Last week, on the prowl for a new smart phone, I was able to see at the counter of Verizon on South Virginia my phone records kept by the company. Each time I have called, a notation has been made in my account detailing, briefly, the conversation: what was said, what the problem was and so on. I wasn’t at all surprised to see this. It makes good business sense and it makes Verizon accountable to its customers to document these transactions. Such a practice both protects the customer and Verizon.
But I was surprised last week to see a front-page news story on the Truckee Meadows Water Authority that alleged mistreatment of its customers. Reading the story it was clear something was amiss; mainly, the perspective of TMWA, which was buried in the minutiae of the story, a story that drove more attention to customer complaints than TMWA’s position and key facts about the agency. Not only that, but TMWA’s Web site outlines readily available information on procedures for handling conflicts and becoming directly involved with the agency.
So I decided to ask for myself: What is TMWA’s side of story? The following is an interview with Kim Mazeres, TMWA’s director of customer relations. This is being posted in a three-day series because of its length. I will most likely follow-up with a commentary on the fourth day. I encourage your feedback in the comments section.
[Disclosures: I met Kim professionally on one occasion, and I have friends and colleagues employed by TMWA’s media agency, Olsen & Associates, who I approached to do this interview and who were very forthcoming with information. It should also be noted that I am not a TMWA customer.]
It is alleged that Truckee Meadows Water Authority has expressed an uncaring attitude toward customers in light of the economic situation. What’s your perspective?
First off, let me say I believe our employees to be some of the most compassionate, caring people around. They empathize with customers, and go to many lengths to assist the customer in whatever way they can. Unfortunately, the utility industry in general is just not very exciting to customers. It’s expected to be there, it’s not a luxury, and often times it’s taken for granted. People never think about the water until it’s not there. We have found that some customers erroneously believe that their bill is very small in the grand scheme of things and that TMWA doesn’t need their money. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While we may be a not-for-profit agency, we are similar to any other business in this community. We have bills like everybody else, and we can’t operate without revenue.
It is important to remember that, unlike most businesses, when we bill a customer, it is for water that has already been used. We can’t take it back. With all that said, because of the misconception that we don’t need their money, some customers don’t understand our efforts to collect on the debt, and unfortunately may view us as the bad guy in the equation.
How do you think TMWA compares overall in terms of customer satisfaction with similar water agencies in the U.S.? What makes it better? Worse?
We have an independent company conduct two different surveys throughout the year: A Customer Satisfaction survey and a Customer Transactional survey. They have been doing this since the inception of TMWA in 2001. The Customer Satisfaction survey is polled from a sampling of all TMWA customers. They are asked various questions about their perceptions of TMWA, including their overall satisfaction with the agency. The second Customer Transactional survey is polled from a sampling of TMWA customers that have had a recent interaction with a TMWA employee, whether on the phone or in the field. This survey specifically asks about the interaction with the TMWA employee. The results of both of these surveys show that TMWA ranks very high in customer service – in almost all cases we rank higher than the industry benchmarks. Our most recent overall customer satisfaction rating is 87% — which is the number of our customers indicating that are mostly or totally satisfied – which is high for utilities.
We believe what makes TMWA better is our enterprising attitude to resolve customers’ problems—in all of our departments.
Part 2 will run on This Is Reno tomorrow.