LIPA trustees on Wednesday raised concerns about a jump in...

LIPA trustees on Wednesday raised concerns about a jump in response times at PSEG customer service centers. Credit: James Carbone

LIPA trustees on Wednesday expressed frustration with recent increases in wait times at PSEG customer call centers, as the utility prepares to roll out a complex new rate plan that's expected to prompt a jump in telephone inquires.

But PSEG Long Island officials during a LIPA trustee meeting Wednesday disputed and downplayed the concerns. They pointed to a recent increase in customer satisfaction scores and took issue with comparisons to 2019 results that showed significantly lower wait times despite higher call volumes.

PSEG operates the LIPA-owned grid under an $80 million annual contract that expires in 2025, and a state commission is eyeing a plan to transition to a fully public utility that would sideline PSEG.

In a report to trustees, LIPA director for customer experience, Carolyn Mackool, said the amount of time customers waited to speak to a PSEG call-center representative, after declining in April, jumped in May to 147 seconds and 183 seconds in June, even as PSEG implemented a call-center “Get Well” plan aimed at driving down wait times.

“We do have concerns because everything seems to be slipping from a timing as well as an expectation” standpoint, Mackool said.

Trustee Nancy Goroff called the wait times “obviously very concerning.”

Goroff continued: “It seems there was a reasonable plan but any plan is only as useful as its implementation.”

Trustee Laureen Harris, calling the results “extremely disappointing,” said it was the board’s “top priority” to have the call center at peak performance before new rates based on time of electricity usage are rolled out next year.

Harris asked for monthly reports on progress in reversing the response time trend. “It’s a high priority for us,” she said, questioning PSEG’s perception that service was improving.

But Louis DeBrino, vice president of customer operations for PSEG, noted that the call centers received 20,000 more calls in May, but said call-center improvements were “a work in progress.” DeBrino did not give a reason for the jump in calls last month.

DeBrino said: “I think we’re getting to where we need to get. We’ve got work to do. We’ve got a plan and we’ll continue to adapt that plan so that we can provide that level of service that everybody is looking for.”

LIPA Vice Chairman Mark Fischl noted that the call center performed considerably better in 2019, with fewer employees.

“You can see where we’re a little confused, right?” Fischl said to DeBrino. “You had less people, more calls and better results than where we are today and yet you’re painting this rosy picture about where we are.”

DeBrino said the 2019 numbers were "flawed" and not apples-to-apples comparisons, in part because 2019 figures didn’t include tens of thousands of emails that representatives now field.

Fischl in an interview after the board meeting expressed disappointment with PSEG's performance. 

PSEG is “agitating for keeping the contract," with LIPA, Fischl said. "But why would you want to hire these guys? What have they done to prove you should hire them? They’ve done a terrible job. If this was a contractor I’d hired in my house I would have fired them years ago.”

It’s not just LIPA trustees pointing to problems at the call centers. At the May LIPA board meeting, two call center trainees who'd recently been let go by PSEG complained about shortcomings in training procedures. 

In a packet given to the board, they complained about classes that were all online, and Zoom meetings with “connectivity issues.” They said trainees lacked the ability to review materials because meetings were not recorded.

PSEG in a statement at the time said it was reviewing the trainees “concerns,” but declined to "publicly discuss ongoing personnel matters." The company cited its “rigorous training program” that trains and tests the “competencies and behavior” of representatives to “ensure high-level service.”

Get the latest news and more great videos at NewsdayTV Credit: Newsday

Summer tourism ... Shark sightings on LI . . . Dino-Mite Vintage . . . What's Up on Long Island . . . Get the latest news and more great videos at NewsdayTV

Get the latest news and more great videos at NewsdayTV Credit: Newsday

Summer tourism ... Shark sightings on LI . . . Dino-Mite Vintage . . . What's Up on Long Island . . . Get the latest news and more great videos at NewsdayTV

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