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Long phone wait times for help persist for San Diego water customers

Other cities far better in helping customers.
Typical call wait time for San Diego water customers
Posted at 7:27 PM, Apr 05, 2024

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Every month, thousands of San Diegans don’t get their water bills on time.

The city’s Public Utilities Department holds them if a computer flags a problem.

It could be a leak or a broken meter, resulting in bills being held for months or even a year.

The city doesn’t have enough employees to quickly address the problems.

So, customers have been told to call a specific number for help.

THE WAIT BEGINS

Then the wait begins.

It typically takes about a half hour to reach a customer service representative, according to San Diego water officials.

That’s an improvement from the 2 hours it used to take in March 2023.

“The City of San Diego is committed to improving service to our Public Utilities Department customers,” said Arian Collins, a city spokesperson. “Since 2019, we’ve implemented changes to address longstanding systemic problems in order to improve billing processes and the quality of service.”

However, some customers told Team 10 the wait still is too long, and they are skeptical about the city’s wait time figure.

“You call and you just get put on hold. You know, listening to music for 2 hours,” said Robin Gunning, a local property manager. “We’ve had staff that’s gone to lunch, left the phone on intercom so we can all hear it, come back, and we’re still on hold.”

Read more: Massive water bills, poor customer service still plague San Diego Public Utilities Department

OTHER CITIES: NO SIMILAR PROBLEMS THE WAIT BEGINS

Team 10 found no other similar-sized city has the same kind of water billing or customer service problems as San Diego.

When Team 10 contacted six cities similar in size, the longest wait time was just over 11 minutes.

In three cities, a customer service representative was on the phone in about 2 minutes or less.

Further, in four of those cities, customers are regularly billed with no problems.

A fifth city had problems with less than 1 percent of its customers. A sixth city didn’t respond to questions.

Gunning said she created a spreadsheet to document how many times she has called San Diego’s water department to complain about billing problems for the 10 properties she manages.

“Most people just live paycheck to paycheck if you’re in San Diego,” she said. “So, it leaves people in a very precarious place once the bill comes.”

GOAL: 5 MINUTES

Juan Guerreiro, San Diego’s public utilities director, said more improvements are in the works for this summer.

The plan is to offer service like other cities.

“Our goal ultimately is to get call wait times to five minutes or under. That’s also going to take time. We are making steady progress,” he told Team 10. “But we feel that some key projects that we are working on are really going to be what moves the needle and get it down to that more desirable time frame.”

So, when will that occur?

The director said he’s not sure.

“I don’t want to overpromise and under-deliver,” he said.