Closest to Home

Meter installation is when a utility is closest to its customers.

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Meter installation is when a utility is closest to its customers.

By Paul Hull

When a utility representative appears at a house to change something, that's when the most personal customer service is involved. In this age when communication technologies have surged ahead in their capabilities, when many people have phones stuck to their ears, when millions are telling their Facebook readers what they had for breakfast or planned to wear to church on Sunday, when quotes from a current celebrity are sent to us to inspire our work and leisure, the opportunity for a person to come face to face with another is a rare occurrence. The appearance of a utility technician to improve our service is, for many people, a pleasure. The meter installer is there, in person, smiling, right on my property. I don't need a device to help him or her talk. He or she is at my home in real time, and it is an opportunity for good customer-provider relations.

Just as weather disasters, interstate pile-ups, political gaffes and multiple shootings reach the headlines faster than other news items, so do stories about the few people who have resisted meter installations. We should, of course, pay attention to those who don't want new meters-they are our customers. We should also try to convince them with honest arguments that the meters are not simply another sales tool for the utilities, a way they can get more free information about their customers. The consumer has become cautious-whether the product is a house, a vehicle, an electrical appliance, a phone or something from the supermarket-and with reason. We have all been victims of dishonest sales talk because history has shown it's not only politicians who make promises and break them. But, most of the homeowners who have new meters installed are trusting their utilities to be honest-and those utilities must prove them right.

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Negative Responses

Safety and security are top priorities for meter installers. Unhindered access to the old meters due for replacement is imperative. What could prevent that? When I walk around my town, I plan my routes according to the dogs there. Despite leash laws, there are too many dogs running free, and the owner's claim that they wouldn't hurt a fly carries little weight when they appear to be anticipating a chunk of innocent pedestrian. For meter installers, all animals must kept at a distance when the work has to be done. A technician cannot concentrate on the job at hand if there is an animal breathing like Darth Vader within striking distance. It is almost certain that such menaces to legitimate workers on your property are against the law in your town, and your installer's last resort may have to be calling the police or sheriff. That has happened on several occasions nationally, but don't think of such problems as typical.

Even if the likelihood of an angry person greeting the installer with a shotgun pointed at his or her abdomen is remote, anybody who is hired to install your new meters should have been trained to understand and react to the problems-that means all installers, whether they are your company employees or the employees of another company hired to do the work. Apart from the intricacies of disconnection and connection, the procedures that guarantee safety, technicians should be trained in the best methods of communicating with homeowners before and during installation.

I have heard very few negative comments about the quality of the meters, and that reflects well on the manufacturers. Reliability is of paramount importance to customers who receive new equipment, and it is high on the list of utilities' priorities when they are looking for the right meters to install. You'll find helpful and interesting articles in Utility Products, written by true experts from manufacturers for all aspects of meter installation. All equipment can go wrong, and it's probable that a few meters will malfunction-but concentrate on the fact that only a few will require a return visit from the installers.

Enter Manager, Smiling

For those rare occasions when a customer is angry or otherwise negative about new meter installation, it seems the full explanation should not be on the on-site technician. Most frequently, the trouble is not with the equipment or the people installing it, but with the principles and strategy that have necessitated the new meters. Decisions at that level should be managerial. This may be an occasion when a manager should visit the residence to explain the utility's position. "Just get on with it" is not good advice from a manager to the crew doing the installation.

Some customers will want details of the capabilities of the new meters, and many installers can explain to the level the interested customer needs. If the questions go beyond basic product knowledge into any area that could be called company policy, the installer may not be the best interpreter for the customer. He or she has not been trained or paid to be that level of employee. It might be true the utility sent notices and explanations to customers before the installation, but there could still be questions-especially if the information sent was tossed into the trash with the rest of what the recipient considered junk mail. So don't assume questions are necessarily negative; they may be simple interest in the process. The homeowner may have heard stories of health problems from neighbors who have had new meters installed, and we cannot dismiss all those fears as hysteria. One story I read told of problems experienced by residents in a particular area, problems that included stress, sleep problems, headaches, heart problems and ringing in the ears. The utility involved was skeptical about the survey and about the qualifications of the people doing it. The other side-and every problem has at least two sides-is that some customers don't trust any large business to be honest about research results. If the challenges to a utility are in the area of honesty, it must be at least a manager who responds, not the technician hired to install the meter.

An event that can cause unusual, unexpected reactions is when the installer discovers the existing meter and electric service has faults. In most places it is the duty of the homeowner to ensure electric installations are safe, and evidence of unsafe installation should, and will, be made immediately. The technician installing the new meter will usually explain the defect detected and tell the owner what needs to be done to make it legal. All repair work should be done by an accredited electrician; some problems noted at past installations of new meters seem to have been caused by inefficient electrical work, possibly done by the homeowner. If the customer with the faulty installation is a tenant, he or she should contact the owner of the property. If that brings no response, the tenant should give the local utility the contact details for the owner. Safe service is top of the list of priorities for utilities. Anything discovered that threatens must be reported and corrected.

Generally speaking, new meter installation is a straightforward, uncomplicated project that is quickly done by skilled, qualified technicians. Any apparent deviations from normal situations should be addressed by an appropriate representative of the utility and then corrected.

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