Renewed Focus on DPW Customer Support in 2014
Wednesday Dec 31st, 2014
Renewed Focus on Customer Support Brought Improvements in 2014
BALTIMORE, Md. (December 31, 2014)—The Customer Support and Services Division of the Baltimore City Department of Public Works (DPW) has been adding staff, providing better training and supervision, and changing systems to prevent mistakes in the first place. The result was a 2014 in which customers saw better service, and a new year which promises even more improvements.
Since she took over as Chief of the Division about a year and a half ago, Yvonne Moore-Jackson has instituted a series of changes aimed at making customers more confident that their water bills are accurate and that their questions and concerns are promptly addressed. The latest step was hiring a training officer to work with employees in each section, making sure that each employee gets better at her or his job and the customer interactions are positive.
“It’s really changed the behavior around here, and the attitudes,” said Moore-Jackson. Response times and customer feedback have improved, and Division employees have been winning DPW Employee of the Month and even Employee of the Year awards.
The division, which is tasked with taking care of DPW water customers, had to practically be reinvented after a series of deficiencies had eroded public confidence in the agency.
For years, thousands of meters went unread either because they were located inside houses or because they were buried, built over, or parked on. In any case, with so many meters that were routinely inaccessible the number of estimated bills soared. By definition an estimated bill lacks accuracy, so customers didn’t have confidence they were paying what they actually owed.
Under the direction of then-Bureau Head Rudy S. Chow, P.E., who has since become Director of the DPW, thousands of meters were made accessible with an aggressive program of replacing indoor meters with standard outdoor, buried meter vaults. Also, more meter readers were hired, so when an outdoor meter could not be read it was easier to come back and get the true read.
Moore-Jackson also made sure unusually high bills were captured and analyzed before they went out, to be sure the problem was not simply an incorrect or estimated read. Staff retraining made adjustments to the bills quicker and rarer. Additional staff and training meant inspections and checked meter readings could be done more quickly, and quality control measures further drove down the number of bills going out with errors.
“We are holding people accountable,” said Moore-Jackson. “We are managing performance.”
The Customer Support and Services Division hired liaison officers in 2014, giving customers contacts inside the agency who could provide direct assistance. And the Call Center for billing has specialists for questions about sewer, stormwater, the BaltiMeter water meter replacement program, and the HomeServe private service line protection program.
“We’re a part of every initiative that’s going on,” said Moore-Jackson.
When customers do want to challenge their bills the system of informal conferences has been revamped to make it more convenient for them. Rather than scheduling mass morning and afternoon sessions, customers are scheduled into one of six sessions throughout the day so their wait times are reduced. Two new conference chairs have been hired, including the first woman in that role.
Further improvements planned for 2015 include installation of a new Customer Information System that will ultimately make for a more readable and accurate bill, and wider dissemination of the senior water bill discount program and hardship applications for the Maryland Stormwater and Bay Restoration fees.