I have been reflecting on the past year since I assumed responsibility as president and CEO of Rochester Gas and Electric (RG&E) and New York State Electric & Gas (NYSEG). While I’ve been with the companies for about 30 years, most recently leading emergency management, the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have created some of the toughest headwinds my colleagues and I have ever faced. Most people have seen the stories of high bills, delayed bills, and long wait times when they call our customer service lines. As the leader of this venerable utility, resolving these issues has been our team’s focus of my first year in the president’s office.
I’m writing now to talk about the commitments we’ve made to the more than 700,000 customers of RG&E, and how we’ve kept them. Our improvements, particularly in our Customer Service organization, may not be immediately noticeable to the customers who called back in January or February and had longer wait times for their issues to be resolved, but we hope they provide reassurance about our commitment to be always at their service if they need to contact us in the future.
We have reported the issues we had with staffing as we emerged from the pandemic while the Great Resignation was plaguing businesses across the country, and now can report significant steps forward. Our turnover in vital customer service roles like customer call center representatives was higher than we’ve ever seen it, and it takes years to develop new employees so that they can handle complex bills or difficult issues. We are pleased to report that we’re now fully staffed in our call center, including a staffing cushion so that as we lose people to new positions at the company or if they leave the company, we minimize impacts to call wait times. Those new representatives are taking calls now, which has allowed us to start accelerated training to move experienced reps into taking escalated calls sooner. We are now answering approximately 90 percent of calls within 30 seconds, and our contact satisfaction for those calls is up over 80 percent.
Estimated bills were another impact from social distancing during the pandemic, an issue aggravated by staffing issues in our meter reading department. We are now billing more than 85 percent of our customers with an actual meter read every other month, even with approximately 40 percent of our meters indoors—a big improvement from the beginning of the year. We appreciate our customers’ contribution to this effort, with many customers providing us with meter readings if they cannot provide regular access. Our smart meter rollout across the RG&E service territory will reduce the need for manual meter reading in the future. Accurate reads are a crucial part of accurate bills, and we’re looking forward to providing the benefits of this new technology to our customers.
We have announced customer assistance programs at many points during this journey, and we continue to encourage customers to contact us if they’re having trouble paying their bills. To make this easier, we have held numerous customer service pop-up events out in the community this year, in places like the Lilac Festival, Bivona Child Advocacy Center, the Juneteenth Festival, Baden Street Settlement, and Midday Bashes. These events allow our customers to meet directly with our customer representatives and customer advocates to talk about their concerns. We know that many people struggle to pay their utility bills, and that’s why our joint proposal with the New York Public Service Commission, currently under evaluation, proposes a more than 30 percent increase in customer assistance in the next three years.
There will always be customers who contact RG&E with questions about their bill or issues to resolve—that’s just how business works. Playing these customer issues out in the media can often create a narrative not fully reflective of the truth, which is that the majority of customers in our nine-county territory are satisfied with their electricity and natural gas service. While some may inaccurately point to our parent company as a scapegoat for these challenges or allege that our parent company has a lack of understanding about what Rochesterians want from their energy utility, that’s simply not true. In fact, our parent company has been a constant advocate for community involvement, modernization of our electricity grid, and investment in our infrastructure.
I want to assure you, with more than 800 men and women working for RG&E and focused on continuous improvement of our service, not only in terms of billing and customer care, but in reliability as well, we are at your service.
Trish Nilsen is president and CEO of Rochester Gas and Electric State Electric & Gas. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].