The federal secretary for energy, Rashid Mahmood Langrial, addresses key issues with regard to power outages and LESCO’s customer service
n traditional markets, the consumer is regarded ‘king.’ He/ she has the money that the different service providers want against their services. But when it comes to our power distribution companies like the Lahore Electric Supply Company (LESCO), the consumer is clearly taken for granted.
These power distribution companies enjoy a monopoly over the market, as they are selling something that has become a basic necessity in this day and age. The consumer has no choice but to accept whatever is being offered to them, and at whatever rate. Their satisfaction does not seem to matter.
The Lesco claims to give priority to its more than 4.5 million consumers, and presents itself as a ‘consumer-friendly’ service that would resolve all public complaints with respect to electricity in a timely manner. However, the reality is quite different: the citizens say that the Lesco helpline as well as the staff deputed at local levels mostly do not entertain their complaints.
The citizens also complain of frequent power outages that are often due to the poor distribution network and overloading of transformers. If you are lucky, the Lesco staff (which is supposed to be on duty round the clock) may fix the problem before the next day.
The Lesco offers its customers the choice of registering their grievances via an SMS to 8118, or through the Roshan Pakistan mobile phone app. It has been observed that none of these work satisfactorily —instead one ends up receiving a barrage of auto-generated messages. It seems that the customer service centres aren’t in the loop, and/ or the field staff don’t submit their feedback regarding the resolution of the issues.
Lesco customers whose complaints are not processed are asked to contact the ‘management’ for immediate redress of their grievances. But the citizens say that the staff mostly turns a deaf ear to their calls.
Last month, Rashid Mahmood Langrial, the federal secretary of Energy (Power Division), took the initiative to proactively address the issues related to the customer service. He told TNS, “One big reason why we need to invest in customer service is that it is key to the long-term success of a power distribution company. It is very important for us to provide a great customer service and ensure that every customer has a great experience with the power company when they reach out for help.
“We have identified several ways to ensure customer service delivery… We’ve asked the Lesco management to set up exclusive groups on WhatsApp to address the issues in a particular area. The idea is to connect them with the relevant staff for prompt trouble shooting.”
“We have identified several ways to ensure customer service delivery,” he continued. “We have decided to use latest communication gadgets like smartphones, tablets and PCs. The use of WhatsApp has revolutionised the contemporary interpersonal communication. Hence, we’ve asked the Lesco management to set up exclusive groups on WhatsApp to address the issues in a particular area. The idea is to connect them with the relevant staff for prompt trouble shooting.”
Langrial also spoke of Lesco employees having been tasked to moderate online groups having 300 consumers each. All employees will be responsible for providing services to the 300-odd customers.
“The idea behind setting up this real-time communication channel is to make it a two-way affair,” Langrial added. “Not only will the consumers be able to lodge their complaints and get updates on those, but the employees of power distribution companies can also share information with respective members of the group about schedules of power suspension and reasons behind failure in electricity supply. They will also give a timeframe about the restoration work.”
The federal secretary said that since his appointment a few months ago, he had faced the daunting task of bridging the gap between the electricity demand and supply. He said that the focus of the ministry was on increasing electricity generation by exploring all possible options.
Replying to a question, he said, “We are aware that the overstretched field staff of distribution companies has been unable to resolve the customers’ complaints in the desired way. The frustration of customers due to frequent power outages and the cost of electricity is understandable. We need to provide relief to both our customers and our staff.
“Let me first resolve the issue of load shedding. It’s a priority area currently, keeping in view the urgency of facing this challenge head on. We will take every step to reduce the circular debt, control the line losses, increase recovery and, above all, ensure customer satisfaction regarding the service delivery.”
He declared: “We are trying to streamline things in order to increase power generation. Whatever we can do to ensure ample supply of fuel for power generation or judicious use of the available capacity is being done now, with a view to minimising the electricity shortfall.
“It is literally like collecting each and every molecule of natural gas for power generation or sourcing electrons out of the installed capacity. We are trying to make the best use of available primary energy in order to enhance thermal power generation.”
The writer is a senior reporter at The News