VALPARAISO | The vast majority of the city's water and sewer utilities customers is satisfied with the department's handling of problems and complaints.
A customer satisfaction survey done for the department by Saqui Research showed 80 to 90 percent of the people who responded was satisfied or very satisfied, according to a report to the city's Utilities Board by Saqui Research President Ursula Saqui at a recent utilities board meeting.
Utilities Director Steven Poulos said he asked for the survey, the first in six or seven years, shortly after being name director last fall. The previous survey was a general look at all customers, while the new one dealt with people who had contacted the department directly within the past year. Cost of the survey was $4,000.
Saqui said 1,000 names were selected to receive a mailed survey from the 1,268 who contacted the department. Of those, 267 came back as undeliverable and 236 were filled out and returned, including eight done online. The 32.2 percent response rate was very high, she said.
Saqui said 70 percent of the respondents lived in the city for 10 or more years and some even wrote on the survey they had lived in the city for 50 or 60 years. About two-thirds of them called with billing or repair questions, 16 percent had questions about the water service and 10 percent had equipment or water quality questions or complaints.
The phone was the normal form of contact (83 percent) and 87 percent rated the customer service as good or excellent. Only 5 percent said it was poor or very poor. As to the ability of the customer service person to understand and deal with the complaints, about 90 percent rated representatives as good to excellent.
A total of 170 comments were provided, and Saqui said, "Respondents valued knowledgeable staff that provided good information in a courteous and efficient manner. Customers appreciated when an apology was extended for an oversight or when they were transferred to the right person/department the first time."
Of those who were dissatisfied with the service, some said the service person argued, disagreed, didn't understand the issue, transferred the customer repeatedly or didn't provide a follow-up call to see if the person's issue was resolved.
"Interestingly, some responses indicated confusion about who they were calling as they made comments related to tree service, garbage pickup, recycling or asked, 'Are you and NIPSCO different?'" Saqui said.
While customer comments generally were positive, Saqui said there is a need for service representatives to be knowledgeable about all city departments because of some customers apparently confusing them with the Public Works Department.
She said a lot of the questions people have are dealt with on the department's website, but most people are not using it. She also recommended follow-up contacts with customers to help alleviate the negative responses.
Poulos said, "The next step will be to focus on the items that need improvement and provide the staff with training. Customer service is not an easy job. You are dealing with frustration and day to day issues."