News Feature | October 23, 2015

Phone Wait Times Found The Leading Source Of Customer Ire

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Complaints from ratepayers can be wide-ranging, random, and sometimes unreasonable, but there is one thing that tends to aggravate them across the board: long wait times on the phone.

Courier-Journal reporter James Bruggers decided to investigate customer complaints against Louisville Water Company. He reviewed “hundreds of email complaints from September alone.”

Among the chief gripes? Long hold times. The utility lags behind others in this sector on this point.

“National stats from the BenchmarkPortal show utilities on average answer their calls in 69 seconds. Louisville Water Co. was picking up, on average, in nearly 20 minutes last month. More than half of nearly 63,000 customers hung up waiting, compared to a national average for utilities of 6.3 percent,” Bruggers wrote, citing call-center data tracker BenchmarkPortal.

The company has acknowledged that a problem exists. The Courier-Journal reported that an executive from Louisville Water Co. told the board of directors that the company may need to hire more customer service staff next year to improve performance at its call center. A customer service executive at the utility, Dave Vogel called for measures to alleviate customer strife.

"We have got to take action to get customer service levels back to where our customers expect it," he said, per the report.

A large portion of the calls surround a new, $29 million billing system the utility instituted in hopes of becoming more efficient. In some ways, it appears to be causing extra frustration for customers. When nobody picks up their calls about the new billing system, many customers abandon their phone call and take to email to complain about the utility’s phone service.

City officials are skeptical of the idea of adding call-center employees given that the new billing system was instituted in order to save costs. The utility is exploring the idea of hiring college students to improve its customer service. The report said:

Vogel said the company is hiring some university students for part-time work to help with customers service. He said college students are good employees because "they need the money so they will show up for work," and are also savvy about technology. He said the company is also looking into cross training employees to do each other's jobs to help respond to call spikes. "It's been a very challenging year for us," he said. "Things aren't perfect."

For similar stories, visit Water Online’s Consumer Outreach Solutions Center.