The City of San Diego is committed to improving service to our Public Utilities Department customers. Since 2019, we’ve implemented changes to address longstanding systemic problems in order to improve billing processes and the quality of service for the 283,000 household and business accounts we serve. These include changes in leadership, adding staff, enhancing training and providing customers faster and more convenient access to our services with online and phone system improvements and technology upgrades.
In 2019, the Public Utilities Department conducted an internal assessment of its customer service call center. This assessment identified key challenges including:
- Outdated technology for call center phone system.
- Processes that lacked efficiency.
- Inadequate training programs for employees on how to resolve both technical and non-technical issues.
- Staff vacancies and need for more effective management oversight.
Public Utilities also was the focus of a 2018 Performance Audit of Water Billing Operations, which focused on water meter reading, billing and communication. Eight of the 10 recommendations made in that audit have now been implemented, and Public Utilities has been forthcoming with progress on the final two recommendations – complex fixes that are well underway.
Improvements to Customer Service
Over the past six months, Public Utilities has made significant progress in improving online access to water and wastewater services, modernizing our phone system and recruitment and enhanced training of customer support staff.
We’ve heard from our customers that they want to access services online when it’s convenient for them. In March 2023, Public Utilities launched new webforms allowing San Diegans to submit requests and have those issues resolved within one to two business days.
Wait times have decreased for people calling the Customer Service center. In March 2023, callers were on hold for up to two hours. But as of August 2023, call wait times have dropped to an average of 35 minutes. We continue working on reducing wait times.
Working closely with the City’s Department of Information Technology, Public Utilities is on track to launch a modernized phone system this year. This new system will allow for more efficient call resolutions and data-driven resource allocations.
Investing in our employees is crucial to improving the overall customer service experience. Over the past year, Public Utilities has hired 13 additional customer support representatives and has expanded training for current staff.
As a result, in the last 10 months, our customer support representatives have reduced a backlog of service requests from 3,000 to 600, also helping ensure customers are appropriately billed for water and wastewater services.
Improvements to Technology
Public Utilities is developing a new online customer self-service portal that integrates with the billing system, allowing customers to complete the most common service requests quickly and conveniently from a computer or mobile device. The first phase of the new self-service portal is expected by spring 2024.
In addition, there are 40 more technology enhancements in the works to better serve residents and businesses. These include:
- New contact center software that will route calls more efficiently to help decrease call wait times and track metrics in order to continually improve service.
- A new software interface for employees with easy-to-follow workflows to make service more efficient, resulting in fewer calls and emails to the contact center – and faster service for customers who do contact us.
A citywide deployment plan is being developed for Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), also known as “smart meters.” Smart meters allow water usage data to be transmitted electronically directly to our network as well as to customers. Smart meters improve the reliability of water meter reading and empower customers to understand and adjust their usage. The plan will be completed this year.
Update to current billing practices:
One crucial technology change expected in September this year will allow Public Utilities to immediately notify customers when their account billing is delayed for any reason.
Currently, the billing system automatically holds a bill for investigation if the amount of water used is significantly outside the typical range of a customer’s historic usage. Contributing factors may include:
- Manual water meter misread.
- Meter malfunction.
- Water leak on the property.
- Legitimate changes in a customer’s water usage.
When accounts require staff investigation, the bills are delayed until the investigation is resolved.
Once resolved, the bills that accumulated during the investigation are issued, and the customer is contacted with details of the investigation.
The forthcoming technology enhancement will allow Public Utilities to notify customers immediately when bills are delayed so that they’re not surprised.
If during the investigation it is determined that there was a water leak on the property during the billing period, customers can contact the Public Utilities Department at 619-515-3500 and request an adjustment. General information about leak adjustments can be found on the Billing Adjustments page.
It’s important to note that approximately 90% of customer bills are sent on time. While it can seem overwhelming to receive more than one bill all at once, customers can pay off their balance over time with no penalty or interest charged.
Keeping You Informed
More detailed information about customer accounts is now on the City’s website, including:
If you have concerns about your water bill, call the Customer Support Division at 619-515-3500, Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Phone wait times are generally shortest first thing in the morning. You can also make an online request to have a Field Representative come out to your property and investigate your water meter, including getting a current read on the meter.
The Public Utilities Department strives to serve and support San Diegans. As we continue to improve our processes, we hope you will learn more about our commitment to maintaining water quality, reducing sewer spills, investing in our infrastructure and providing a reliable, sustainable water supply for the future.