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Water Officials Scolded Over Poor Service
About 9,900 calls were made to a customer service center during a 17-day period in August after improvements were made to the phone system. But only 2,800 of the calls were processed. More than 70 percent of those who called for information about bills or to make arrangements to pay outstanding debts never got through because of delays.
The average wait time was 40 minutes, while some people had to wait up to an hour.
Brown told the project manager of American Water Services that he expects to see speedy improvements.
"I don't want to beat up on you, but an hour waiting on the phone for service is absolutely unacceptable," the mayor told James Campolong.
Timothy E. Wanamaker, the city's strategic planning director, was even more blunt, saying water customers who find themselves on hold for long periods have every reason to be upset.
"You guys got two weeks to come back with some type of a plan," he said.
Campolong said efforts are under way to set up an interactive Web site feature that would let customers get some types of information on the Internet as an alternative to the telephone. City officials also encouraged American Water Services to use the Internet to help set up payment plans for property owners who are delinquent in their water bills.
Human Resources Commissioner Leonard A. Matarese urged American Water Services to study customer service models used by other private companies.
"The answer is not hiring more people," Matarese said.
The city also may overhaul its timetable for sending water bills, spreading out the mailings more evenly throughout the year. Public Works Commissioner Joseph N. Giambra said the move would prevent surges in phone calls at certain times.
At one point, Campolong challenged the notion that everyone who calls is doing so to complain or to report a problem. Some customers call to compliment the company, he said. But First Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey wasn't buying that.
"I find it hard to believe that someone has waited an hour to compliment you on the process," he said.
Dozens of people have contacted The Buffalo News in recent weeks to complain about customer service problems in the water division. Many said it's unconscionable that water rates have gone up by as much as 64 percent in the past four years.
This is the first year since 2001 that rates haven't increased. However, the Water Board will meet at 9 a.m. Wednesday to consider a rate increase that could take effect in January.
Residents are encouraged to attend a public hearing that will immediately follow Wednesday's meeting in Room 502 of City Hall.
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Photos by Angel Art LTP, compliments of the Greater Buffalo Convention and Visitors Bureau. Additional photos by Adrian Roselli, compliments of Algonquin Studios