to the registered complaint.
-Enbridge Case# ########

Next was to turn the tables on Direct Energy.  When renting from them and failing to pay a bill, I would be charged, via Enbridge, an interest rate.  But what about Direct Energy failing to pay me back? Why could I not charge them an interest rate for basically failing to pay me back as agreed?  In other words, why could I not charge Direct Energy for borrowing my money? 

October 23, 2014 @ 4:50 P.M. - called 905-943-6944 - number on Enbridge Bill for Direct Energy. 
- didn't get name of rep who picked up, asked to speak to manager.
-4:53 P.M. - Transferred to Manager.
-Charlie, "Supervisor" picked up.
-Explained my situation again and repeated issues.
-explained that since Direct Energy was now technically "borrowing my money" a 2% interest rate would apply billed monthly.
-Charlie agreed with "o.k." after it.
-Charlie said she couldn't do anything about billing issue and it needed to be sent to back office.
-Asked to speak to someone in the back office to help work through the issue.
-Charlie said "I cannot transfer you to them to resolve. They may or may not call you."

Meanwhile, my interaction with @DirectEnergy on Twitter and Ellen Roseman seemed to have started percolating the way through Direct Energy's offices.

But, as per usual with Direct Energy, the obfuscation continues. It was only my reply tweets back to Direct Energy on Twitter, calling the 1-866 number and trying to get operator and finally incessantly calling back of "Cathy" on the number provided that saved the day.

October 24, 2014 @ 10:25 A.M. - Received call from "Cathy" of Direct Energy at home and wife calls to relay message to me on cell phone.

October 24, 2014 @ 10:30 A.M. - call "Cathy" at 1-866-226-1700 ext. 12048
-rings 5 times and goes to Voicemail set up options. 

October 24, 2014 @ 10:33 A.M. - Called 1-866-226-1700 (phone number from above) and pressed "0" in hopes of clarifying where "Cathy" is and how to talk with her. 
-David picks up.
-I explain the situation that led me to him and wonder how to get in touch with Cathy.
-He looks up "Cathy" and wonders if it is "Cassandra"
-David is Montreal and says he can only e-mail Cathy to call me back. He can't transfer me to her.
-I ask David if he can help resolve billing situation.
-David reviews notes.
-Says Direct Energy's notes says that I said I may consult legal representation.
-I ask David to strike the note as I never said that. David responds he does not have the authority to remove notes.
-David says he cannot help resolve situation with billing issue.
-He said he would e-mail Cathy.

Great, not only was Direct Energy obfuscating but now they were trying to step it up a notch by claiming I was going to hire a lawyer and then refusing to remove this false allegation from their records.

October 24, 2014 @ 11:15 - call "Cathy" at 1-866-226-1700 ext. 12048 - rings 3 times and she picks up.
-Explain situation to Cathy from start to finish.
-Asks if anyone I spoke agree situation was needed a refund? 
-nope, 99% of the people I spoke to said I owed money even after I explained situation.
-Cathy went through the notes and said I was right, that a credit was required.
-September 16, 2014 bill: $2.73 + $0.35 (HST)= $3.08 back
-October 16, 2014 bill: $5.10 + $0.66 (HST) = $5.76 back.
Total credit: $8.84 back total.
-Cathy explained that I will be receiving another phone call from Direct Energy explaining above credit as they are required to due to the Enbridge Disputed Charge Claim.
-I asked about voicemail issue in getting to her. She said she was on the phone at the time and her voicemail has been an issue.

The Resolution

On the November Enbridge Bill things looked up.  "Cathy" had told the truth.  There, on page 3 was a shining credit of $8.50 and on page 1 the accompanying HST rebate as promised!

As for follow up on my situation through Ellen Roseman, I finished the e-mail after the promised refund from Cathy and sent it off. But I can't help think that because I had contacted Ellen on Twitter, Direct Energy took notice and decided to move things along before this whole situation turned even worse for them by ending up in the press.   Ellen followed up with a request as to what I would like now, I asked for a written apology for which I am still awaiting (but doubt I'll get).  Ellen did say she promised to forward on my issue to her contact at Direct Energy to review at their end.

Wanting to be done with it and finally enjoy the sanity of not having to deal with Direct Energy anymore, I waived the $0.02 interest charges plus $20.00 administration fee for invoicing them for the interest and moved on with my life.

Direct Energy continues to flounder in the marketplace and, no wonder, has recently agreed to sell their water heater rentals in the Ontario market. Originally Direct Energy purchased Enbridge's home water heater rental unit in 2002 for $1 billion.  Direct Energy sold this unit to Enercare now for $550 after years of layoffs and moving it's own head office from Toronto to Houston.

With customer service experiences like mine and others that Ellen Roseman has had to step in on, it's now wonder Direct Energy is in hot water and wants to get out. 

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