A PSEG truck responds to downed wires from Tropical Storm Isaias...

A PSEG truck responds to downed wires from Tropical Storm Isaias on Aug. 4, 2020, on Pulaski Road in Huntington Station Credit: James Carbone

Long Island Power Authority trustees this week expressed their gravest concern to date over deteriorating service in the PSEG Long Island customer call center, with the LIPA chairwoman calling the service levels “horrible.”

In a presentation at a LIPA board meeting Wednesday, trustees pressed PSEG staff and executives on why the center, which is the primary area of contact for LIPA’s 1.1 million ratepayers, has failed to meet performance targets.

PSEG, which operates LIPA's electrical system under a contract with the authority, reported the percentage of customer calls answered within 30 seconds was 15% in February — compared with 41.8% for all of 2023. The average time to handle a call was 473 seconds, or nearly 8 minutes.

In January, PSEG had projected the under-30-second answer time would be 30% by February, while the average call handling time would be 466 seconds.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • LIPA trustees expressed their gravest concern to date over deteriorating service in the PSEG Long Island customer call center, with the LIPA chairwoman calling the service levels “horrible.”
  • In a presentation at a LIPA board meeting, PSEG reported the percentage of customer calls answered within 30 seconds stood at 15% in February — compared with 41.8% for all of 2023.
  • The average time to handle a call was 473 seconds, or nearly 8 minutes, PSEG said.

LIPA chairwoman Tracey Edwards expressed dismay that even with PSEG’s best efforts, the amount of time it took for utility customers to get a response would not hit acceptable targets for at least a year.

“The service level is horrible,” said Edwards, pointing to a PSEG graphic showing the metrics nearing a red-zone of alarm, while staffing levels were already in the red zone. “What we need to do is to have a plan on what specifically is going to be needed to get in the green.”

PSEG spokeswoman Katy Tatzel, in a statement Thursday, said, “We are in alignment with the board of trustees and will continue to execute plans to improve our call-center performance.”

Other trustees noted PSEG had implemented a call-center “get well” plan a year ago, and had been told results were improving.

“I started [on the board] a year ago, and if I close my eyes, it’s like déjà vu,” with PSEG saying “we’re understaffed, we’re getting better,” LIPA board member Dominick Macchia said. “And here we’re down the road and we’re not better. So now it’s going to be another six months, hopefully, to get there and my frustration is it shouldn’t take a year and a half.”

Jessica Tighe, director of customer contact for PSEG, blamed the poorer results on higher call volumes, including calls about potential scams, and lower staffing levels. There were 233,589 calls to the center this year through the end of February, compared with 185,699 for the same period a year ago.

But Edwards countered that the call volumes were “not unusual, and the volume is going to continue to increase … We can’t accept these service levels … there’s no tolerance for it.”

Trustees were acutely aware of the potential pitfalls: The utility is already embarking on a plan to convert LIPA’s entire 1.1 million customers to a complex new rate plan that offers discounts for shifting usage away from afternoon peak times between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. The plan includes a guarantee to refund costs to customers who don’t experience a savings.

And the gradual shift to time-of-day rates is happening just as the utility is preparing for storm season, which begins in June. A big storm with a lot of outages occurring at a time of higher call volumes tied to time-of-use inquiries could result in a perfect storm of dysfunction on the order of Tropical Storm Isaias.

“I actually see it as a recipe for disaster,” said Arthur Abbate, a former utility executive who ran call centers for LILCO, KeySpan and National Grid. “If people can’t get through to the call center, you’re going to have all kinds of problems and a lot of backlash, perhaps even to the governor’s office.”

Trustee Laureen Harris called fixing the call center a “top priority for us,” and told PSEG Long Island interim president Dave Lyons that the board didn’t want to have to revisit the problem a year from now.

“Understood,” replied Lyons.

Harris noted that customers in September 2022 waited 22 minutes on average to get their calls answered. 

Tighe said PSEG has dozens of new call-center trainees on the way in coming months, to push the current 106 staff level to 150 by October. PSEG is also actively recruiting for a second call-center manager and more trainers, and last month reactivated a feature that calls customers back at a later time rather than leaving them on hold.

Training for time-of-use rates is also underway and the company is again considering hiring outside contractors to answer some calls, she said. The goal is to answer 77% of calls within 30 seconds, a large jump from the current 15%.

The deteriorating performance came as PSEG appeared to ramp up its lobbying efforts to scuttle a legislative bill that would transition LIPA to a fully public utility and end its contract with PSEG, which expires at the end of next year.

A recent state filing showed that PSEG vice president Christopher Hahn had directly lobbied 28 separate state legislators on the bill this year alone, including some who were based off Long Island. The bill, which has been introduced in the state Assembly, has yet to find a State Senate sponsor, and big questions loom about whether it will get a full legislative vote. Gov. Kathy Hochul has been noncommittal, saying she will review the bill if it makes it to her desk.

“Despite sharp pushback from LIPA last year over its lobbying activity, PSEG and outside entities have continued to heavily lobby state government over the legislation to make LIPA fully public,” Ryan Madden, sustainability organizer for the Long Island Progressive Coalition, which supports a fully public LIPA, told trustees Wednesday. 

PSEG spokeswoman Tatzel didn't respond to questions about PSEG's lobbying activities.

A Newsday analysis shows the number of referees and umpires has declined 25.2% in Nassau and 18.1% in Suffolk since 2011-12. Officials and administrators say the main reason is spectator behavior. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports. Credit: Newsday Staff

'Why am I giving up my Friday night to listen to this?' A Newsday analysis shows the number of referees and umpires has declined 25.2% in Nassau and 18.1% in Suffolk since 2011-12. Officials and administrators say the main reason is spectator behavior. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports.

A Newsday analysis shows the number of referees and umpires has declined 25.2% in Nassau and 18.1% in Suffolk since 2011-12. Officials and administrators say the main reason is spectator behavior. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports. Credit: Newsday Staff

'Why am I giving up my Friday night to listen to this?' A Newsday analysis shows the number of referees and umpires has declined 25.2% in Nassau and 18.1% in Suffolk since 2011-12. Officials and administrators say the main reason is spectator behavior. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports.

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