“If you need us, call us.”
It’s a mantra Beatriz Luque has often told customers for more than four years as a Southern California Edison (SCE) customer service representative.
Like the time there was a repair outage in West Hollywood and she received a call from a woman in her 80s who was concerned about being alone during a power outage. The woman had no family or friends nearby.
“It’s hard to hear those calls. I tried to reassure her that we are here 24/7,” said Luque, who also provided safety tips, such as using flashlights instead of candles.
For Luque and her colleagues at SCE’s Call Centers, helping to resolve customers’ concerns is their goal.
“It’s nice when you can do things like that, where you can talk to people and turn a bad experience into something better,” she said.
SCE’s customer service representatives are often the first people customers speak with when they have questions about their electricity. Calls can range from outage calls and credit issues, to how to get the electricity turned on after a move.
“You get asked everything under the sun,” said Karen Dranginis, a call center representative for seven years. “You need to know everything about Edison. And sometimes you need to dig deep to get the answers.”
Jang Kim, a former SCE call center representative who was recently promoted to the systems group, knows all about going that extra mile to help customers.
His memorable call came from a South Korean international student who had landed at LAX just hours before and was settling into his new apartment when he realized he had no power. Speaking no English, the man managed to get the SCE number from a neighbor and Kim took the call.
“It was pretty challenging for me to help him understand what he needed to do,” said Kim.
Kim even helped the man get his water and gas hooked up by getting him the proper contact information.
In addition to Korean-speaking customer service reps, SCE has several in-language representatives who help the utility’s increasingly diverse customer base, including Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese.
David Pan lives in Alhambra and is familiar with the large Asian American community in the local San Gabriel Valley. As a Cantonese-speaking SCE customer service representative, about half of the calls he takes are from recent immigrants from China.
“They have a hard time. Often they don’t know how to spell their street name so I go through the alphabet one letter at a time,” said Pan, who often helps translate bills for these same customers.
Pan’s Chinese-speaking skills also came in handy when a female customer called in a panic because she thought her new neighbors were purposely shutting her power off at various times during the day.
But when Pan checked her usage by looking at her smart meter data, he noticed that there were spikes in electricity before her outages and thought it might be her circuit breakers tripping.
“She was so relieved that it wasn’t someone tampering with it,” he said.
For Pan and his colleagues, being able to help customers find solutions to their questions is the most satisfying.
“It’s great — that’s what the job is all about,” said Pan. “These small interactions, building a good rapport with them. Sometimes they don’t stop thanking you.”
On average, SCE call center reps take between 60 to 80 customer calls during a single shift. Summer months are busier with more people using their air conditioners, but it also picks up during the winter when temperatures unexpectedly drop. As expected, calls also increase during poor weather conditions like windstorms.
And although most of the call center reps have now taken thousands of customer calls, they never forget their first call on the job.
Eric Yoon still remembers his first day on the job more than two years ago.
“My first day on the phone was chaos. The calls kept coming in and you are live,” he said.
Pan’s first call came from a customer in the Inland Empire who was calling about a maintenance outage last June. After listening to the customer’s concerns for several minutes, Pan was able to explain that the repairs were needed to prevent unexpected repair outages in the future and let him know about an SCE-sponsored Cooling Center he could go to till his power was restored.
In the end, the man thanked Pan and even remembered his first name when he said good-bye.
“It ended well,” he said. “Sometimes they just need people to listen to them.”