I cheered when I heard in the news that as part of its annual Easter Road Safety campaign, this year the Road Safety management has launched a toll free number, 194, for people to report risky road behaviour.
A brilliant initiative which other organisations should emulate, I thought, notably the utility services, because evidently in an emergency there needs to be direct contact between them and the public.
On April 12, when the Deputy Minister of Transport, Mr Hassan Tampuli and the National Road Safety Authority (NRSA) launched the Easter 2022 campaign, the highlight was the announcement of the toll free number.
Through the 194 people are being encouraged to lodge complaints against delinquent drivers, and other safety issues, to a newly established Road Safety Information Office. Its pragmatic slogan is “Dial 194 to report road safety problems, via voice, SMS, photo and video channels”.
Earlier this week, I had even more cause to applaud the NRSA’s 194 initiative when an emergency occurred in my neighbourhood: a burst pipeline. A neighbour had water gushing out from his front yard for more than six stressful hours, precious potable water, before contact could be made with the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL) to report it.
The burst apparently occurred after midnight, as it was around 1 a.m. on Monday that the household was alerted about it.
Frantic calls to the GWCL’s toll free number proved futile. When one calls the toll free number, this is what one hears:
“Hello. And thank you for calling Ghana Water Company Limited. We’re at your service. To reach a Customer Support agent, press 1; to reach our Billing Complaints Department, press 2. To repeat this message please press the hash (#) key. Thank you.”
Strange that none of the options generated by that number says which number to press if one has a leakage or a burst pipe!
Yet, the advice printed on our water bills is: “REPORT ALL LEAKAGES AND OTHER COMPLAINTS PROMPTLY (emphasis added) AT DANSOMAN NORTH DISTRICT OFFICE; TOLL FREE 080040000 (VODAFONE ONLY).”
No other telephone contact is provided!
When my worried neighbour called me at about 6.30 a.m. to inform me of their predicament, I quickly called a nearby plumber to rush over and see if he could help. He took one look and said it was a problem that only the Water Company could solve.
Meanwhile, frantic efforts were continuing to reach the Company. Fortunately, just before 8 a.m. when I called the toll free number for the fifth time, when I pressed ‘1’, it was immediately answered by a woman. She asked for the location and assured me that they would come and work on it.
My neighbour’s daughter too, was still trying the toll free as she was advised not to bother going to the Water Company office before their opening time. She said sometimes she would get a response that ‘all our lines are busy’.
However, she had the presence of mind to video the water cascade and at about 8.30 a.m. she went to the Dansoman North Office to show them. There she saw a list of complaints the office was to deal with and theirs was the last, but when the staff saw the video they realised the urgency.
At about 8. 45 a.m., the repair team arrived and went to shut off the supply line nearby before commencing work.
But, I’m wondering, what is the essence of the advice to “report all leakages and other complaints promptly” if the customers can’t reach GWCL outside office hours?
How helpful is a toll free arrangement only with Vodafone? What about customers who use other telephone services?
Of course the customer in distress would be only too happy to promptly make a report of the broken pipe and alarming water loss. But what if there is no means of contacting Ghana Water immediately?
What if the hapless customer has to wait until the Company begins work at 8 or 9 a.m. in order to find somebody to make the report to? Also, in the meantime? Of course the torrents of water are still cascading down! And at whose expense?
Anyhow, there will be a loss which affects the customer or the Company. Conceivably, if a complainant is able to contact GWCL as soon as a burst happens, then of course there will be little delay with the repair, less water loss; a lower bill.
So how come Ghana Water has no such mechanism for emergencies? A toll free number that is either not answered, or puts an emergency call through the standard “to reach … press A, to reach … press B” is surely not what is needed in a crisis!
Burst pipelines happen regularly, so there needs to be a rapid response system in place.
Therefore, I think that the GWCL should consider adding to the toll free number, and a.s.a.p., an emergency procedure. There should be a team, or teams, on stand-by; and contact numbers which put the caller straightaway in touch with a human, who will ensure that a team is dispatched promptly.
Needless to say, such emergency numbers should be well publicised, on both the Company’s bills, as well even on public billboards.
My second suggestion is that if when the incident occurred there was no way the affected customer could reach the GWCL directly, then it would not be fair to bill the customer for the lost water.
And it’s interesting that on the back of the Company’s monthly bills, all the information there relates only to payment, the responsibility of the customer.
There isn’t a single line about the responsibility of the GWCL to their hapless customers, let alone how customers can get help in an emergency – such as a burst pipe spewing a deluge of water!
This can’t be fair; nor can it be described as good customer-service!