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Short-staffed contact center never boring

Wait time is longer while reps field questions about lead, bills and leaks, never wavering from their mission to help customers.

(Editor’s note: Some of the images and video in this story were taken prior to new mask mandates in Denver and at Denver Water.)

A day at a contact center may drum up images of irate customers demanding to SPEAK WITH A MANAGER. 

Not at Denver Water. 

“One lady called to ask if she could purchase a fire hydrant as an anniversary gift for her husband,” said Jennifer Aryan, customer care representative. “For the most part, Denver Water customers are very friendly, very understanding. There’s never a dull moment.”

Still, Denver Water is not immune to the economy’s larger staffing issues. 

That’s leading to longer wait times when customers call with questions.  

“As most businesses are experiencing, it’s really hard to hire people right now,” said Liz Glen, contact center supervisor. “It’s a different world with COVID-19.”

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Two Contact Center representatives answer a call
Mysti Casias, Customer Care representative (left), works with Liz Glen (right), Customer Care supervisor to answer questions from a customer. Photo credit: Denver Water.

At one time, a busy day meant 20 to 25 calls were in queue, waiting to be answered. Now, a typical day has 100 to 150 calls on hold. 

More than a third of customer calls are billing questions about payments and account balances.

Because of that, the contact center recently moved to Denver Water’s finance division to be closer to the answers. 

“There’s a group that doesn’t really like to go online,” Aryan said. “Some people don’t feel comfortable making payments online and want help, so you have to teach them step-by-step how to do that.”  

Beyond those billing inquiries, contact center reps have answers to just about everything: Yes, your toilet really does leak that much; Yes, if you have a lead service line, we’ll replace it; Sorry, you can’t have an old hydrant because we recycle them.

“I’m proud that I get to help someone here, in my community,” Aryan said. “It’s rewarding.” 

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Woman at computer
Jennifer Aryan has been a contact center representative at Denver Water since 2020. The contact center helps customers on a variety of questions ranging from bill inquiries to water quality concerns. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Aryan was born and raised in Denver but spent a few years in Texas. There, she worked at a call center for a mutual fund firm, an industry that was a bit dull and unsteady. That’s when a story about Denver Water’s 100th anniversary caught her eye. Before long, she was searching for job opportunities in Denver Water’s contact center. 

“I was really shocked to see how far Denver Water had come in 100 years,” she said. 

At the contact center, she plays a crucial role in Denver Water’s landmark Lead Reduction Program, notifying customers of the work, sending consent forms, and providing water filtration pitchers

“Now I can say ‘I was part of that. I’m part of history,’” Aryan said. “Customer care is the bridge between the customer and the organization. Your work helps everybody little by little.”

Glen, who has been a contact center supervisor at Denver Water for almost two years, previously worked in financial services, another industry with a bumpy, unstable reputation. 

After her previous company was sold, “I wanted to be thoughtful and deliberate about where I worked next,” she said. “I wanted to work for a company that’s motivating and has similar values as I do. I love the things we do for our customers and the environment.” 

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Contact Center representative at a computer
Dena Hankins, contact center representative, talks with a customer. Representatives respond to around 25-30 calls and emails per day. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Since March 2020, contact center employees have generally worked remotely; now they’re easing back into the office, carefully balancing a safe return with work-life balance. 

That balance is one of the reasons employees stay with Denver Water for so long, creating another challenge for the contact center: Several employees have recently relocated to other departments within Denver Water, expanding their career as they learn about job opportunities within the utility. 

“We’re like a family,” Glen said. “There’s really a spirit of helping people out. People care about each other, and they want to do the right thing for our customers.”

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Two Contact Center representatives answer a call
Contact center representatives Cullen Mahaffey (left) and Guillermo Antuna-Salas (right) talk with a customer together as part of new employee training. Photo credit: Denver Water.

“Another interesting aspect of working in the contact center is that many of us are Denver Water customers too. We become a resource for water in our community and get questions even when we’re off the clock and out and about in our neighborhoods,” Aryan said. “And then at work, there are times when we answer the phone and realize the person calling lives around the corner.

“Working here seems much more interesting, informative and rewarding than other organizations,” she said. “Because water touches everything.”