City of Columbia unveils plan to improve responsiveness to customers

February 17, 2022

The COVID pandemic has presented many challenges to the City of Columbia, especially in the area of customer service. Employee retention, short-handed staff, increased call volume, and a backlog of service calls are just some of the impacts that the pandemic has had on City services. City of Columbia officials hosted a press conference this morning to address these issues and announce a response plan.

City of Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann opened the press conference by providing an outline of the issues currently facing the City. “We have promised to be open here in Columbia and a large part of that promise is being transparent and accountable for our City’s problems,” said Mayor Rickenmann. “This is the first step towards fixing them.”

Currently, the City has roughly 600 vacancies in several key city departments. This includes more than 200 openings in the Water Division, 30 in Solid Waste, and 14 in the Call Center. These shortages have led to backlogs in water repair requests, yard waste pickup and delays in other services the City provides.

“By identifying these problems and addressing them honestly, we can start to dig into the real chokepoints and systemic issues that help create them,” continued Mayor Rickenmann. “And understanding those issues has allowed us to develop an action plan to address them.”

City Manager Teresa Wilson and Assistant City Manager Clint Shealy also spoke at the press conference and outlined specifics of the Customer Response Action Plan to include:

  • Implementing various initiatives to accelerate hiring and training processes, from holding open house interviews to using temporary agencies to fill the gaps.
  • Increasing Customer Care staffing levels, particularly in the Call Center.
  • Redistributing Call Center Shifts so that the majority of Customer Service Representatives will be on the phones during the most critical time – 8:00 am to 6:00 pm daily.
  • Establishing a customer service line for water emergencies for after hours and weekends.

The Customer Response Action Plan (attached) was shared that provided details of each initiative. “The goal of the plan is to improve our responsiveness to customers, from the first contact through final resolution of their concern,” said Mayor Rickenmann. “It’s ownership of our problems and transparency that represent true first steps towards fixing our city and providing the best services possible to the taxpayer.”