FATHOM president pays another visit to Cove
By LYNETTE SOWELL
Copperas Cove utility customers came armed with bills and questions to the town hall question-and- answer session held Tuesday by the city along with representatives from FATHOM Water Systems, the third-party company that manages the accounts.
Present for the meeting were Jason Bethke, company president, along with another company rep who had the ability to pull up customer billing information. He spoke briefly before opening up the floor for questions and stated that there are 350 meters left to install, with those meters being read by city utility department employees, and that the equipment issues with the digital meter reading collectors have been addressed and that the water meters are all now successfully “talking” with the collectors.
“We are focusing on timeliness of the billing, meaning the time between the time we read the meters and the time you get your bill; the regularness of those bills, that you get them every 25-35 days; and of course, their accuracy.”
He also explained that they have focused on the timeliness of service order completions, which had caused some customers to receive multiple bills in a single envelope. He said that would not happen with the changes the company has implemented to get those service orders completed in a timely manner.
Among the questions brought up by customers was the email and response to phone calls by customer service, particularly dropped calls, long wait times of 30 minutes or more, and lack of response from the company’s customer service email address.
Mary Ables questioned why it took three weeks for her bill to show as paid on the website, after she paid her bill in person at the utility department. Also, she said the email didn’t work
“Your website is hard to navigate; your email doesn’t work. When we call you on the phone, you’d better prepare to get hung up on at least twice and wait on hold at least 35 minutes. When I asked the girl about the email, she said that email doesn’t work…When I go I person to pay my bill at the city and I want to get it processed, it clears my bank right away but on your website, it takes three weeks before it shows up that it is paid.”
Bethke said there is a standard in the contract with the city that 70 percent of the time, FATHOM will answer all calls within 60 seconds. He said there have been new classes for more customer service agents and the company is recruiting a new call center manager.
“I’ve heard you, it’s too hard to get ahold if us. We are putting something in place. It will take a little time, but classes are starting now and we have added many, many more folks.”
Bethke said he would check on the issue with the email because those emails should be responded to.
“All I can assume is we’re not getting (the emails).”
One issue brought to Bethke’s attention was how some accounts were being charged a late fee and issued a disconnection notice, despite being set up on autopay. One resident said that one of her payments set for November 2 was changed to November 1, and she was still charged a late fee. Another customer corroborated her story, stating he had been sent a disconnect notice “the same day you received my payment.” Another said he received a late notice because his account had been drafted three days late. “That’s your problem, not mine. But if that’s happening with someone else, your billing department is issuing late fees inappropriately and incorrectly,” he said.
Shawnette Johnson said she experienced the same issue and has her bank statement that showed her account was never drafted.
“Every day I walk in my house, I’m blessed my water’s not turned off.” She told Bethke that the customer service representative told her the disconnection notices weren’t their issue, that they were just there to take the payments.
Bethke said they have been pulling calls and that the company can pull call recordings attached to accounts.
Clyde Miller voiced his concern with the whole situation, and asked if there are requirements in the contract that the company must fulfill, as well as consequences for FATHOM. “You make us feel like we have no choice. I disagree. That is my question. What choice do we have if we’re not happy? Where can we go next to find a solution because it’s not here?” He expressed concerns that the council wasn’t present, seated at the dais, for the meeting.
City manager Andrea Gardner then asked for the council members present to raise their hands, with councilmen James Pierce Jr., David Morris, Dan Yancey, and mayor Frank Seffrood present at the meeting, as was newly elected Charlie Youngs, who had left earlier. She also addressed the discussion of the city’s contract with FATHOM.
“There are clauses that allow the company the opportunity to cure the problem. You have to give them the opportunity to do so before exiting from that contract. And that’s what Mr. Bethke is trying to do,” Gardner said. “I think he hears the citizens loud and clear.” She said they have both worked together to work through the issues brought by customers at the last meeting
“It is unfortunate that some new issues have surfaced and we will work together to get those issues resolved.” Gardner even went so far as to give out her city cell phone number. “If I don’t know about the problems, then I can’t fix the problems.”
Gardner said they will report back to the city council on the resolutions.
Bethke at one point reiterated FATHOM’s stance.
“Obviously we’re here to gain your trust and make the bills out timely, regularly and accurately. Those are the metrics that we are reporting to council to ensure they can manage us. We will start reporting the customer service metrics as well, so we can see them improve. I hate that you had that experience, and this will get better. I feel very comfortable and confident that the meters themselves are registering the water that is flowing through them.”
All customers present had the opportunity to present copies of their bills and issues to submit to FATHOM and city staff, who will work on those issues and respond both to the customers, along with a report to the City Council on the responses and resolutions.