Ugh, Washington Gas is the worst at customer experience

We got a message on our home phone yesterday from Washington Gas, and even by voicemail standards of annoyingness it was unhelpful: “We value you as a customer. Please contact us for an important message.”

Right, I’m going to listen to a voicemail and call a company back in 2019 to get a message that it could just put in my account online. Unfortunately, that is not at all out of character for how the D.C. area’s gas utility operates. Even when its customer site hasn’t been in the grip of a relaunch meltdown that left me unable to login for weeks, it’s mainly functioned as an exhibit of how not to run a payment portal.

The single biggest failing here comes if you choose to pay your bill via credit card–as you absolutely should, since there’s no surcharge compared to a bank deposit and you can make 2 percent cash back on each payment via a Citi Double Cash card. (I will set aside for now the fact that we’ve just had to get this card replaced for the third time in four years after some joker tried to make yet another fraudulent purchase on our number.) But clicking the button to pay via credit yields a dialog from the previous century: “A popup blocker is currently enabled. Please switch this to disable for Credit Card payment to function.”

Fortunately, you can disable pop-up blocking for a specific site in Chrome and Safari. Doing so will allow the Washington Gas page to launch a full-screen page from a service called Kubra EZ-Pay. EZ, this experience is not so much: It breaks the entry of your credit-card across two screens, which seems to stop Google Pay from auto-filling the second one, then asks for a phone number and e-mail when neither should be necessary in this transaction.

It’s all a pain, yet I keep taking this payment option because I don’t want to give Washington Gas the satisfaction of knowing that I gave up a 2 percent return because of its janky user interface. The only problem is that because I can’t automate a credit-card payment, I sometimes forget about this bill… which is what I suspect that call was about, not that the Washington Gas payment portal had any message of its own following up on the call.

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Weekly output: VR (x2), cloud efficiency, cloud video (x2), gig economy, work-life balance, customer experience, Facebook plans, self-driving cars

I’ve had few weeks that have left me more physically exhausted. Only hours after I was congratulating myself for crushing jet lag so soon after landing in Lisbon, the traumatic election destroyed my sleep cycle for the rest of the week, then I had jet lag in the reverse direction compounded by a cold I picked up sometime at Web Summit.

I filed the stories you see here about VR and cloud video weeks ago, so they didn’t add to the workload. On the other hand, the list below omits a post about Hillary Clinton’s broadband-expansion plans that my Yahoo editors had asked me to file by Tuesday afternoon so they could run it on Wednesday. I have never been sorrier to see a story of mine get spiked.

11/7/2016: Content and TV Companies Test the VR WatersVR May Require Network Upgrades, FierceCable

Management at Fierce must not have hated the post I did for them two months ago, so they sent a few more assignments my way. This e-book–as with September’s, you’ll have to cough up a name, e-mail and some occupational details to download it–features two stories from me about the state of virtual reality.

web-summit-2016-cloud-panel

11/8/2016: Revolutionising processes and driving efficiency, Web Summit

A panel about a topic as potentially vague as “using the cloud to make your business more efficient” could have been a tad dry. But my fellow panelists SnapLogic CEO Gaurav Dhillon, Symphony founder and CEO David Gurle, Dell EMC CTO John Roese, and WP Engine CEO Heather Brunner made it work. The link above points to a Facebook Live video of Tuesday morning’s panels on the Summit’s “SaaS Monster” stage; mine starts at about 55:10 in.

11/10/2016: A Complicated Forecast for Moving Video to the Cloud, Ads Move to the Cloud, Bringing Scale, Creativity and Inventory Issues, FierceBroadcasting

The first story for this Fierce e-book–you’ll have to cough up a name and e-mail to download it–covers some of issues streaming-video providers have to deal with when moving older video to cloud services. the second gets into the weeds with how ads make the same transition and explains oddities like ad breaks that don’t have an ad, just placeholder music or graphics.

11/9/2016: Rethinking the workforce, Web Summit

This panel was a more obvious fit: I’m a full-time freelancer, and venture capitalist Bradley Tusk and Handy founder and CEO Oisin Hanrahan want to make it easier for companies that rely on independent workers to provide them with portable benefits they can take to a future “gig economy” client. My one regret: After Tusk suggested that Republican control of both the executive and legislative branches could mean progress on things like tax reform, I should have asked how repealing the Affordable Care Act would help the self-employed. Skip to 1:22:50 in the Facebook video to see this panel.

11/9/2016: Technology has destroyed the work-life balance, Web Summit

This was structured as an actual debate, with Deloitte CTO Bill Briggs assigned to argue that tech has done just that while Kochava CEO Charles Manning presented the opposing case. Being a full-time work-from-home type gave me a useful perspective; moderating the debate on four hours of nightmare sleep probably explains why I forgot to take a show of hands of the audience at the start and then had to take that measurement of the audience’s pulse halfway through. This panel starts at 1:41:30 into this Facebook video.

Photo via Web Summit, reproduced under a Creative Commons license

Photo via Web Summit, reproduced under a Creative Commons CC-BY 2.0 license.

11/9/2016: Customer experience in the millennial age, Web Summit

I felt like I was more on my game for this discussion with Qualtrics co-founders Ryan and Jared Smith than at the day’s two earlier panels, even though I was so tired at that point that halfway through, I was telling myself “15 more minutes of focus and then I can go pass out in the speakers’ lounge.”

11/11/2016: Facebook’s status update: broadband bets, chattier bots, stricter security, Yahoo Finance

I gave up trying to write this Wednesday–there was zero chance of it getting any attention in the glut of election stories–but then didn’t file it until Thursday evening. One reason why: Tuesday and Wednesday left me so destroyed that I somehow slept in until 11 a.m. Thursday, something I last did before the birth of our child.

11/11/2016: These are the cars we’ll get before self-driving cars, Yahoo Finance

This post about Renault Nissan and Cadillac’s ambitions to give you a limited sort of autonomous driving took a little longer to write as well. I filed it from my hotel before joining friends for dinner at around 9 local time, which is not a crazy time to have dinner in that part of the world.