In response to a growing number of local AmeriGas customers who have recently complained of weeks-long delays with the delivery of propane and other serious customer service issues, a director of the company attended a public meeting on Vashon last week, and assured islanders that their problems would be addressed under his leadership.
Robert Davis, who is the director of Northwest Operations for AmeriGas, was an unexpected guest at a Jan. 4 meeting at the Land Trust Building.
The meeting had been organized by islanders Joan Wortis, Pamela de Ryss and Neil Wiesblott, in an effort to help forge a collective response by local AmeriGas users in terms of their options going forward with the company.
A crowd of approximately 30 islanders came out for the meeting on a rainy evening.
Davis, who had announced his presence to the organizers just as the meeting began, took the floor and said that he had learned that the meeting had been publicized in The Beachcomber — prompting him to drive up from Portland to directly address islanders.
“I can apologize for what’s happened and I can tell you the challenges we have faced recently, and what we’re doing to move forward,” he said.
Speaking and engaging in dialogue with attendees for approximately 40 minutes, Davis described multiple issues which had affected the company nationwide and regionally, including staffing and managerial challenges, a national fuel shortfall, and other roadblocks to AmeriGas’s ability to provide service to customers.
He also acknowledged that islanders were dissatisfied with the company’s outsourcing of customer service to offshore call centers, but said he did not believe those who worked at the call centers had been coached to intentionally offer deceptive reassurances to customers, as islanders claimed.
Several islanders at the meeting challenged this assertion, with one person saying she had repeatedly been told by call center workers that they were sorry and would immediately take her issue to upper management.
“When you hear it the first time, you might believe it,” she said. “The second time, you’re getting tired of it, and by the 20th time …”
“There is no reliability … escalation is a non-event,” said Wiesblott. “I’ve had no less than half a dozen managers saying ‘I’m personally going to make sure this is escalated or recorded.’”
In response, Davis said Vashon’s biggest immediate issue was “that we ran you out of gas” — a problem he could help rectify.
Davis assured the crowd that he had taken some concrete steps to improve service on Vashon, including bringing a second delivery truck to the island, to replace a vehicle that had broken down. He also said he was in the process of hiring a second driver to service Vashon when needed.
“I can’t fix the whole company, but what I can do is to say ‘look, these are the challenges we face … here’s where I know we are with this location, and here’s how we’re going to serve you better,’” he said. “The major concern is that you don’t run out of gas next week. You are real people facing real problems — it’s cold, and you’re running out of fuel, and you can’t cook and you don’t have heat, and that’s unacceptable.”
AmeriGas, the largest retail propane distributor in the United States in terms of the volume of its deliveries, serves more than 1.7 million residential, commercial and other customers in all 50 states. Headquartered in Pennsylvania, it recorded reported revenue of $2.6 billion in 2021, with a net income of $337 million that year.
In the mid-2010s, the company acquired Vashon Energy, a local company owned by Jim Warren. Initially, in AmeriGas’s operation on the island, local employees of Vashon Energy continued to interface with customers, but in recent years AmeriGas has outsourced these parts of its operation.
On social media and beyond, AmeriGas customers throughout the country have lamented their interactions with the company.
AmeriGas Consumer Complaints, a national Facebook group with 5,000 members, is a compendium of modern consumer despair, with cascading posts describing long stretches in bitterly cold weather with no heat or hot water, price gouging, and lack of responsiveness by the company — an echo of complaints posted recently on Vashon social media channels, and by attendees at the Jan. 4 meeting.
In addition, AmeriGas has an F rating and is not accredited by the Better Business Bureau, with 1,721 complaints closed in the last 12 months.
Organizers outline problems on Vashon
At the meeting on Jan. 4, Wortis, de Ryss and Wiesblott handed out a fact sheet, summarizing issues experienced by 20 islanders who had sent them documentation of the recent woes with AmeriGas.
These included fuel tanks running out, and non-delivery; unsafe and hazardous conditions caused by empty tanks; AmeriGas’s dysfunctional and inaccurate online client data system; questionable and deceptive pricing; high add-on service and will-call fees; and intentional and deceptive communication by call center workers and supervisors.
The fact sheet encouraged islanders to file complaints about AmeriGas with the Better Business Bureau and the State Attorney General and to also contact the company’s customer relations director in Pennsylvania.
It also detailed, in bullet points, what the organizers believed would be the desired outcome of islanders’ activism.
These included timely and consistent delivery, fair and transparent pricing, a local or regional contact, an online account data interface that was accurate, and a contractual obligation to maintain 30%-plus minimum tank levels.
They also asked for a sufficient amount of drivers to service Vashon, and that the Vashon holding tank be kept at full capacity.
After the meeting, Davis spoke to The Beachcomber briefly, saying that he believed Vashon’s problems with AmeriGas could be resolved.
“There are very good people here and they have valid concerns, and I want to make sure we are partnering in order to address them appropriately,” he said. “I’d like to think that my understanding of what’s going on here helps resolve the situation.”
To join in the community’s response to problems with AmeriGas, current customers are requested to email changeAGas@gmail.com, an email account set up by the organizers of the Jan. 4 meeting. Vashon-Maury Island Community Council will also discuss the issue at its next meeting, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19, at the Land Trust Building. For more information, visit v-mcc.org.
Correction: In both The Beachcomber’s print edition version and an online version of this article, Neil Wiesblott’s name was misspelled. We strive for accuracy and regret the error.