Good customer service essential for utility

Sandy Dean, recently elected to serve on the Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission, spent her first moments at a meeting of the utility's public relations committee lashing out at what she considered ill-mannered employees. She said they are awful when dealing with residents.

Dean wants improvement and asked the executive director of the utility, Keith Morgan, to see to it. It could be, she suggested, simply a matter of moving personnel around, of making sure someone who is understanding and sympathetic and who cares about earning the salary received takes control of customer service.

Director Morgan and Finance Director John Donaghy attempted to defend their employees. They hinted that sometimes customers just expect too much. A for-instance cited by Morgan included asking utility clerks why a water bill on a particular month is higher than the previous month. It's a question, the director said, that can't be answered by office staff.

Finance Director Donaghy took it one step further. He wondered if customers ever stomped to Georgia Power about a high bill, the implication being, of course, that they don't, but are quick to challenge Joint Water and Sewer Commission employees about high charges.

The very responses by the two supervisors only demonstrates Dean's point. There does seem to be an attitude at the government-run utility that lends itself to bad customer service.

Instead of merely noting the concerns of a commissioner, Morgan sought to explain and excuse the sometimes less-than-cordial responses of clerks. Any business that resorted to the same practices would be bankrupt in no time.

Why shouldn't customers ask clerks about high bills? They certainly know more about it than the average citizen. A right response would have been to assure the customer that the meter would be checked, just to make sure, and that if it remains high, there could be a leak in a pipe serving the residence.

Donaghy's remarks were no less disconcerting. You can bet next week's groceries that Georgia Power representatives get an earful, and a lot more often than water-sewer clerks, who serve far fewer customers. The difference is how the power company handles and responds to concerns and complaints. Water-sewer clerks could certainly learn a thing or two from Georgia Power.

Dean and other members of the Joint Water and Sewer Commission ought to follow through on this. Like Dean observed, just because the utility is the only game in town doesn't mean it has to treat customers like little more than annoyances.