DWP hearing: Nearly hour-long wait times plague LA customers seeking phone assistance

Department of Water and Power officials told LA city council members Wednesday that customers continue to experience lengthy wait times under its new phone system.
Department of Water and Power officials told LA city council members Wednesday that customers continue to experience lengthy wait times under its new phone system. Alice Walton/KPCC

Customers who call the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power about their bills continue to have extraordinarily lengthy wait times, and it's unlikely the problem will be fixed anytime soon, Los Angeles city council members were told Wednesday.

The Energy and Environment Committee held a hearing on the DWP's multimillion-dollar customer service system that's been riddled with problems, including inaccurate bills and lengthy hold times when customers call to complain. At the 9 a.m. meeting, Councilman Tom LaBonge asked how long he would have to wait if he called the DWP line. The answer: 57 minutes. 

"It will continue to be lumpy," said DWP General Manager Marcie Edwards. 

It could be October before wait times are down to 15 to 30 minutes, Edwards said. In part, that's because it takes 10 to 12 weeks to fully train customer service representatives. 

"There's gotta be a way for us to expedite that solution," Councilman Felipe Fuentes, chair of the Energy and Environment Committee, said of the problem that's been going on for almost a year

The general manager said she planned to meet with the DWP's labor union about moving some of the work to an outside vendor. 

In addition to the lack of customer service reps, DWP found it had a problem with a feature that allows customers who call the utility to avoid a long wait and request a callback when a representative  is available. Because of a glitch in the system, when a customer accessed that feature,  even longer wait times were generated for those on hold. 

"Those that choose to wait on the phone, end up with a longer duration of wait time," said Randy Howard, DWP's senior assistant general manager.

For now, the call back feature is only available from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

DWP officials were asked to provide the full Los Angeles City Council with another update within the next 30 days. 

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