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1.13: Customer Inquiries, Complaints, and Investigation

  • Page ID
    6984
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    Learning Objectives

    • Outline common customer questions and issues
    • Explain recording keeping
    • Explain the processing and response to customer inquiries and complaints

    ​​​​​​Questions and Issues

    Consumers are another source of information concerning water quality. Consumer complaints or concerns may indicate problems with the water delivered to their homes and businesses. Often consumer complaints stem from problems in the water distribution system, not the treatment plant. However, treatment plant operations, such as changes in supply and pH, chlorine, and copper residual levels, may prompt some consumers to contact their water supply agency to report problems.

    The process for dealing with a consumer complaint is:

    1. Collect as much information from the consumer as possible, including the consumer’s contact information
    2. Direct the complaint to the proper department or person for evaluation, if necessary
    3. Initiate an investigation
    4. Consider different potential causes of the problem and methods of testing
    5. Gather data from sources, such as operations records of the plant or distributions system, laboratory, or field testing results on water samples, and distribution system inspection results, such as cross-connections and proper valve operation
    6. Determine the cause of the problem
    7. If the problem is caused by the public water system, initiate necessary corrective action
    8. Document the problem, cause, and solution for future reference
    9. Inform the customer of the conclusion and any necessary corrective action taken or underway or future plans for corrective action

    Each employee of a utility is responsible for customer relations and for positive customer communication.

    System operators are often the most visible of the system’s employees and at such times they can be considered as being on the frontline of public relations. Some operators come into contact with the public incidentally, while other operators have direct intentional contact such as when dealing with consumer complaints. The system operator must be aware of and take into account the responsibilities of public relations. Some water suppliers have recognized this fact and call their meter readers water service representatives.

    The responsibility of representing the water supplier to the public means the operator must be careful to present a neat, efficient, knowledgeable, and cooperative image. Work habits should not encourage public criticism. Any encounter with the public, regulatory agencies, or municipal officials should be viewed as an opportunity to provide valid information and to correct misunderstandings. All operators working for a water agency should have a basic knowledge of the system facilities and the system’s operation. The public normally expects operators to have this knowledge. Operators appear to be uninformed and disinterested if simple questions about the agency cannot be answered.

    All complaints should be treated as legitimate and investigated as soon as possible. If the person with the complaint is loud and abusive, the operator should not retaliate in kind. Instead, the operator should show concern, listen carefully, and calmly offer to look into the complaint. Help correct any problems that are found and answer questions or obtain answers to questions.

    Questions should be asked as necessary to make certain the problem is understood. Every effort should be made to give the customer an immediate, clear, and accurate answer to the problem in nontechnical language. If the answer is not known, it should be referred to the proper person in the organization. Always inform the person with a problem what will be done to correct the situation or indicate when someone will call back with additional information. After the problem is corrected, follow-up with a phone call or postcard to be sure everything is satisfactory.

    Sometimes, it is through complaints from consumers that a water utility learns the service being provided is not satisfactory. Complaint records should be reviewed periodically responsible operators. These operators need to look especially at the complaint logs when numerous complaints are coming into the utility. If complaints are displayed on a map with the use of colored pins, a pattern might be detected that could indicate the area affected and where the investigation should be centered. By doing this activity routinely, the utility may be able to catch a problem at an early stage and mitigate the effect.

    Records

    Written records should be kept on all facilities in the distribution system. These records should describe the facility, its construction, date installed, repairs and maintenance work completed, manufacture, and condition during the latest inspection. As new facilities are installed, they should be included in the existing record system. Records should also note those facilities retired from service. Other types of records that should be kept are:

    • Results of water quality monitoring
    • Cross-connection control
    • Main flushing
    • Main cleaning
    • Consumer complaints
    • Disinfection
    • Pressure surveys
    • Leaks
    • Engineering reports
    • Any operations that are done in compliance with the request of the health department
    • A daily log kept on any and all unusual events occurring, such as equipment malfunction, unusual weather conditions, and natural or manmade disasters

    Each public water system is required by the primary Drinking Water Regulations to maintain records of water quality analyses, written reports, variances or exemptions, and actions taken to correct violations of the regulations.

    Complaints

    A customer’s complaint can at times result from a problem that is originating on the customer’s premises. A customer may complain about a lack of water pressure which often results from deficiencies in the customer’s plumbing. Pressure readings should be taken in the house, first without any flow so as to obtain a reading that should be close to the pressure in the system main. Then a pressure test is made with other taps in the house flowing to show the pressure drop was due to some obstruction or inadequate plumbing. Often this process may be due to the shutoff valve on the house water line being turned off or partially off. If this situation is not the cause of the failure, then the owner must usually make corrections to the plumbing. Replacing the service line from the meter to the house is often sufficient, however, occasionally repairs to the plumbing in the house may also be necessary.

    Another problem that is not uncommon is red or dirty water, which could also be due to deficiencies in the consumer’s plumbing lines. The cause of the problem can be demonstrated by taking samples from the customer’s tap and comparing them with samples of water collected from the utility’s service line just upstream of the consumer’s system. Another indication of the source is that if no other home in the area has, or has recently had, the problem, then it is almost certainly coming from the consumer’s water lines.

    Operators may also receive complaints that some persons in a home are becoming ill, with this emphatically attributed to the water they are drinking. These complaints should be thoroughly investigated by the utility and also referred to the health department. Sometimes, the consumer’s doctor says that the water supply is at fault or as the consumer claims. If this situation takes place, the doctor should be referred to the health officer. Often, a bacteriological sample is collected directly from the consumer’s home. If water quality test results are negative and the customer’s neighbors and the rest of the community have no problems, it is very doubtful that the utility’s water supply is the culprit.

    Surveys

    Some utilities go directly to their customers to find out how the customers feel about the system and its operations. The process is part of an overall plan by a utility to self-evaluate and collect customer opinions. Follow-up after a survey with consumers, and develop an improvement program to address the issues that were uncovered in the questionnaire. The questionnaires should be designed to ask questions that a layperson could understand, and it may be advantageous to field test the survey before wide distribution. Problems can be identified and priorities can be designated as to which problems can be solved soon and which must wait solutions at some later date.

    When customers or stakeholders complain about an aspect of the drinking water or service, document the complaints. Maintain a data file of all complaints that are received and use it to monitor underlying symptoms of problems that are larger than the immediate issue raised. The data file should be such that it can be searched for any patterns that could surface from the complaints. Importantly, the utility should use the complaints as a tool for early detection of potential problems in the system.

    Review Questions

    1. Outline the steps that should be implemented when responding to customer complaints concerning drinking water quality.
    2. What is the most common consumer complaint that is received by the drinking water treatment plant?
    3. Why should complaint logs and responses to customer complaints be reviewed periodically?

    Chapter Quiz

    1. The ___________ of a utility are responsible for customer relations and for positive customer communication.
      1. Customer service personnel
      2. Employees (all)
      3. Public relations officer
      4. Operators
    2. Which of the following is not included in the process of dealing with a consumer complaint?
      1. Collect as much information from the consumer as possible
      2. Direct the complaint to the proper department or person for evaluation, if necessary
      3. Consider different potential causes of the problem and methods of testing
      4. Correcting the complaint and having as little public contact as possible is the goal
    3. When presented with a complaint, ___________ should show concern, listen carefully, and calmly offer to look into the complaint. Help correct any problems that are found within the system and answer questions or obtain answers to questions.
      1. Customer service personnel
      2. Employees (all)
      3. Public relations officer
      4. Operators
    4. Sometimes, it is through ___________ that a water utility learns the service being provided is not satisfactory.
      1. Complaints
      2. Award applications
      3. Records
      4. Surveys
    5. The most common problem is ___________, which could be due to deficiencies in the consumer’s plumbing lines. The cause of the problem can be demonstrated by taking samples from the customer’s tap and comparing them with samples of water collected from the utility’s service line just upstream of the consumer’s system. Another indication of the source is that if no other home in the area has, or has recently had, the problem, then it is almost certainly coming from the consumer’s water lines.
      1. Pressure
      2. Red water or dirty water
      3. Illness resulting from drinking water
      4. Too much chlorine
    6. A customer may complain about a lack of ___________ which often results from deficiencies in the customer’s plumbing. Investigating and testing the consumer’s plumbing is the first step in determining the cause of the problem. If the problem is found in the customer’s plumbing, then the owner must usually make corrections to the plumbing.
      1. Pressure
      2. Red water or dirty water
      3. Illness resulting from drinking water
      4. Too much chlorine
    7. Operators may also receive complaints concerning ___________ in the home, with this emphatically attributed to the water they are drinking. These complaints should be thoroughly investigated by the utility and also referred to the health department. Often, a sample is collected directly from the consumer’s home and water quality tests are performed. If the results are negative and the customer’s neighbors and the rest of the community have no problems, it is very doubtful that the utility’s water supply is the culprit.
      1. Pressure
      2. Red water or dirty water
      3. Illness resulting from the drinking water
      4. Too much chlorine
    8. When customers or stakeholders ___________ about an aspect of the drinking water or service, document the complaints. Maintain a data file of all that are received and use it to monitor underlying symptoms of problems that are larger than the immediate issue raised. The data file should be such that it can be searched for any patterns that could surface. Importantly, the utility should use theme as a tool for the early detection of potential problems in the system.
      1. Complaints
      2. Award applications
      3. Regulatory agencies
      4. Surveys
    9. Some utilities go directly to their customers using ___________ to find out how the customers feel about the system and its operations. The process is part of an overall plan by a utility to self-evaluate and collect customer opinions.
      1. Complaints
      2. Award applications
      3. Records
      4. Surveys
    10. Public water system is required by the primary Drinking Water Regulations to maintain ___________ of water quality analyses, written reports, variances or exemptions, and actions taken to correct violations of the regulations.
      1. Complaints
      2. Award applications
      3. Records
      4. Surveys

    1.13: Customer Inquiries, Complaints, and Investigation is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by John Rowe.

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