CPS Energy launches help team

June 24, 2014

By Vicki Vaughan
San Antonio Express-News

CPS CEO Doyle Beneby
CPS CEO Doyle Beneby said the Customer Response Unit addresses a recurring concern.

CPS CEO Doyle Beneby said the Customer Response Unit addresses a recurring concern.

SAN ANTONIO — CPS Energy launched a new program Tuesday that’s designed to help customers take advantage of its energy efficiency programs and help those struggling to pay utility bills learn how to get assistance.

CPS CEO Doyle Beneby explained that in meetings with City Council, "one thing kept coming up — that we at CPS weren’t reaching all the places that we needed to" to inform customers about its services, especially its low-income assistance programs.

As a result, city-owned CPS has formed a new business unit whose mobile customer-service team will match CPS customers with the right program or service.

In some cases, the outreach employees will meet face-to-face with customers. Customers will be able to identify mobile team members because they’ll wear uniform shirts and drive hybrid vehicles bearing a Customer Response Unit logo.

The outreach plan is designed to make customers aware of various CPS programs that can help them manage or lower their utility bills.

The Casa Verde program, for example, provides an average of $5,000 in free home weatherization improvements for those who qualify.

District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales praised CPS’ new program, saying she’d initially asked the utility to send an employee to her district office a couple of days a week to help with customers’ problems.

"So this is beyond what our expectation was, because it was only going to be for District 5 residents," Gonzales said. "Now this will be for people in the whole city who need it. It’s a much more focused approach to help people."

Maria Koudouris, CPS’ community engagement vice president, said the outreach team will handle customers’ problems that can’t be handled by the utility’s call centers.

For example, if a senior citizen has fallen behind in paying a bill, it may be caused by the timing of a Social Security payment.

"We’ll set them up with a better payment plan … and we’ll take more of a holistic approach" to see if the customer qualifies for weatherization or another assistance program, Koudouris said.

To qualify for the weatherization program, a customer’s income must be no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

"There’s a whole menu of programs that we have, and we’ll try to get a lot more customers into those programs," she said.

About half a dozen CPS employees will be part of the outreach group "and it could grow from there," CPS spokeswoman Lisa Lewis said.

Koudouris said CPS initially will work with Merced Housing Texas, a nonprofit that provides affordable housing, and the George Gervin Youth Center to get the word out.

Chuck Landy Jr., vice president of community and government affairs at the Gervin center, said it receives many calls from people asking how they can get help in paying their utility bills.

"This assistance from CPS will make a difference," Landy said.

Gervin center officials plan to aid the CPS team by doing their own outreach to tell the community about CPS programs.

"We’ll bring in all of our resources at the Gervin center," Landy said.

Also Tuesday, CPS said it is extending summer hours at its customer service centers to 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday for residential customers.

Saturday hours — 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — remain the same.

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