Politics, government and public life for Southern California

DWP officials working to correct billing and customer service problems

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DWP officials are working to correct a new software system that has generated inaccurate bills and left customers with frustratingly long hold times when they call the utility.

If you called the L.A. Department of Water and Power customer service line a year ago, you could expect to be on hold for about 5 or 10 minutes. But call today and you can expect a hold time of 30-t0-40 — even 50 — minutes.

The City Council's Energy and Environment Committee met Wednesday to grill DWP officials about the situation. Committee member Paul Koretz relayed what he's hearing: "As my constituents would characterize it: they call in. They wait. They get transferred. They wait. Centuries go by, mountains wear down, Ice Ages come and go, and they're still on hold and then they call my office." 

The problem is a new multimillion-dollar customer information system. The DWP switched to the new software in September to upgrade the way it manages customers' accounts. But there have been problems. Customers have received bill estimates that are double or triple what they typically pay. And when they call to complain, they're put on hold. DWP officials told the committee they're trying to spend more time with each customer in recognition of that frustrating wait time. But that's making the problem even worse.

"You've given us a Catch-22," Koretz said. "You're having to be more empathetic and take longer on the calls because you're taking so long on the calls."

Utility officials told the committee many of the payment problems will self-correct in a subsequent billing cycle. And customers who fall behind on their inaccurate bills won't be taken to collection. In the long run, the new system will be a good move for the DWP, according to Campbell Hawkins, the utility's director of customer service.

"Our legacy system of 40 years was not in a position to take our business into the future as well as this new platform will be once it's stabilized," Hawkins said. 

In the meantime, customers with billing problems can contact DWP by e-mail at CCenter@ladwp.com and Twitter to avoid those 40 minute-hold times.

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