Last summer, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority contracted with Veolia Water North America to take over its management for one year. One aspect of the agency's business that has seen significant improvement has been customer service.
PWSA claims that the average wait time on a phone call has dropped 50 percent, from 8:45 to 4:45. This is far short of the agency's goal of two minutes, but is a significant improvement.
The percentage of customers hanging up while on hold has dropped from 17 percent to PWSA's goal of 7 percent.
The agency handles 10,000 to 13,000 calls per month for requests for service, complaints, permits, metering and billing, and provides service to 250,000 customers.
Improvement in the call center performance came largely from operating efficiencies. Customer service reps spend more of their time on calls and less on paperwork. A reprogrammed phone system routes calls more efficiently.
According to one customer, improvements in call center performance aren't enough.
"Before they didn't answer their telephone. Now they call you back. Who cares? Fix the problem," said Rocco DiDomenico, a real estate agency owner in the area who deals with flood problems on a regular basis.
One of the biggest complaints about utilities like PWSA is that they’re bureaucracies that often fail when it comes to customer service. Any changes that improve customer service would seem to be a good thing, and in the PWSA's defense, 'fixing the problem' takes funding that is not always available.
"If there's something we can do operationally right away, we'll do it," said PWSA interim director, Jim Good, "If not, we'll figure out what capital-related work we can do, and then we'll figure out how to fund it."
With some sewage lines in PWSA's service area approaching 100 years old, the agency faces challenges in making improvements if they do indeed have limited funding. PWSA improving customer service is the right step in solving one of a series of problems, but without fixing and preventing the problems that lead to the calls in the first place, they’re only treating symptoms and not the underlying cause.