By John Schaffner

More than a month after Department of Watershed Management Deputy Commissioner Sheila Pierce admitted to mistakenly identifying Buckhead residents protesting water bills on a petition from the Buckhead Council of Neighborhood as being part of a lawsuit against the city, the department’s customer-care staff is still making the same mistake.

Peachtree Hills association president Kristy Gillmann, who spearheaded the petition with 150 names of unhappy Buckhead residents months ago, had a conversation Sept. 28 with Erica Cockfield of Watershed Management regarding the customer-care department’s continued assumption that people who signed the petition were part of the lawsuit and “an ill-conceived letter recently sent to petitioners.”

Gillmann and BCN president Jim King met Aug. 26 with Pierce after months of no response to the petition seeking a resolution to the complaints by the 150 petitioners.

They were told at that meeting that the department incorrectly believed the petition was part of the pending lawsuit and that was the reason for delays in the department responding to or even acknowledging the BCN document.

Gillmann said some petitioners received a certified letter saying their complaints had been resolved. When the recipients called customer care to inquire about reason for the letter — “since the language of the letter did not associate in any way to the petition nor was it tied to being generated as a result of our 26 Aug meeting — residents were told they were in receipt of the letter because they were part of a lawsuit,” Gillmann said.

In her discussion Sept. 28 with Cockfield, Gillmann said she shared her “disappointment that there was 1) no context in the letter as to why it was sent or any relation between letter and the petition; 2) the letter was sent over a month after our [Aug. 26] meeting so there had been plenty of time to adjust wording; and 3) her customer-care staff seemed very confused on the status of people’s accounts.”

Gillmann pointed out there were only six names on the lawsuit, yet customer care-agents seemed to lump all of the 150 petitioners in that group. Cockfield requested that Gillmann send an email to the petitioners explaining the nature, purpose and intent of the letter and, in return, she would send an email to her staff clarifying that the BCN petitioners were not part of the lawsuit.

“Originally, the customer-care center was designed to be an in-take facility only,” Gillmann reported, “with the agents merely trained to receive and note issues on callers’ accounts. They were not trained or equipped with the appropriate escalation procedures or skills to address specific problems as completely as the public and, in particular the petitioners, would have liked,” she added.

During the Aug. 26 meeting, Gillmann said Deputy Commissioner Pierce noted that the “DWM needs to improve communication on many levels and that she will include that objective as part of her team’s mission.” Gillmann said Pierce committed to certain actions in specific time frames:

• Restructuring the customer care/call center within 60-90 days of the meeting.

• Deadline to “empower” call agents to coincide with the restructuring.

• Place a key performance indicator dashboard on the public DWM website, containing metrics they are working to improve with target goals, benchmarks and time frame for completion. That was to be available within 45 days of the meeting.

• Increased training to call agents, educating them on how to address issues, a formalized escalation process, and willingness to use petitioners’ comments as a training tool.

Gillmann was to follow up with Pierce 45 days after the Aug. 26 meeting regarding the website dashboard, progress to restructuring, etc. During their Sept. 28 meeting, Gillmann said Cockfield “assured me that the previously discussed metric dashboard would be live on the website by end of the week and the restructuring of the customer-care center was proceeding well and still targeted for the agreed to 90-day window.”