Customers of Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. in Washington now have the option -- the luxury -- of making appointments for phone repairs and installations, ending the anguish of waiting for workers to show up sometime between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Under the new "When Do You Want It?" campaign, residential customers can make appointments for weekdays, evenings and on weekends.
But C&P;'s Baltimore customers need not bother answering the question "When Do You Want It?"
Under its month-old customer service policy, C&P; of Maryland can offer an approximate time -- within two hours -- when service or repair personnel might show up. But that's it.
"We'll try to be there within the two-hour window," says Dave Pacholczyk, a C&P; spokesman in Baltimore. "And we'll try to get there in the beginning of the window, but we can't promise."
The two-hour plan is an improvement over the old "We'll-get-there-when-we-get-there" approach. And C&P; of Maryland now offers evening and Saturday appointments.
But that still doesn't equal the service in Washington.
Mr. Pacholczyk offers several reasons for not making the "When Do You Want It?" pledge in Maryland.
For one, he says, Maryland crews get more than their fair share of calls to install or fix service at construction sites, including the bedroom communities springing up across the state. C&P; crews often don't know what they'll have to do until they show up, making it difficult to allocate time for service calls.
C&P; of Maryland also has a much larger service area to cover, so logistics can seriously upset service schedules. And there's the problem of workers -- Mr. Pacholczyk says that C&P; doesn't have enough of them to blanket Maryland.
People's Counsel John M. Glynn concedes that geography and a lack of manpower could make it difficult for C&P; to offer installation by appointment in Maryland. But he disagrees that those factors alone should prevent the company from offering service by appointment.
"Unless there is truly some compelling reason why they can't do it here, then may be it's something they should consider," says Mr. Glynn, who represents the interests of consumers before the Public Service Commission.
No formal complaints about the contrast in service have been registered with state regulators, but that could be because people don't know about the deal being offered to C&P;'s Washington customers, Mr. Glynn says.
"There's no question if we heard from the public, and they were upset about this, then it would be possible for the commission to raise it as a service quality issue," he says.
C&P; says it could shorten the service window in some urban areas, including Baltimore.
But the company prefers to offer the same service to all customers, not just those in the more accessible areas of the state, Mr. Pacholczyk says.