AUGUSTA, Maine — Amidst a delayed rate hike and customer complaints, Central Maine Power has announced an initiative to improve its customer experience. The company presented that action plan to the Maine Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday.
The organizational changes include the addition of new, Maine-based positions, intended to address customer clarity over bills and energy use. That same position will also facilitate the regular administration of CMP's "Smartcare" information system.
The company is also pledging to pilot a program that provides home usage assessments with the help of Efficiency Maine Trust.
In a statement, CMP President and CEO Doug Herling said, "I understand that CMP needs to continue to work hard to regain the trust and confidence of our customers. We believe these enhancements to strengthen our Customer Service organization, along with specific customer-focused program offerings and proposals will improve the experience of all CMP customers."
CMP's announcement follows a series of recent setbacks. On Tuesday, the Maine Public Utilities Commission decided to delay their decision on the utility company's requested rate increase until a ruling was made on the investigation into their billing and metering practices.
That decision followed the rather unusual move by the Public Utilities Commission to pen an op-ed in the Maine Sunday Telegram last week. The article was written by all three commissioners, who expressed concern after hearing of customers' experiences in a series of three public hearings on the rate increase.
In those hearings, customers recounted their frustrating customer experiences, from billing to customer service. Many complained of either getting no bill or an exorbitant one. Others said customer service representatives were neither trained nor invested in helping them identify flaws in their billing.
A spokeswoman from the Facebook group 'CMP Ratepayers Unite' responded to the proposal by the utility company in a statement she shared with NEWS CENTER Maine Wednesday.
Lauren Loomis, an administrator and representative for the group on the PUC hearings, said she is one of the intervenors on both dockets 2018-00194 and 2019-00015. She added that CMP had pitched the proposal before at a settlement conference and brought it up again during the hearings two weeks ago.
"It's a small step in the right direction, but it's been 18 months, and we're still not reviewing answers on what has caused the defects or the high usage complaints," said Loomis. "We have many members who were told they couldn't dispute or paid their ridiculously high bills, hoping to be made whole at the end of the investigations. The compensation isn't nearly enough and (is) not covering all customers. We still need answers."
CMP customer Tasha Dolce also shared a statement with NEWS CENTER Maine on Wednesday, expressing her frustration with the company.
"We have to fight because we’re just regular families trying to make a living and feed our kids, pay our bills, and live the best lives we can -- and they’re a huge international corporation. So when we got an outrageous bill, we couldn’t go down the street and have a chat with the utility," Dolce said. "We’re forced to communicate with a company that hasn’t been truthful with us and has a blatant lack of concern for our issues, our time, our finances...We want to pay, but for what we’re actually using."
The PUC will revisit CMP's rate increase request in December.
The new vice president for CMP's Customer Service department, Linda Ball, will step into her role starting September 1.