News and Views from Dave Wilson

Archive for December 8th, 2010

Ferrellgas – You’ve Lost A Customer

by on Dec.08, 2010, under Miscellaneous

I don’t often use this blog to rant but I hope you’ll forgive me this post. I’ll get back to the usual fare tomorrow but, today, I wanted to highlight an unpleasant consumer experience that came to a head this evening.

Our home is in a pretty remote area and we use liquid propane for many of our appliances. This is fed from a 500 gallon tank in our back yard that gets filled every so often as required. For the last 6 years, we’ve been using national supplier Ferrellgas with whom I had a “keep full” contract which meant they were supposed to monitor our usage and deliver at appropriate intervals to ensure that we never ran empty.

My relationship with Ferrellgas has not always been rosy. When we initially set up our account, they offered good prices and the salesman made various promises to me including the fact that they would file paperwork for our $800 state propane rebate and that all billing would be handled automatically via a credit card. As it turns out, neither of these proved to be true (or, at least, the rebate that I filled in paperwork for and passed to Ferrellgas never appeared and, by the time I complained, the salesman had left the company and no-one had any record of the forms).

Although this and a couple of late deliveries were annoying, they could be put down to mistakes or a single dishonest employee. The latest debacle, however, has left me with severe doubts about the ethics of the company as a whole and has caused me to cancel my account.

A couple of weeks ago, we woke up on the coldest day of the year so far to discover that we had no propane – no hot water, no ability to cook, a dryer full of wet laundry. I phoned the emergency line and Ferrellgas promised to send a delivery that day. The tanker arrived and pumped 400 gallons then left a delivery slip indicating a price of $3.439 per gallon which was very much higher than any price I had seen in the last 6 years.

I tweeted my discontent running out of fuel despite the fact that our usage was essentially flat over the whole time we had been in the house and shortly thereafter I was contacted by Jim Saladin, the Director of Corporate Communications who offered to look into the problem and see what he could do. I also emailed him a list of my experiences with the company which he passed on to the local Austin office. During this exchange I asked about the price charged. I had checked the Department of Energy’s Residential Propane price table and found that the national average for the week I received my delivery was $2.55 a gallon and another local supplier, AmeriGas, was charging $2.37 on that day. Surely, therefore, $3.439 was a transcription error and the price should have been $2.439? Jim was unable to answer this question but indicated that someone would call to discuss the issue.

The following morning, I received a call from Casey (I think) in the Austin office. He apologised for my experience but, when asked what price was supposed to be charged that day, he couldn’t or wouldn’t answer. He promised to call back with clarification. Although this call never materialised, I received my bill today and have been charged the $3.439 rate – 35% above the national average and 45% above the rate offered by a local competitor. I have no idea how Ferrellgas can justify such a huge difference between their price and that charged elsewhere.

On their site, Ferrellgas promise “guaranteed lowest price for tank owners” and that “Ferrellgas takes responsibility for estimating your propane usage based on our advanced computer modeling and schedules a delivery when our system indicates you need a fill. You’ll never have to call us to schedule your service” which leaves me with the distinct impression that I’ve been the victim of some kind of bait-and-switch scheme.

Customers are a valuable asset, all the more so in this economic climate, but it appears Ferrellgas is content to abuse long term relationships and is happy to give customers to their competitors. My account is now cancelled and I will be on the phone to AmeriGas tomorrow to set up a new account with a company who, I hope, shows greater interest in keeping their promises and less inclination to charge exorbitant prices for a commodity product.

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