Starkville Utilities gets a customer service upgrade

By: 
Faith Lifer
Staff Writer

Before May, the website for Starkville Utilities provided users with its office hours and location.

Now, an updated website and a customer service portal provide a new realm of possibilities for customers.

When the initial website was put online, it was posted with the idea that customer service representatives handled business in the office. The new website and user portal reverse that way of thinking, allowing customers more control over their experience.

“This is a huge upgrade from what we had,” Starkville Utilities Billing and Technical Services Manager Russell Hamilton said. "Which was basically just a page that said when we were open.”

One of the most vital updates on the new website provides a way for customers and citizens to contact Starkville Utilities with questions and concerns.

This update is important for Starkville, which keeps the utilities department — in charge of electricity, water and sewer services — busy.

“We’re kind of unique in some ways from a lot of communities, if you look at the energy and the change and the moving around,” Starkville Utilities General Manager Terry Kemp said. “We're getting to continue to add customers.”

Specifically, with the constant flux of college students coming and going, business increases in certain seasons.

“Right now, we actually have temporary personnel just to answer the phones,” Kemp said.

Kemp encourages customers to use the online platform to contact their office, rather than calling in, due to the high number of calls they receive.

“It’s quicker and simpler than phone calls due to back-log and waiting,” Kemp said of the online platform. “Especially right now.”

The new website also has a FAQ webpage, which will continually update as Starkville Utilities receives more questions.

However, any emergencies should still be called in. Kemp hopes customers’ use of the online platform will “free up” the phone lines, allowing for emergencies to be handled in a quicker manner.

From the website, users can also access the necessary documents for — and send in — service requests, rather than needing to come into the office.

CUSTOMER SERVICE PORTAL

Along with the updated website, Starkville Utilities now provides its customers with a new customer service portal, which is accessible online or through downloading a free app, “Starkville Utilities,” on any iPhone or Android.
Anyone with a Starkville Utilities account can log into the portal.

Outside of service requests, the portal provides customers with any service the office provides, including paying for services. Customers can even receive alerts and reminders on their phones.

The portal also provides personal information relating to a customer’s services.

Through the portal, customers can access service details, usage charts, billing history, payment history and more for any current or old addresses.

This information can help prevent high bills and even emergencies.

According to Hamilton, usage charts have provided Starkville Utilities and customers with valuable information.

For example, one customer called in to address a high electricity bill. The customer was out of town and didn’t understand why the bill was high.

Hamilton said he was able to access the home’s electricity usage and narrow down the usage spike to one particular weekend.

The customer then called her college-aged children, who admitted they hosted a party in the house that weekend.

“This system will tell you if you’ve got a water leakage, high usage,” Hamilton said. “You can see it day-by-day, before you get some crazy high bill in the mail.”

Thankfully, the new updates are meant to be user-friendly.

“We wanted a simple system, and I think it’s pretty simple to use,” Hamilton said. “We’ve had a few glitches now and then with the usernames, but we stay on top of that."

“No one’s had trouble once they’ve contacted us,” Hamilton added.

Hamilton has received positive feedback from many of the portal’s users.

“People who use it on a regular basis love it,” Hamilton said. “I think more people would if we could just get them signed up for it.”

Although customers still have the opportunity to come into the office for service, Starkville Utilities encourages customers to try the portal.

“This is a feature we’re really encouraging our customers to take advantage of,” Kemp said. “It allows the customer to take a more active role in their usage pattern.”

“If they invest three or five minutes, they could get it set up,” Kemp added. “And I think it would be a tremendous help for them.”

Looking to the future, Starkville Utilities is currently working toward additional updates.

“Our intent is to continue to provide options for our customers that make it easier to do business with us,” Kemp said. “The website and the app are two of those things that we are continuing to develop and refine that really address a lot of the questions we hear on a daily basis.”

New service updates could come as early as this coming year.

“Early next year we were looking to provide additional services, like prepaid options,” Kemp said. “We were (also) looking at a more new and advanced kiosk system, which will make it more convenient and easier to make payments.”

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