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Find The Boots

Rantings from a few corporate types about life, technology, travel, guns, politics, and everything good in the world.

Duke Energy: Stuck in the 1990s

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I guess I live in a high tech, Web 2.0 world. Back in the 1990s a lot of companies were struggling with data integration in order to connect their web based customer service systems to the back office. That's all pretty much old news. Or at least I thought.

I refuse to write paper checks. Well, at least it's extremely rare. People that are afraid to give out their credit card number over a secure https page because of a fear of identity theft will gleefully hand out slips of paper with their name, address, driver's license number, and bank account number to complete strangers. Most modern vendors don't even process checks -- they just scan your check and then process it as a bank draft. The banks charge extra to handle paper.

My monthly bills are paid by bank draft over the web. I've got most of my vendors set up on direct bill -- they send me an email of how much the bill is and pull out the cash. A few vendors, like Duke Energy, are so stuck in the 1990s that they can't even handle a system like that, so my bank provides the service of auto paying the bill that gets routed to them.

This way of doing things has worked for years and is pretty much the way the modern world lives. But this week, while traveling, I got hit with a Catch-22 from good old Duke Energy. For some strange reason, the auto pay system hasn't paid my power bill for the last two months. I suspect Duke Energy and my bank had some sort of problem, but I didn't find out about this until I got a frantic call from She Who Must Be Obeyed while changing planes on Monday that Duke Energy had called and was threatening to disconnect our power. Hot summer, in the south, no power = no air conditioning and great suffering. This would be a Disaster, with a capital D.

No problem, I whipped out my laptop and went to the Duke Energy site and while not understanding why this hadn't been paid in the last two months I went ahead and processed a payment to deduct the outstanding amount from my bank account. Then I caught my flight.

Later that night I asked She Who Must Be Obeyed for forgiveness and assured her that I was not a deadbeat and that the wonderful cooling air would not be cut off while I was out of town.

This morning I awoke to a frantic email that indicated that the wonderful folks from Duke Energy had called the Boondoggie estate and demanded payment or the power would be disconnected on Friday. I went to the Duke Energy website to check the status of the payment. What I saw absolutely flabbergasted me.

My payment, made on Monday, was still in "processing" mode. The website had now updated to show that the expected payment date for my in process payment was now Friday the 13th, the very day they had threatened to turn off the power.

Anywhere else on the web a vendor can process a bank draft in microseconds. Go to a Walmart and hand them a check or debit card and the payment will show up in your bank account by the time you get home. But Duke Energy is so stuck in the 1990s that they require at least 2 full business days to process a bank draft. The level of sheer incompetence required to have this kind of business process in 2007 absolutely astounded me. If I can get money to a vendor in India this afternoon, why can't the mighty Duke Energy, with a monopoly and government guaranteed earnings, process something this simple in a timely manner?

So I called the customer service number. That wasn't easy to find, searching the billing site only reveals an interface to send them an email, even though they claim to have people standing by 24 hours a day to answer my questions. One has to retrieve the actual customer service number from a bill.

So I called the number and found out about their racket. Remember the first call on Monday when they wanted payment over the phone? Same deal with calling the phone service. You can give them a bank draft or a credit card over the phone, plus a service charge and they will credit your account immediately.

So here's the scenario. Call your customer on Monday, threatening with a disconnect, which can be avoided if you pay right then and pay an extra service charge. If the customer doesn't want to pay the service charge, they're screwed because your web payment policies put a lag in how long it takes to process their payment. Or the customer is foolish enough to send you a paper check, which won't arrive in time and then you'll tack on another two days to process that. Their best case is that they get you disconnected, because then they can charge a hefty reconnect fee. Their worst case is that they'll get the service charge because you'll call them like I did and make sure that the payment happens in time.

What are the chances that they changed their interface with the bank hoping this would happen? Getting 500K customers to pay an extra $3.50 in service charges is not small change.

So an hour later I went back to the web site. Their web site has no clue that I've made a phone payment. If there are any IT people from Duke Energy reading this blog, I'm laughing at your pathetic technical skills. My mother has better data integration than you do.

I suspect there's an executive somewhere within Duke Energy whose bonus partially depends upon how much they rake in on extra fees. I guess I should just admire him, because while I'm blogging this from a hotel room on the road he's sipping a martini on his yacht, paid for by my "convenience fee." Here buddy, this round is on me.


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  • At 4:50 AM, Blogger M said…

    I know this article is from five years ago, but Duke Energy is still scamming customers left and right. For the past several months the autodraft payment I signed up for with them has not been drafting the full amount (for reasons unknown to ever rep I spoke to), resulting in a hefty accumulation of past due amounts and late fees unbeknownst to me! I settled the score with them, just paying the entire chunk only to have them deduct said chunk of money AGAIN with the most recent bill, despite having paid it a month ago. Wonderful!


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