Help on the way for city call center

Oct. 12, 2013 @ 04:06 PM

If you’ve called 883-3111 in the last few months, your chances of getting through to someone have been about 50/50.
The city of High Point’s customer service line has been inundated with callers setting up or discontinuing utility service, asking for relief on their bills or inquiring about any number of other issues, officials said.
The odds of getting their questions answered should improve for callers following an upcoming infusion of new personnel, according to the city.
The city lost three of its 10 customer service representatives this summer. One employee died unexpectedly, another one quit with no notice and a third went out on medical leave.
That left the customer service call center short-handed just as a spike in call volume from city residents occurred.
Four new hires are slated to begin work Oct. 21.
“I think the new hires will go a long way toward impacting the call-volume numbers,” said Bob Martin, the city’s director of customer service.
In the five months prior to new customer service billing software being implemented June 11, the center received an average of 28,000 calls a month, 25,000 of which were answered, Martin said.
Since the software was implemented, the monthly call volume has shot up to an average of 42,000 — only 21,000 of which are typically answered.
Some of the rise in calls is likely due to an electric rate increase and a new garbage fee that went into effect for residents July 1.
Martin said the city gets about 9,000 calls a month from customers requesting extensions on their bills’ due dates. Another 2,500 monthly calls have to do with various bill balance and due-date inquiries. About 4,500 calls per month come in from city residents moving in or out of houses or apartments who need their service turned on or off.
Some of the volume increase is also due to repeat callers who don’t get through on their initial attempts, he said.
Calls aren’t the only way customers interact with the city regarding their utility bills.
The city gets about 13,000 walk-in customers per month out of its total 41,800 utility customers. Some customers pay in cash because they don’t have a checking account or credit or debit card, Martin said. Others simply prefer to pay in person, while others are not allowed to pay by check because of past bounced checks, he said.
Some of the billing glitches with the new software itself have been resolved, but employees are still getting used to working on it, which can cause delays in getting customers’ questions answered, Martin said.