Hydro-Québec’s blackout hotline sucks

As lousy as power outages are, reporting them to Hydro-Québec only makes them more frustrating.

Hydro-Québec’s downtown office. Photo via Flickr

Along with 560,000 other Quebecers following the great Friday storm-that-wasn’t-a-tornado-but-everyone-on-Twitter-was-talking-like-it-was, I spent the greater part of the weekend without electricity.

We can get into the horrors of waking up sweaty and hungover and not having access to hot water or a coffee maker another time, but right now I’m slightly more vexed by Hydro-Québec’s unhelpful, completely automated panne hotline.

The hotline is problematic for three reasons: 1)  It’s impossible to speak to another human being (pressing 0 accomplishes nothing); 2) The only way to give your home information is verbally; and 3) The service is available only in French.

When you call the number, you’re right away greeted by an automated message telling you they’re dealing with a heavy volume of callers (duh). After choosing the option to report a blackout, a message comes on asking you to say your postal code out loud in French. Not too hard. Then, the automaton asks for your address, and for whatever reason, it usually took two or three times before it would understand my address number. At one point, after saying “désolé” one too many times, it simply gave up and asked for my landline number instead.

If you can’t say your address in French, you’re out of luck. If you simply have a less-than-perfect accent, you’ll find the process annoying and somewhat demeaning.

When I finally made it past the gatekeeper, I still wasn’t treated to a real person, but rather a terse message informing me the blackout was a result of a “bris d’électricité,” followed by an expected repair time. On Friday at 5 p.m., this time was 1 p.m. Saturday. Then, the hotline had no time to give at all. On Sunday, Hydro gave me a time that got pushed back on multiple occasions.

I have no doubt Hydro workers made the repairs as fast as they could, but repeatedly being given erroneous repair times made everyone in the neighbourhood needlessly angry.

The only other option available when using the hotline is again more automated advice, this time on what to do in case of a blackout. Calling the hotline should probably not be included on said list.

As of Tuesday’s morning, 17,000 Hydro-Québec users remained without power. ■

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