Balancing Service and Compassion
How can Meralco balance the cry of its customers struggling to pay their electric bills, with the opposite pressure from the energy industry that also needs the cash flow to keep afloat and the electricity flowing?
Meralco is focused on delivering uninterrupted service while practicing compassion for its customers.
“It’s a tough balancing act,” admits Meralco Chief Commercial Officer Ferdinand O. Geluz
Meralco collects in behalf of the energy industry, and only gets 19% of the bill. 59% goes to the generation companies that own the power plants; 10% goes to the transmission company NGCP (National Grid Corporation of the Philippines); and 12% goes to government fees and subsidies.
More than half of proceeds from bill payments go to companies that generate electricity.
If Meralco is unable to collect, the energy industry’s viability is jeopardized, and the investments needed to keep pace with our country’s development may not happen; we need more power plants as consumption grows, and a future-proof grid that can overcome the challenges of pandemics and calamities.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020 and it was unable to deploy meter readers, Meralco complied willingly with regulatory directives to subject ECQ bills to 4- or 6-month installment arrangements (depending on the February 2020 consumption), and on its own gave a 30-day grace period, and further extended payment for ECQ and MECQ bills alike by 3 months. As of April 2021, around 986,000 customers are still paying their Quarantine bills in installments. This is on top of the 81,832 installment payment agreements that Meralco granted beyond the regulatory directives.
Meralco offered installment payment arrangements to extend a helping hand to residential customers.
When GCQ was declared last May 15, Meralco resumed disconnections a week later. “But we understand the struggle to pay with many just getting back to work,” said Geluz, “that’s why we asked customers who could not settle their bills in full to get in touch and arrange an installment plan to be exempted from the standard disconnection process. In our Facebook page, we had a simple message: ‘usap tayo’.”
How have customers reacted to Meralco’s invitation? Geluz replies: “With a signed agreement, the installment plan is automated in the billing system. Customers are generally relieved with the plan, and we got very good ratings from our survey.” Meralco is the first utility in the country to implement a Customer Experience Index that rates a customer’s transaction if his needs were met, how easy it was, and if he felt valued. Meralco piloted the study just before the implementation of installment payment arrangements.
More channels for safety
Meralco also encourages its customers to get in touch safely and easily through the live chat function on Meralco’s Facebook and website, which allows customers to talk to a Meralco agent real time. They may also call its 16211 hotline. The installment plan may be arranged in any of these digital channels.
If customers still feel need to go to the Meralco Business Centers (BCs), they may schedule their visits through the Online Customer Appointment system. BCs are also made safer and more efficient by having the Virtual Customer Assistant (VCA), which allows customers to speak to Meralco representatives who are working from home. Meralco also worked with Bayad Center to have the same VCA in select Bayad Centers, and more VCAs are being rolled out.
The Virtual Customer Assistant (VCA) was one of the many projects launched by Meralco to enhance the overall customer experience.
Meralco BCs are open to accept payments, applications, and customer assistance. Business hours are from 7 A.M. to 5 P.M. from Monday to Friday and 7 A.M. to 12 P.M. on Saturdays for payment transactions only. Find your nearest Business Center.
Real-time payment validation
Aside from the increased channels, Meralco was also piloting back end solutions for a better customer experience. Through the Real-time Payment Validation App, Meralco field personnel are able to validate the status of Disconnection Field Orders before proceeding with the actual disconnection of a customer’s meter. This serves as additional safeguard so that customers who paid their bill just before actual disconnection are no longer inconvenienced by having their power disconnected even if they are not home. To date, the company estimates to have averted around 1,300 “salisi” disconnections with the help of this new app, which is slated for full roll out in July.
Partnerships with vital government agencies to promote safety and economic growth
Expect a stronger effort from Meralco to lower electricity bills, prevent fires caused by and profiteering through illegal connections, and speed up the energization of homes, buildings, and other establishments.
In order to better serve its customers and the general public, Meralco signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOU) with the Philippine National Police (PNP), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), and Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP).
Through the landmark agreement, the power distributor, together with its partner agencies, will tackle illegal connections and the issues caused by these, as well as improve the process of obtaining the Certificate of Final Electricity Inspection (CFEI) required for energization.
Despite these dark and tumultuous times, the country finds itself powering through steadily and optimistically—and Meralco is helping light that path, balancing continuity of service with compassion.