The other day, a Westport resident turned on her oven. A stench “like rotten avocados and burning pineapple” wafted through her home.
She called Hocon. They sent a “thorough and considerate” technician. Within 20 minutes, he determined there was no leak.
That’s the good news.
Unfortunately, the reader writes:
A week later I received a bill for over $470. It was $199 for the Hocon rep visit, $225 for an emergency, $18 for a gas surcharge, plus a surcharge for something else I was too stunned to memorize.
Days later, I learned that our local fire departments check out gas leaks for free.
But the person on the phone at Hocon never mentioned that, or anything about extra emergency charges. They just sent someone over.
The company president writes on Hocongas.com: “It is our hope to provide you with a level of service that is beyond your expectations, in line with what my dad always strived to achieve.”
Goal: achieved. The invoice was Way. Beyond. Expectations.
Excellent service — no complaints there. But a 20-minute visit, 10 minutes of driving at most, and a bill for almost $500? I understand there’s a level of expertise here, but seriously? (Don’t forget, our expert fire department is free.)
I’m thinking (for a hot nanosecond) it’s my fault for not asking about fees in advance. But I didn’t think I’d have to. Experience has taught me there’s typically a fee of $100. Maybe $150.
Then I realize, horrified: I’m victim-blaming myself. They’re the large company. I’m the paying customer. It’s their responsibility to be transparent.
We could easily assume there’s no fee if they don’t tell us there’s a fee. But society has taught us to quietly pay any invoice we receive. Hocon — and many other companies — make a lot of money because of this.
To be sure I hadn’t overlooked anything, I poke around their website. No fees are listed anywhere.
I call an employee, asking, “Where can I find the fees?” Her response: “I don’t really know.”
I email the president (let’s call him “Dave”): “Where can I find a list of fees? Your employee doesn’t even know.”
Days later I receive a response from the general manager of a Hocon office: “Our fee schedule is posted in the office as required.” (Then he dismisses the clueless employee as possibly new and “flustered.”)
Fun! A trip to the Hocon office! But when can I come? I have to email the GM to find out.
He writes, “We have some availability later this week or anytime next week.” (M-F, 8:30-4:30).
Sounds like Hocon is taking advantage of an antiquated law (policy?), writing their fees on a scrap of paper and taping it to an office wall. They can probably count on one hand how many residents know about the posting, and even fewer who have seen it. That gives Hocon freedom to charge whatever they want to. We’ll blindly pay it.
President Dave further writes:“As a kid, I grew up listening to [Dad] tell me about taking care of the customer.” You mean taking advantage of a crazy old policy to ensure customers are unaware of your ever-increasing rates?
Consider the following scenario – a long-time customer who has never missed a payment:
I ask Dave to post his fees on his newfangled “internet site.” It would be a super easy way to take that scary first step into the 21st century!
But I haven’t heard from him.
If he really wants to help his customers, he could tell them to call the local fire department for emergencies. He could put his fees on the site so we can make informed decisions — or, better, question why they need a full $18 to drive 10 minutes to our home on top of a $225 emergency fee?
But he won’t. That would be bad business!
If you’d like to know what you’re expected to pay — and you prefer to not schedule an appointment and drive to the Hocon office to view the fee poster on a mutually convenient time during your work day — please email him and ask him to be transparent. Put fees on the site, in an easily located spot.
His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
(“06880” aims for much better customer service. After all, we’re entirely reader-supported. Please click here to help.)