Minister of the Environment, Water Resources and Drainage, Dr Denis Lowe

The ??days of?? householders paying to have their water metres checked,?? or?? facing disconnection during?? protracted bill disputes are?? over.

Word of this has come from Minister of the Environment, Water Resources and Drainage, Dr Denis Lowe, who said these are among a?? number of customer-service improvements at the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) to be rolled out in the short-term, as the beleaguered institution seeks to?? improve its service level.

Noting?? that?? delinquency which cannot be?? linked to customers’?? financial circumstances, is likely to be as a result of?? their?? dissatisfaction with?? the current?? service, Minister Lowe intimated: "Once we’ve improved the?? service, what we will find is that there is going to be a better response from the customer relative to paying for their water services."

Identifying?? niggling problems with incorrect?? bills as a proverbial fly in the BWA’s?? ointment, Dr. Lowe stated this might be due, in part, to faulty metres?? which are currently being addressed.

"One of the things that we were doing in the past is that when a metre had to be pulled to be checked,?? we were charging the customer.?? I have just issued a policy in the BWA where this has to be stopped immediately. I do not?? believe that?? it is fair to ask a customer to pay for the servicing or checking of a metre, which is the property?? of the BWA,?? so this should be discontinued immediately.

The Minister?? also spoke to the previous?? practice of?? disconnecting a customer ???s service when investigations were ongoing following bill disputes,?? assuring that this too would be a thing of the past.

"I have?? also issued a policy that anytime there is a formal dispute from a customer about a bill,?? the customer’s water should not be disconnected?? under any circumstances. I think it is only fair especially since there would be?? no reason to know at that point what the problem is," he observed.

In additional to these policy changes,?? Minister Lowe pointed out the BWA has also embarked on a number of changes to its customer service arm, including the hiring of a Communication Specialist, to liaise?? with technical staff as well as customers in the field.

To this end, Dr.Lowe disclosed the Authority had been able , in some instances, to limit?? their response times to within 24 hours, with the Communication Specialist ensuring that complaints, especially those made after hours, are expeditiously logged and?? dispatched to work teams.

Additionally,?? the Environment head disclosed that within the next three to four weeks, the BWA would?? also?? be launching a new customer service arm.

??"Executing customer service is a burdensome?? undertaking within the Authority. Because of?? the volume of customers we have and?? because of the age of our?? mains, there are frequent bursts in the main system. Therefore,?? matters relating to bills, which are ordinary matters, are compounded by?? the other factors I just mentioned and has put a lot of weight?? on the customer service staff," he explained.

Led by the Authority’s Executive Chairman, Arnie Walters, Minister Lowe indicated?? the decision had been?? taken to expand the customer service pool through the addition of a new call centre, which would allow customers more personal and frequent?? contact with their customer service agents.

"We are?? embarking on some change management services that will work with?? customer service workers in terms of helping them to become more people-centred and?? more responsive to customers.??

"What I want to see, more than anything else,?? is our customers?? being treated?? as paying citizens?? for water. ??When you?? pay for a service you should get the best possible customer service that can be afforded to you. And I?? think that is where the culture of the?? Authority is going to be shaken,"?? he opined.

Crediting?? the turnaround at the BWA, which he believes has already started, to be partially due to the efforts of the Executive Chairman, Dr. Lowe?? stressed that while the challenges were "not easy" ,?? Mr. Walters?? took on the Authority fearlessly, putting the requisite personnel in place?? to address the?? existing deficits.??

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