Real estate agent Judy Oroshnik was doing a favor for a client when she offered to call the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's customer service line to resolve a problem.
Forty minutes later, her goodwill was gone.
That's how long it took for a live customer service representative to answer the call, and after some wrangling, find a solution for Oroshnik's client, the Silver Lake businesswoman said.
"I've called New York City's Con Ed and I was able to get through to them at any time. Directly. Quickly,'' Oroshnik said. "And that's New York City. I just find it unconscionable that our local utility falls so short."
She's not alone. The utility has been deluged with calls to its customer service line in the last two months since it went live with a new $59-million computer software program that handles nearly every aspect of DWP business, including meter readings, billings and customer service, DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo said.
Some customers have gotten delayed bills and late notices, or incorrectly estimated bills, Ramallo said. Commercial and residential solar customers have also had problems with inaccurate billings.
That has led to unusually high call volumes and hold times of up to 40 minutes, such as that experienced by Oroshnik. The backlog got so bad that the DWP added a voice message advising customers to try again during off-hours instead of waiting on hold.
"We completely understand that this is a frustration for customers who are trying to reach us," Ramallo said. "We are doing everything we can to deal with it quickly."
DWP executives will be called before the City Council's Energy and Environment Committee on Wednesday to explain what happened and what is being done to address the problem. Several council members are asking for a report on how delays can be avoided.
In calling for action, council members representing the San Fernando Valley — where DWP bills tend to run higher due to hotter temperatures — estimated that thousands of DWP customers had been affected.
The DWP worked with Pricewaterhouse Coopers for three years to replace an old billing system that had been in operation for 39 years. Campbell Hawkins, the DWP's director of customer service, said the old system didn't let DWP workers coordinate well with other city departments, slowing down operational tasks and customer responses.
Its replacement is aimed at allowing the DWP to resolve a customer's problem during the first call, Hawkins said. A secondary benefit is moving to a monthly billing instead of one every two months.
The DWP intends to move to monthly billing in the future, Hawkins said.
Major problems in the rollout of the new technology should be resolved in four to six months and the technology should be fully functional in two years. "This is fairly standard,'' he said. "Anytime you implement a system of this scope you have a stabilization period that lasts 18 to 24 months."
Councilman Paul Krekorian, who represents Studio City and North Hollywood, said he understood that the new system will bring advantages. "But the handoff didn't go smoothly,'' Krekorian said.
His office has been deluged with calls from constituents who are unhappy with either inaccurate DWP billings or long hold times. Some said they waited in long lines when they showed up at DWP offices. A solution is needed to restore confidence in the DWP, he said.
"It's making them feel as though they are being treated cavalierly and unfairly,'' he said.