January 22, 2011

'Amerigas: We'll Let You Freeze'

That's my new advertising slogan for Amerigas, offered free gratis for corporate use. It can be an alternative to "reliable, safe, responsive," which is, frankly, a little dated.

"We'll keep you guessing" might work too.

Although we heat part of the time with wood, like most rural folks, we depend on propane as fuel for cooking, heating water, and heating the house at night or when we are away.

From 1992 through 2007, our propane needs were supplied by All Star Propane of Cañon City. Their drivers were almost as unstoppable as Herodotus’ Persian couriers, except that they did not deliver during “gloom of night.”  They came on a regular basis and topped off the tanks at both houses—ours and the rental cabin.

Then All Star was bought by a national company, Amerigas, and customer service immediately got much, much worse. They consolidated operations into Colorado Springs and claimed  that through some kind of computer wizardry, they knew when you needed gas and when you did not, so as the tank dropped past 15 or 10-percent full, you could call them up and complain, receiving vague, meaningless promises in return, and just wait until they filled you up on their timetable.

What is worse, they put both of our tanks on one account. Although the tank at the cabin is leased from them (the normal arrangement with propane suppliers), the tank at our house is owned by us.

Every winter, you could count on the driver to stop by, fill the tank at the cabin, which is closer to the county road, and drive away, assured that he had taken care of that account—but forgetting all about our tank.

More phone calls, more promises, more waiting, more anxiety.

Lucky for us, we can heat with wood during the day, keeping furnace usage to a minimum. I called Amerigas in Colorado Springs and suggested splitting the one account into two—but what do I know? I’m just the customer. Manager Rick Rivers and his merry crew do things their way. (No doubt they have a 40-slide PowerPoint training presentation about all this.)

It happened again this winter—the driver filled up the cabin tank on Dec. 15 and ignored ours. When we came back from our New Mexico trip, it still had not been filled. Then I started with the phone calls again.  Suzanne in the Colorado Springs office promised a fill-up by Friday, Jan. 14.

Of course, no one came. When I tried to call back the next week, they did not even answer the phones or an email to the residential service manager, Mila Sacket, so I had to try the national customer-service number. More promises of immediate action.

Finally on Jan. 20th the Amerigas driver arrived. By then, however, I had given up on them, and with the tank sinking towards 5 percent full (when do we lose vapor pressure and the pilot lights start going out?), I had called a Cañon City supplier, Enxx Propane, where the owner answers the telephone, and they do not even have a Web site

Nevertheless, since the Amerigas driver was on the scene, and the screw-up was not his fault, I asked him if he could top off the cabin tank—it ought to have taken about 100 gallons. “All the drivers carry blank tickets,” Suzanne had said.

No, he could not. He did not have any blank tickets. He could only go to addresses that the computer told him to go to. No individual initiative here at Amerigas!

With propane as with food, it seems better to seek out a local supplier, but in some places that switch is getting to be harder and harder.


Heather Houlahan said...

Our fuel oil supplier (Kennedy) is in town, and they know to always send Sean, who knows where the pipe is and how to negotiate our driveway. Plus he likes dogs.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Most of the the time the drivers themselves are OK. They are just guys who would rather be out on a route with a truck than stuck working in one place, I think.

(Fuel oil seems Eastern and exotic, although I did encounter it in Portland, Oregon, as a college student.)

...continued in next comment.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Before calling Enxx, however, I tried San Isabel Services, a subsidiary of our rural electric co-op.

The same day that I called, a guy came to inspect the tank access. He noted that due to a lack of turn-around space, the driver would have to back up the long driveway.

True, I said, they have been doing that since 1965 when the house was built, I would assume.

But then the office manager called back the next day to say that San Isabel would not service us because Wendell, their delivery driver, would not back up his truck that far.

Considering that most drivers are proud of their bobtail truck-handling skills, that was a weird bit of news.

Bill S. said...

Oh boy, can I relate to this post. We have Amerigas as well and the service is horrible. For the last three years, December has been hell as the tanks have run out thanks to no service. When do you lose pressure? The good news is that you can go to 1% and about 10 PSI on the gauge before you lose your pilot lights. I know...been there, done that.

Fill ups can take up to three weeks to arrive. The drive trains on these trucks suck, big time! Put a little snow and ice on the ground and even with chains these trucks can't get around. We had one of these trucks (with chains on it) get stuck where we had been going with a Chevy Cavalier with no chains.

We have begged, pleaded, screamed and cussed at Amerigas trying to get better service and had no luck at all.

We're in Nevada, btw, so lousy Amerigas service is not just a regional problem.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Bill S: I hope you can find a different provider after the heating season is over.

jason said...

that's why I'm thankful for natural gas (i know you don't have that option). I'm surprised Wendell wouldn't back up--I met him at our cabin in San Isabel and he appeared to be a good guy--and any truck driver ought to be able to back up your driveway. it's not like they have a trailer.

Stasia DeMarco said...

Hi, my name is Fran and I work for AmeriGas. I’m sorry to hear about your issues with customer service in Colorado Springs and would like to help you. Please send your account details to me at customerfirstfran@amerigas.com so we can promptly assist you. Thank you, Fran

Chas S. Clifton said...

Obviously, "Fran" did not write the previous comment.

I have seen "Fran" pop up elsewhere. As you can see, the comment was written from the account of one Stasia DeMarco, identified on her Blogger account as "Freelance Journalist, Podcaster."

In other words, "Fran" is about as real as Betty Crocker, Aunt Jemima, or Mickey Mouse.

This is Amerigas' policy? Hire powerless freelancers to pose as employees?

What a bunch of corporate phoniness!

Anonymous said...

Amerigas removed our tank, for non payment for a few months in the rear. After the payment was made and all was caught up, no tank returned. The problem We see, is that the fuel that was delivered, and the payment made for it they decided to keep for their gain. We are out of a tank and the fuel that was paid for. Who wins?