City customer service center tries to address ‘major problems’

Sep. 22, 2013 @ 09:16 PM

Ongoing technological issues, a manpower shortage and other challenges continue to pose problems for High Point’s customer service center, according to city officials.
The volume of calls to the city’s customer service phone line has been higher than normal for about three months. During this time, the number of city workers who answer the phones has dropped from 10 to seven.
As a result, callers have had trouble getting through and have experienced longer-than-usual hold times.
“One of the major problems is lack of personnel,” said City Manager Strib Boynton. “We’ve lost a number of people and had problems with software. Basically, it’s been a mess.”
One employee died unexpectedly, another one quit with no notice and a third is on medical leave, said Bob Martin, city director of customer service.
The department has been authorized to hire four new employees to answer phones. They are in the process of interviewing candidates now, Martin said.
It usually takes about four months for new hires to get fully up to speed to the point that they can answer the broad array of questions callers have, from how to get relief on their utility bills to problems with their garbage service, he said.
“It’s a tough job, if you’ve ever had to be in a call center down there answering the phones, one after another, all day long,” said Assistant City Manager Pat Pate. “A lot of people call in and they just want to talk to somebody.”
The city will continue to use utility dispatchers to help answer customer-service calls until the new positions are filled, Martin said.
In addition, officials plan to provide more information about billing issues and other topics on the city’s website, which should answer some customers’ questions without them having to call.
Also complicating matters is the new monthly billing software the city implemented over the summer.
It can take employees longer to answer questions about customers’ bills because it’s sometimes harder to look up information under the new system.
“We’re moving away from something we’ve used for 20 years, and it’s painful,” Martin said.
Confusion on the part of some utility customers who make automated phone and online payments about changes in their account and PIN numbers also has contributed to a spike in calls.
New utility statements that went into use this summer use the same numbers as the old one, but reverse them, so that a customer’s new account number is their previous access number and their new PIN is their old account number.
Problems with the new software that led to an estimated 300 to 400 customers getting late notices indicating that they could face service disconnections even though they had paid their bills have been corrected, Martin said.
However, there continue to be glitches involving some customers who pay by bank draft who haven’t switched their account and PIN numbers yet. Martin said the city is preparing to call about 2,400 of these customers to try to resolve the issues.

pkimbrough@hpe.com | 888-3531