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COVID-19 Risk Level for Multnomah County: Extreme Risk

Proactively Reaching Out During COVID

Blog post

At the Portland Water Bureau, providing excellent customer service is a priority. When we don’t hear from you, sometimes we reach out – especially if we haven’t received your payment, or we notice increased use and suspect you have a leak.

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Customer service employees Korya Ames and Alex Reagan
Customer service employees Korya Ames and Alex Reagan

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, we stopped active debt recovery and we’ve become more proactive. We’ve been contacting customers regarding use, failed auto payments, closed accounts with remaining balances, active accounts with zero usage and accounts listed as vacant that had usage. Our staff is acting on our empathy, compassion, and problem-solving skills by working out payment arrangements to all who need them. Our customers have been kind, receptive to and appreciative of the proactive outreach.

A small group of specialists from the Customer Service team have participated in the Gentle Debt Recovery Call Out project. The program began with contacting commercial customers who, following a thorough review of the accounts, did not appear to have their business directly affected by the pandemic; meaning, their usage had not changed, they hadn’t applied for the Small Business Program for Utility Relief (SPUR) bill credit and there were no account notes indicating a financial hardship. The commercial customers we reached told us they appreciated the reminder!

Our specialists spoke to very few customers who were unhappy about our call. A high rate of commercial customers returned our call after receiving a gentle voicemail reminder message from us. We have been met with the same appreciation, largely, from residential customers, though we hear from them in lower numbers. We have tracked how many commercial and residential customers agreed to make a payment and are now cross-referencing actual payments.

We know this year has been unlike any other. The challenges have been financial, mental and emotional. Proactive outreach from the Gentle Debt Recovery Project has allowed us to better support our customers with kindness through this difficult year.

The Gentle Debt Recovery Project by the Numbers:

Commercial

Accounts reviewed = 813

Accounts not contacted = 333

Left voicemail Message For = 289

Number of customers we spoke with = 236

Set p/a or promised to pay same day = 136

Promised to call back to pay or make a payment arrangement = 71

Payments generated from gentle contact: $1,318,591.28

Residential

Accounts reviewed = 3579

Accounts not contacted = 707

Left voicemail Message For = 1835

Number of customers we spoke with = 1005

Set p/a or promised to pay same day = 731

Promised to call back to pay or make a payment arrangement = 394

Payments generated from gentle contact: $814,623,97