Utilities Included…


By Monique Brans

Energy is ‘hot’ these days. Providers have gone commercial and are actively pursuing new customers - still, applying for a connection can be very confusing if you don’t speak the language.

Utilities are a basic need and are something you expect to have delivered along with the property you have just moved into. Unfortunately this is not always the case.

It was January, well below zero and 7 A.M. when Jacky called me in distress. “Monique, the removal van has just arrived, but the house is all dark and cold. I think the power has been disconnected. How are we supposed to move in a pitch-dark house?” she asked. I was puzzled. In all my 35 years of experience I had never encountered this. Apparently the cause of the problem lay in a miscommunication between STEDIN, the regional grid operator, and the provider. A letter in Dutch had been sent to an empty house, there had been no response and subsequently the power had simply been disconnected. I stepped in to help, of course, to see what I could do. After a few hours on the telephone, the provider confirmed having received the application, yet STEDIN would only be able to reconnect in two weeks’ time.

“Excuse me?” I asked, shocked. “This is your mistake, it is 10 degrees below zero, my clients are registered at this address and the movers are ready to unload. It has to be solved today.”

“It takes two weeks to process the information and we cannot make exceptions,” the girl answered irritably and slammed down the phone. It is safe to say that my energy was certainly flowing at that point.

I still remember the good old days when there was only one provider in the country: the state-owned enterprise GEB (Gemeentelijk Energie Bedrijf). Meter readings were also done by the GEB; you called in the morning to agree on the exact time the guy who would be doing this would be ringing your doorbell and you were there to let him in. Power and water were never cut off.

Unfortunately, providers have become commercial and those days are over. A power struggle for new customers is going on between the many suppliers. They call you at home or even show up on your doorstep to convince you to switch providers. There is only one thing they seem to have forgotten; their new system is not at all attuned to customer service. All correspondence is in Dutch, which really helps when you are being threatened with a power cut, doesn’t it? When you call to find out what is going on, you hear an automated message offering you various options (in Dutch) and are put on hold. Charming music accompanies your waiting period, which can be up to 45 minutes. When you finally speak to a real person you are put back on hold or even disconnected so that you can start all over again. How is that for an energy boost?

The same applies to the Internet. Can you imagine having to live without it these days?

Take Ben, who had recently moved into a beautifully renovated detached house. His children were soon to start at their new school and he wanted to get settled in quickly. Ziggo (cable) showed up on the agreed day and all should have been well, until Ben called me in distress. “Monique, could you talk to the cable man? Something is wrong and the guy doesn’t speak any English!” It turned out that the cable was in need of repair and that this could take weeks or longer. Ben was in despair. How could his family live without Internet all that time? We decided to apply for KPN (telephone) instead, who suggested using a dongel while waiting for the connection. “A dongel?” I replied. “What on earth is that?” A search on Wikipedia yielded the following myth: the dongel is a device that was named after his inventor Don Gall. And a myth it is indeed; the first distributor made this up for marketing purposes. In reality the dongel is a small hardware key, used in the past to prevent illegal copying and now used in USB-format to connect to the Internet. Relieved, I called Ben and he set out to the store to collect the thing. That is when all the confusion started. His name was not registered at his new address. “Please talk to the lady,” he pleaded, when I answered his call. Ben was not to be found in the system and could therefore not receive a dongel, she explained. Meanwhile, however, Ben did receive a contract from KPN in Dutch. When I translated it for him I saw that his name had been incorrectly spelled. Furthermore, the installation package as well as the temporary dongel had been sent to number 7 instead of 37. “Should we ring their doorbell to collect it?” I suggested happily. “No,” KPN answered strictly, “we have to have the correct name and house number before we can install anything. This will take a few weeks, but you can start out by picking up a dongel at a reduced price at the KPN store straight away”. Relieved I told Ben that the problem had been solved. Until he called me again. Name and address were still unknown. He was, by now, desperate and ready to cancel all orders with KPN. “Impossible!” KPN stated. “We cannot cancel an order that does not exist.”

It goes without saying that the tale does not end here, but suffice it to say that, though the road has been bumpy, Ben is still alive and thoroughly enjoying his house – utilities included!

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