Baby, It’s Cold Outside. And In.

Photo courtesy of
’6th St Row in Snow’
courtesy of ‘daveinshaw’

Last week’s Thrifty District story was eerily familiar to me. My good friend Rebecca, over at Inspiration DC, has gone through almost the exact same Pepco disaster that Tiff featured in her post. She’s got a 700-square foot apartment, top floor of a building in eastern market, with two small bedrooms, one bathroom and a kitchen you can barely fit into. And she comes home to a $500 electricity bill.

With Pepco recently foraying into social media (welcome, welcome!) we thought we’d put the system to the test. We tweeted Rebecca’s story and Andre Francis, the Twitter dude (aka the Social Media Lead)  over at Pepco, got on the case.  Read on to hear the story from Rebecca’s point of view, and to hear what @PepcoConnect has done to resolve her case. Maybe you’ll learn some tips on how to deal with your own massivly large Pepco bill…

“When we got our first heating bill from Pepco at our new apartment I thought for sure it was an obvious mistake and would be cleared up quickly.  No one in their right mind would pay $491.70 for a month of electricity and heat in a small 700 sq feet apartment.  Now it has been a month, several angry phone calls later and we apparently owe them almost $900 for two months of heating and electricity.

I could go into the details of how we have new windows, barely keep anything plugged in, and have our heat set at a frigid 62 degrees.  But no matter those factors, it just does not add up to $500.  We’ve talked with our neighbors and nobody else seems to be experiencing these surplus heat charges or any problems with Pepco for that matter.  They’ve reread our meter and told us our bill is correct.  After many phone calls and being told lies that our neighbors are paying the same amount as us our bill is now under “High Bill Investigation.”  They told us they would assign someone to us in 4-6 weeks.  Since Pepco just recently got onto twitter, Tiffany from WeLoveDC contacted them on my behalf concerning my bills and this article.  They were surprisingly responsive at that point asking for my account information and that they would look into assigning someone to my case in a more timely fashion.  So far we haven’t heard anything more concerning our case.

We’ve then in turn argued with our apartment management company to investigate if something is malfunctioning in our heating system.  All our maintenance woman would tell us is that it is a cold winter and everyone’s heat is high.  You should get a rug and some curtains.  She then lied and told us someone already looked at our heating system and it is fine.  If you saw the amount of stuff we have in the closet with the furnace you would know this is an obvious lie.  We pushed a little harder contacting the owners of our management company and threatening to file a complaint with the Washington DC Public Service Commission, DC Housing Regulation Administration, and/or the DC City Council.  That finally got their attention and they agreed to look into it.  But so far we haven’t heard anything more concerning someone coming to look at our heating system.

As of right now the only consistent answer we are getting from Pepco and our apartment management company is that it is cold and everyone’s heat is high.  We can’t seem to get answers or anyone to help us with some sense of urgency.  While we have made some headway since originally starting this piece our high bills are still looming over our head.  And with another high heating bill sure to come over the next few weeks we aren’t going to be able to afford to live there much longer.”

I asked Andre why Pepco got on Twitter. They’re following in the steps of companies with horrible customer service (Comcast, I’m staring REALLY HARD at you…with hate in my eyes). Andre said “We know times are tough and, as Pepco customers ourselves, we share many of the concerns we hear about on a daily basis. We’re on Twitter because it lets us engage customers in one-on-one discussions so we can explore issues and share useful information. More importantly, it lets our customers connect with a real person committed to acting on their behalf.  Even if we can’t guarantee a desired outcome, we can guarantee that someone @PepcoConnect will always be available to listen. ”

So Andre is out there fighting Rebecca’s case, or at least as far as we know… and at least we did connect with a real person, who didn’t tell her to stick a rug on her floor. But so far the resolution isn’t there yet. That’s the thing with real-time media like blogging, in an ever-quick technologically advanced world, we expect real-time solutions. The blogging staff here at WLDC knows better than anyone that you guys out there in comment-world have strong opinions, about issues that are interesting to you, and you’re going to tell it like it is. So when Pepco opens themselves up to social media in this way, they’re opening themselves up to a barrel of monkeys, who will only start cheering if solutions happen. An ear out there for whining is great, but customer service in a new way is even better.

Andre got back to us the evening of the 12th with this update:

Hi Katie –

Our team has looked into Rebecca’s case and while her account was already under investigation, I have flagged it for further follow-up. While her usage seems fairly consistent, we will still have someone come out to her home, inspect her meter, and see if there are any other factors that may be impacting her bill.

She should know that it could take up to 45 days to resolve the investigation but during this time, all late fees on her account will be waived. In the meantime, my advice to Rebecca is to pay the bill she’s received. Given the amount, we understand if she would like to spread the payments out as opposed to paying a lump sum. She’s welcome to call our customer care department at (202) 833-7500 and one of our team members will help her arrange a payment plan. Information on payment options is also available on our website:

If the investigation determines that the increase in her bill was due to an error on Pepco’s part, we will credit her account for the amount of the overcharge.

Another thing to keep in mind is that our analysis has shown that Rebecca is an “all-electric” customer, meaning that she heats her home with electricity. We’ve just come out of two consecutive months that the National Weather Service has said is the coldest winter our region has seen in the past ten years. These frigid temperatures forced Rebecca’s heating system to run longer and consume more electricity to maintain a constant temperature.

Another factor is that the holidays and inaugural activities caused her January billing cycle to be slightly longer than an average month.

This all means that increased usage due to plunging temperatures and a slightly extended billing cycle may have played a role in these bills. However, as I said, we are going to conduct an investigation and I will keep both of you updated as more information becomes available.

So what do you think about customer service on Twitter? When does it work? When does it fail? And is your heating bill extraordinarily high? Have you messages and gotten a response from Andre @PepcoConnect?

Katie moved to DC in 2007, and has since embarked upon a love affair with the city. She’s an education reform advocate and communications professional during the day; at night and on the weekends, she’s an owner here at We Love DC. Katie has high goals to eat herself through the entire city, with only her running shoes to save her from herself. For up-to-the-minute news and reviews (among other musings), follow her on Twitter!

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