Joliet hopes water bill move boosts customer service
By Bob Okon email@example.com May 17, 2012 5:54PM
Updated: June 29, 2012 9:19AM
JOLIET — Nearly half the people who call City Hall to talk about their water bills hang up because it takes too long for someone to take the call, according to the city’s own numbers.
But Joliet hopes to change that by freeing up people to handle more phone calls and less paperwork.
Instead of mailing water bills to City Hall, Joliet residents will mail them to a First Midwest Bank processing office that already handles bill payments for Will County, the village of Plainfield and other local governments.
The change should be seamless for bill payers, said Rachel Mayer, finance director for the city. The bills will still go to a Joliet address since the First Midwest Bank division that provides the service is located in the city in the Rock Run Business Park.
Mayer and other city officials, however, hope that residents will notice a difference when they call City Hall.
“We’ll just have more staff available to take people’s phone calls,” Mayer said. The city, she said, wants to provide more efficient customer service.
The Joliet City Council this week approved a contract with First Midwest to provide the service at a cost of just under $45,000 a year. First Midwest submitted the lowest-cost proposal for the work.
A city survey of incoming calls on water bills found the average wait time to be about five minutes. Forty-six percent of the callers hung up while waiting.
Most people pay their water bills by mail, according to the city survey.
On an average day, the city will process 1,200 mailed bills, 250 walk-up payments and 200 telephone payments. People still will be able to pay bills in person at city hall or by phone once the city switches mailed payments to First Midwest Bank.
The changeover is expected to be done in about two months.
It’s also one of a series of changes in the last year in the way the city handles water bills. Last year, the city added an automated phone system and changed the format of the paper bills mailed to customers.
City Manager Thomas Thanas said switching mailed payments to First Midwest Bank will not lead to any job losses at City Hall. The city is already down in staff, he said, and that’s one reason for making the change.
“We can free up two or three people to deal with customer service issues,” Thanas said.
He noted that most private business that handle mail-in payments use outside companies that specialize in the service.