The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power introduced a new “Customer Bill of Rights” on Tuesday. The so-called Bill of Rights still needs to be reviewed and approved by the department’s board of commissioners (which should happen on January 17), but in the meantime, here’s a preview of what it might mean for you, the consumer.
The content of the bill is hazy at first, as it starts off with the department’s “service philosophy.” Here, we get some generalized remarks on “easy to access services and information” and “clear, accurate and consistent information.” The list of “level commitments,” however, provides a set of concrete guidelines that give customers a good idea of what to expect. For one thing, the bill says that call wait times should not exceed more than three minutes per customer, and that email inquiries about one’s account will be replied to within 24 hours. The LADWP also promises to replace a defective meter within 90 days of it being discovered, and says that requests for a new residential account will be processed within one day, or else the fee will be waived. And when it comes to utility rebates and incentives, applications will be reviewed and processed within 30 days.
One of the most interesting proposals, perhaps, is that the LADWP will review bills that are three times higher than the historic average for a property. If this kind of anomaly is detected, an investigation will be enacted, and field agents may come out to the property to see if the high bill is due to a water leak or a faulty meter.
Outside of customer service, the LADWP has set a bar in which they expect no more than 2% of water customers to experience service interruptions in a year. The department will also provide notices about water outages on their website, within 60 minutes of LADWP being aware of the outage.
The Bill of Rights comes at a time when the LADWP has been beset with bad press. As noted at the L.A. Times, a 2016 survey conducted by the consumer group J.D. Power & Associates ranked the department as dead last in customer satisfaction among large Western power providers. The biggest gaffe, however, was revealed in November, when a lawsuit claimed that the LAWDP had mistakenly overcharged customers by a whooping $67.5 million (at least).
As such, a lot was riding on Tuesday’s announcement, where a physical draft of the bill (all done up on faux-Papyrus paper, and with a kind of font that may have been selected by Joel Osteen), was introduced at a press conference:
(Via Mayor Garcetti’s Twitter)
Mayor Garcetti, who was on hand for the introduction, apparently worked the operating board:
(Photo via Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Twitter)
But would the LADWP have the means to actually enforce and monitor these goals? Kim Hughes, a spokesperson for the department, said that the LADWP is also proposing a new organizational structure that includes a Chief Customer Care Officer, a newly created position that will oversee the implementation of the proposed goals. That officer may work in conjunction with what the department calls an “Experience Officer,” as well as other customer service reps. “They are different arms, but they work under the same umbrella,” said Hughes.
The Bill of Rights is not without its critics. For the most part, opponents say that it’s simply not enough for a department that has been hampered with missteps. Consumer Watchdog had a particularly scathing take on the proposals, saying that they’re “are common sense reforms that should be standard business practice and shouldn’t need a board of commissioners’ vote.”
Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, said that an independent entity is needed to keep the LADWP in check. “What’s needed is to tear down the walls and create an independent voice for ratepayer problems rather than entrusting a failed bureaucracy to fix itself,” said Court.
Others say that the Bill of Rights sets forth goals that are already being met, meaning that the bill is hardly a mark of change. As mentioned earlier, the goal of a 3-minute-max wait time on the phone is not exactly a new benchmark; Hughes says that it’s a goal that the department has been meeting as of late. “We’ve been averaging less than three minutes, already. But we want to make that standard and required,” said Hughes. “We’ve been increasing the staffing levels to meet demands.” Hughes, however, also maintains that the bill is meaningful in that it establishes a clear delineation of expectations. “It creates a standard that the customer can hold us to. These are high standards across the board,”said Hughes. “The customers should know what they can expect from us. The bill solidifies it.”