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PSEG Long Island: Scores show customer service has improved

PSEG Long Island, anxious to accelerate gains in customer satisfaction levels, has embarked on a targeted to-do list this year that includes overhauling the look of electric bills and building stability into a sometimes mercurial balanced-billing program.

Top PSEG officials point to their generally higher gains in customer satisfaction from research firm J.D. Power & Associates to illustrate that customer service has improved since it took over in January 2014. Previously, the Long Island Power Authority’s scores on the survey set national lows.

Earlier this month, J.D. Power reported that PSEG had increased the utility’s score with businesses to 631 of a possible 1,000 points, well above the record lows that LIPA scored. But the number is still the lowest in the nation.

PSEG’s gains on the residential side have been less consistent. Customer satisfaction in an interim survey slipped to 591 in the fourth quarter of 2015, down from the 605 the utility scored in the third calendar quarter.

While the J.D. Power scores are interim ones that will be averaged for an overall score in mid-2016, PSEG and LIPA watch them closely. PSEG officials say they have lowered the level of complaints to the state Department of Public Service to among the lowest in the state.

“We want to make continuous improvements, we don’t want to plateau,” PSEG LI president David Daly said last week, noting the company had scored 584 points in the J.D. Power residential survey for 2014-15. “We want to continue to push that up.”

PSEG each year has a list of 21 performance standards that it must meet to receive a special incentive bonus of several million dollars. For 2015, it hit all but three of the 21 — missing two worker safety standards and another for meter reading that was affected by cold, snowy weather early in 2015.

LIPA trustee Matthew Cordaro said he has concerns about the reliance on the J.D. Power score to determine the utility’s eligibility for a performance bonus. He said he would like to see another independent consultant do an assessment of PSEG’s satisfaction on Long Island, which could be used as a baseline to determine improvement in subsequent years.

“It’s good to hear the numbers are improving,” he said, “but the numbers for all the utilities went up last year. . . . My personal view is that there’s a much better approach to determining customer satisfaction instead of relying on J.D. Power.”

PSEG nevertheless plans to address issues that have been the continual source of customer gripes.

One big program that will be completed late this summer is a redesign of customer bills, said Dan Eichhorn, vice president for customer service. For starters, the size of the bills will physically increase to 8 1⁄2 by 11 inches from its current 6 7⁄8 by 10 inches. The “amount due” segment of bills, which many have complained is not easy to find, will be enlarged and prominently displayed at the top right corner of bills.

Bills also will have more information, including more graphics and average temperatures each month listed on a chart showing usage, and will be “a lot easier to read,” he said.

PSEG customers who opt for its balanced billing program will see the company address a major complaint about the program later this year. Balanced billing amounts will be set at the start of a customer’s billing cycle and will stay at that amount for the entire year. Customers previously saw balanced billing amounts reset twice or more each year. Balanced billing’s intent was to divide bills into 12 equal payments, to provide predictability for customers.

At the end of a billing year, customers with a balance due can spread the amount into the next year’s bill. Those with a credit can use it to cut next year’s bill, or receive payment for the amount.

On the business side, the company has been conducting what it calls Main Street Walks in which PSEG customer representatives walk the main street of a village or hamlet and drop in at businesses to offer energy-saving advice and other offerings. “The majority of people are very happy to see us,” Eichhorn said. The meetings usually last no more than two minutes.

Daly said the company has launched programs that encourage employees to volunteer in the local community, take positions with local nonprofits, and even start employee organizations that bring their message outside PSEG’s offices.

“We need to overcome perhaps some perceptions,” Daly said. “We understand there’s a history on Long Island and the experiences customers have had over many years are influencing their perceptions. Our key message is that we are continually improving.”

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