How can the Manila Electric Company (MERALCO) balance the cry of its customers struggling to pay their electric bills with the energy industry requiring the cash flow to stay afloat and keep the electricity flowing?
“It’s a tough balancing act,” admits MERALCO Chief Commercial Officer Ferdinand Geluz.
MERALCO collects payments 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% to the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), and 12% to government fees and subsidies.
If MERALCO is unable to collect, the energy industry’s viability is jeopardized and the investments needed to keep pace with the country’s development may not happen. As consumption increases, we need more power plants and a future-proof grid that can overcome the challenges of pandemics and calamities.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, MERALCO complied willingly with regulatory directives to subject Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) bills to 4- or 6-month installment arrangements. These were computed based on the February 2020 consumption of customers, since MERALCO was unable to deploy meter readers during this time. On its own, the energy provider gave its customers a 30-day grace period and further extended payment for ECQ and MECQ (Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine) bills 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.
When General Community Quarantine (GCQ) was declared in May 15 this year, Meralco resumed disconnections the following week. “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 provider in the country to implement a Customer Experience Index, which rates a customer’s transaction on if their needs were met, if they felt valued, and how easy the overall process was. 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 page and website, which allows customers to talk to Meralco agents in real time. They may also reach out by calling its 16211 hotline. The installment plan may be arranged in any of these digital channels.
If customers still feel the need to go to a MERALCO Business Center (BC), they may schedule their visit via the Online Customer Appointment system. BCs are also made safer and more efficient through the Virtual Customer Assistant (VCA) service, which allows customers to speak to Meralco representatives who are working from home. Meralco also worked with Bayad Center to have VCAs available at selected Bayad Centers, with more VCAs continuously being rolled out.
MERALCO BCs are open to accept payments, applications, and customer assistance. Business hours are from 7 A.M. to 5 P.M. from Mondays through Fridays and 7 A.M. to 12 P.M. on Saturdays for payment transactions only. Find your nearest Business Center here.
For large corporations and national government accounts, they may contact their Relationship Manager, call the 16210 business hotline, or email at [email protected]. For SMEs who have a query or require assistance, they may call the business hotline, email at [email protected], or get in touch with their Biz Partner Manager.
Real-time payment validation
Apart from increasing its communication channels, MERALCO is also piloting back-end solutions to improve the customer experience, which includes the Real-time Payment Validation App. Through this app, Meralco field personnel are able to validate the status of Disconnection Field Orders before proceeding with the actual disconnection of customers’ meters. This serves as an additional safeguard so that customers who pay their bills even right before disconnection commences are no longer inconvenienced by having their power cut off. 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 rollout 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 Understanding (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 Electrical 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.