News10NBC Investigates: RG&E president says ‘we’re out of the storm’ in regards to customer service/billing issues

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Are the changes that RG&E is making to improve its customer service working? That’s what a group of people intended to find out when they went to the customer service center in Rochester on Wednesday with their issues and complaints in hand. 

News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke has been exposing major billing and customer service issues at RG&E for more than a year now. She was there as customers tested out the promised improvements. 

Most of the folks who showed up at RG&E’s headquarters are part of a group called Metro Justice, which has been pushing to replace RG&E with a public utility. While the debate over public power plays out, about half of the folks had more immediate customer service needs.   

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“I got a very high bill, I was on the budget, paying what they asked, and all the sudden I got hit with this bill that was out of sight,” Marie Green told News10NBC. “I was on the phone was like an hour, two hours then all the sudden it would hang up.”

RG&E representatives were ready for the group, they even had an extra room set-up with additional customer service agents ready to handle billing issues. 

The president of RG&E was also there.

“We’re making the turnaround. We mentioned earlier that we were in the storm, now we’re out of the storm and we’re in restoration mode,” Trish Nilsen says. 

Nilsen says staffing in the customer service department is back up to pre-pandemic levels with another group of new employees starting on the phone this week.

“We’ve reduced the wait time at least double to triple of where it was. So, many calls are being answered within 30 seconds.”

Jennifer Lewke (News10NBC) – “What have you as a company learned about what you’ve been through over the last year or two and how you can better communicate with customers?”

Trish Nilsen – “Like any business, we learned with the pandemic that we needed to shift and adjust.  If we had to do it all over again, we would have been more proactive in our communications to set expectations with our customers.  We’re getting out into the community, that’s the piece that I think that we needed to lean, to listen to our customers and communicate more.”

Jennifer Lewke – “Trish, do you worry about the roll-out of smart meters knowing what you’ve just been through that customers just aren’t there from a trust level right now?”

Trish Nilsen – “Well, that’s been our biggest learning.  We need to be out in the community to show customers and remind customers that for 175 years we’ve been a trusted partner so, I’m not worried. I see it as an opportunity to rebuild that trust with our customers.”

While most of the folks who walked in looking for help from customer service on Wednesday, walked out with a fix to their issues, the trust factor is still an issue.

“RG&E is on this public campaign of all the things they do in the community and all the resources they put into the community but at the end of the day, they have been negligent,” says Robert Hoggard of Metro Justice. 

Metro Justice is pushing the City of Rochester and Monroe County to fund a study that would explore the possibility of a public takeover of RG&E.

“The study can hash out all of these fine details on what happens with overhead, what happens in different situations and how do we serve taxpayers better,” Hoggard says.

Jennifer Lewke – “What do you say to people who say, ‘why don’t we at least try to see what a public utility would look like here?'”

Trish Nilsen – “I say, look at other states across the country where efforts like this have actually caused extra expenses to the community.  We are a long term employer here, we provide 160 million in tax revenue each year.  These are our people who live and work, 800 strong in the Rochester community.” 

The president of the union that represents about 350 electricians that work for RG&E tells News10NBC, his members are not interested in a public takeover.

“Our members are ratepayers. They’re taxpayers in the community and we have a stake in the game and this is not good for Rochester, it’s not good for the community. It’s not going to solve the problem,” says Jeff Sondervan of IBEW Local 36.