Customer service representatives are vital to almost every industry. This month we're taking a closer look at what they do in the water industry. Robyn Palmer, from the Utilities Divsion at the Town of Gilbert, agreed to share her experience working in this field.
APW: What is involved in offering Customer Service in your water department? Can you share about what you do on a daily basis?
Robyn: Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) assist customers with setting up new accounts, disconnecting accounts, making payments, confirming balances, reviewing the billing, and explaining how our services are billed. Our day to day work consists of speaking with customers to set up water & trash utility accounts, taking payments, discussing payment extensions, and disconnecting accounts.
As a lead, I am no longer on the phones working directly with customers. I support the supervisor by taking calls from the phone reps when they have questions, or taking escalated calls from customers that ask to speak with a supervisor. We currently have 14 CSR’s on the phone and 4 others that work at the front counter in our office assisting walk-in customers. They will call me directly with any questions they may have or when they need assistance. I help with questions regarding accounts, waiving fees, or further explanations on procedures.
APW: You must need to have a lot of patience working with all types of people.
Robyn: When the customers are upset, or having a hard time, you need to provide empathy and try to understand their struggles, even if you have never encountered them yourself. I enjoy working with customers. It is interesting to hear all their different stories. There are days that some are happy and days when some are sad.
APW: What do you enjoy most about being a Customer Service Representative?
Robyn: I enjoy talking with customers. Everyone has a different background and history so there is a lot of variety in each call.
APW: How did you decide to get into customer service as a career?
Robyn: I have been in customer service for as long as I can remember. I enjoy talking to customers on the phone and assisting them with their accounts and answering questions. Originally, I sort of fell into it, and then I chose to apply for the call center with the Town of Gilbert. I have always wanted to be employed in a government position.
APW: Is it easy to become a Customer Service Representative for a water provider?
Robyn: We have a lower turnover in this particular business sector, so it might take awhile before a position becomes available in the utilities department. Good phone and computer skills are essential in getting into customer service. Also, being able to interact with customers either in person or over the phone is a plus. There are times when customers are upset, so an even temper is very helpful.
APW: What type of education or training do you need to have to be a Customer Service Representative?
Robyn: Depending on the position, having a background in customer service is sufficient to become a customer service rep. Becoming a supervisor or manager may require some schooling and/or extensive years’ service in the industry.
APW: What are the opportunities for career advancement?
Robyn: Here in Gilbert, we have opportunities to shadow our peers and learn about other departments that draw our interest. Advancement is slower then the private sector because we are in government. There are opportunities to move up, but it just takes some time.
APW: How much do Customer Service Representative typically get paid? Is there a pay range within your Department?
Robyn: In our department, we have different levels of CSR’s who each have different pay ranges. The different levels are Customer Service Rep I, Customer Service Rep II and Customer Service Rep III - Lead/Senior. There is currently only one CSR Lead, 4 CSR level 2 and the remaining people are CSR 1. The pay range is based on experience and is starting at $17.57/hour with a top hourly rate of $29.92. The supervisors rate is an annual pay of $52,767.35 - $76,512.65 and the manager's annual range of $72,408 - $108,612.
APW: How has the Customer Service Representative position changed over the years?
Robyn: Customer service hasn’t changed in regard to helping a customer, but how we assist them has changed. Customers have many options to contact us other than in person or over the phone. They can connect to us online, via email, and, hopefully, by using a chat service in the future.
APW: Is there special training needed to run a chat system?
Robyn: We currently do not have a chat option in the Town of Gilbert, but it has been discussed. With the changing times, and how many things are done online now, I fully expect it to become a reality in the future. We do provide training on any new systems. The time allowed is based on the extensiveness of what is being taught. Of course, some CSRs learn quicker then others, so their training may take less time. We provide all training documents and in most cases, access to a training system.
APW: Will there be a need for Customer Service Representatives in the future?
Robyn: Though we are advancing with online options for setting up accounts, paying, and updating information, we will still need customer service reps. Not all services are automated, so some things need to be put in the system manually. There are also still customers that prefer to call and speak with a person, or to come into the offices to pay. We still receive check payments, as opposed to online payments. So customer service representatives are here to stay!
APW: Thanks for taking the time to tell us about your career!
Robyn: My pleasure. Happy to help.