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'Berzerk' customers make Pepco 'most hated' in U.S.

Monday - 7/11/2011, 12:42pm  ET

PepcoCables.jpg
'The reason for its ACSI plunge is also clear: frequent and wide-ranging outages made worse by belated customer service response,' an ASCI report states. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

Paul D. Shinkman, wtop.com

WASHINGTON -- It's official: Pepco is the most-hated company in America.

At least, that's according to new information out of the American Customer Satisfaction Index. It shows the local utility provider's approval score has dropped 16 points from the same time last year -- an almost 23 percent plunge and record low since the rating began in 2003.

That makes it the nation's worst-viewed business on Business Insider's "19 Most Hated Companies In America."

Pepco's approval (or disapproval) rate, has "the largest drop in customer satisfaction among all utilities," according to an ACSI report, and is only bested historically by the San Francisco-based PG&E, whose approval rating dropped 33 percent in 2001.

"The reason for its ACSI plunge is also clear: frequent and wide-ranging outages made worse by belated customer service response," the report states.

"Pepco has had reliability problems in the past, but not as serious as the last year when its customers faced 70% more power outages than households in other metropolitan areas, along with outages lasting twice as long on average."

Pepco initially issued a statement questioning the validity of the Business Insider rankings, which it said could have been to drive up their readership.

It later retracted this statement, released another written statement in response to the survey. Pepco spokespeople declined to answer specific questions.

"While we certainly believe that this label is over the top, we have heard our customers loud and clear and are working hard to upgrade our system," the second statement said.

Pepco has trimmed over 1,800 miles of trees and upgraded over 150 miles of underground power cables, according to the release. This is a part of the six-point plan they released last year.

"We are committed to upgrading and modernizing our system through hard work and advanced technology," Pepco said.

Criticism isn't new to the utility, which has battled outrage from area residents who experienced protracted outages during the height of recent winter snowstorms and summer heat.

"We have been dealing over the last two years with a deterioration in Pepco's distribution service," said Betty Ann Kane, chair of the D.C. Public Service Commission.

"I'm not totally surprised that this survey also showed a customer dissatisfaction."

The D.C. PSC recently adopted new regulations allowing it to fine Pepco up to $100,000 each time Pepco fails to meet new standards, Kane says. This follows recent D.C. City Council investigations into Pepco's extended outages in the District, and Maryland's rewriting the rules governing the utility's performance.

"Our people are berzerk, and they have every reason to be," said Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner of the constituents he represents in Bethesda and Chevy Chase. "People's patience has come to an end."

"Citizens are prepared to forgive a utility if in a major storm they lose power for a day or so," he said. "What they are not willing to forgive is losing power on a blue, sunny day."

Pepco has a lot of work to do to "dig out of this hole," even beyond improving their service, Berliner said. He would like to see them focus more on green energy, which could also help improve their image locally.

ASCI uses a 0-100 point scale, based on a many factors, including customer complaints, expectation and loyalty.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)