Water and Sewer Authority improves call center service
By Bob Bauder
Published: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Water and sewer problems don't make for satisfied customers, but the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority is addressing one of its most common complaints: the quality of its customer service department.
Kevin T. Donahue, PWSA's customer service manager, said callers' wait times have decreased by almost 50 percent since July, when a private company began managing the authority.
“We still have some ways to go, but I think Kevin and his people have shown willingness to move in another direction,” said Jim Good, the PWSA's interim executive director.
The agency said it receives 10,000 to 13,000 calls monthly pertaining to complaints, service requests and questions about billing, metering and permits. The wait time has fallen from an average of 8 minutes, 45 seconds to 4 minutes, 45 seconds, Donahue said. The goal is 2 minutes.
He said the percentage of callers who hang up while waiting for someone to answer the phone dropped significantly, from 17 percent to about 7 percent, the goal.
PWSA provides water and sewage treatment to 250,000 customers in Pittsburgh and surrounding towns. It employs 270 people, including 40 in customer service.
Customers said it might be easier to reach someone at PWSA than it was seven months ago, but the authority still has fundamental problems with flooding and sewer backups.
“Before, they didn't answer their telephone. Now they call you back. Who cares? Fix the problem,” said Rocco DiDomenico, owner of Rockwel Realty in Squirrel Hill, whose Murray Avenue properties are plagued by chronic flooding.
Good said the authority does its best, but major repairs depend on availability of money. Some of the city's aging sewer lines are more than a century old.
“It there's something we can do operationally right away, we'll do it,” Good said. “If not, we'll figure out what capital-related work we can do, and then we'll figure out how to fund it.”
The call center fix cost nothing; it essentially involved implementing operating efficiencies, Good said.
PWSA was racked by management and debt problems when its board last summer signed a $1.8 million contract with Veolia Water North America to manage the authority for one year. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has no jurisdiction over municipalities, so regulatory duties fall to the board and elected city officials, said PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher.
Board member Patrick Dowd, a Pittsburgh councilman, said the board instructed Veolia to seek comments from employees while assessing operations.
Good said Donahue recommended reprogramming the phone system menu to route calls more efficiently and shifting work duties so call-takers could focus on telephones rather than paperwork. The authority trained employees in phone courtesy.
“I don't think anybody is saying PWSA is operating perfectly, but there are these small indicators of change,” Dowd said. “Just being able to pick up the phone and get through to somebody has changed customers' perception.”
Chris Zurawsky, 50, of Squirrel Hill said he was surprised by his experience after calling recently about a sewer project scheduled near his home.
“I called PWSA and got tons and tons of help that I didn't expect,” he said.
Bob Bauder is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He canbe reached at 412-765-2312or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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