President of RG&E: “We’re working on ways to make billing more efficient”

[anvplayer video=”5133224″ station=”998131″]

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – For months, News10NBC has been reporting on huge bills, late meter-reads, staffing shortages, unexpected fees and backed-up phone lines at RG&E.  The issues have been delaying bills and hitting customer’s wallets hard.

News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke sat down with the President of RG&E for an exclusive interview on what the utility is doing to correct the issues and get back on track. Trish Nilsen took over as President of RG&E and NYSEG in July but says addressing the on-going customer service issues the utility has been facing, is a top priority. 

Jennifer Lewke (News10NBC) – The complaints continue to roll-in as far as you being able to keep up with billing and then catching up and slamming people with big bills, then they aren’t able to get in touch with customer service…those are all issues that you’ve acknowledged, how is the work going to fix them?

Trish Nilsen –  We have teams that are working on billing every day and we have a group that is checking in and working on ways to make the billing process more efficient for a customers.

RG&E has maintained that in many cases the customers most impacted have had meters inside their homes.  During the COVID pandemic, estimates were used because meter-readers couldn’t get inside to do actual readings.  Those getting slammed with big bills now are having their bills adjusted after the utility was finally able to get an actual reading.  RG&E admits that it’s also suffering from a shortage of meter-readers which has delayed actual readings even further.  

Trish Nilsen – We’ve been mitigating and reducing the gap of customers who’ve had billing delays and we’re working forward to getting those to zero.  

Over the labor day weekend, RG&E installed new technology that it believes will help too. 

Trish Nilsen – We are putting in a new billing system that’s going to automate some of the manual bills that we’ve had to do as a result of this incident.

Jennifer Lewke – So, that should help do what? 

Trish Nilsen – The new customer system is going to help take some of the manual bill process that we’ve had to do today and automate it. 

Jennifer Lewke – Do you do all manual billing now? 

Trish Nilsen – Oh, absolutely not. Our billing system is automated but with those estimated reads it is pushing out when you have a significant bill difference, we do want someone to look at that manually so, those do push out and then some of the energy supply bills will require a manual review too so, some of the automation we’re putting in place this weekend will eliminate the need for that.   

Jennifer Lewke – Did you choose to do that based on the customer feedback you were getting?

Trish Nilsen – We chose to do that knowing that the way that customers needed to be billed was evolving so, it was time for us to put in that system.  So, they really happened in concert with each another. We never expected the impacts of COVID and what was going to happen with estimated reads.  For safety reasons, we needed to allow our customers, particularly those with inside meters, the ability to safely stay in their homes without someone coming in.  So, we never anticipated that.  Fortunately, this billing system is coming into play so, I think that that will be a benefit to us both.  

Jennifer Lewke – What about customer service?  So many customers have told us when they have a problem, they can’t get through or the person on the other end of the line just doesn’t know what to do to help them. 

Trish Nilsen – We still are actively looking for employees to join us particularly in our customer service realm in the call centers.  It would be a great opportunity and I would encourage anyone, whoever wants to learn how to be a line mechanic to look at line-school, I think that the utility industry is an opportunity for employment for many many people.  

Jennifer Lewke – Do you have any information on hold-times or how much staff you’re hoping to add to the customer service department? 

Trish Nilsen – We are always working to match our staffing to our call-volume and our customer service walk-in volume.  I know that we’ve been making some shifts in terms of staffing to ensure that we’re hitting those high call volume times. I mean certainly Monday morning, if you think of typical customer behavior, I know for me I work on bills and other things over the weekend and then say, “oh I’ll call them first thing Monday.” Everybody thinks like that, so we strive to staff up those time we’re hitting those high call volume times. 

Jennifer Lewke – You’ll soon be changing all customers over to smart meters, will that help some of these customer service issues?

Trish Nilsen – When we have smart meters in place, we will not be required to have a meter-reader go out.  We still will go out to a customer’s home if it’s a shut-off, we want to make that touch point with a customer to make sure that we’re safe to shut-off a meter but we won’t have to have the meter reading happening on that constant cycle. So, that will alleviate some of the staffing concerns that we have with meter reading.  

RG&E and NYSEG will begin switching out all electric meters in the region with smart meters later this fall.  Coming up on News10NBC Tuesday beginning at 4, News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke continues her conversation with Nilsen about how they work, the schedule for replacement, how your information is protected and how much it’ll cost if you want to opt-out.