Customer service experts are “front door” to state agency

Tuesday, May 3, 2016 - 12:00 am

Ever wonder what environmental issues people in North Carolina frequently encounter?

Staff in the state environmental agency’s assistance and customer service program hear from the public every day via the department’s toll-free hotline, and the questions people ask reveal a lot about the issues North Carolinians are seeking assistance with when it comes to the environment.  

The issues might surprise you.

“We receive the most calls about water issues,” says Ron Pridgeon, an engineer in the state environmental agency’s assistance and customer service program. “Water issues touch many aspects of environmental and human health, and our agency regulates everything from wastewater to drinking water so their permits cover a wide range of areas.”

Staff in the agency’s main customer service program in Raleigh answer dozens of calls each day from people who dial the department’s toll-free 800 number seeking information on all sorts of environmental topics. 

Pat Kelly (seen here), who works in the Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service, says she sometimes answers as many as 30 calls in a day from people who call the state environmental agency’s toll-free hotline seeking information about all sorts of environmental issues.    

In 2015, staff in the agency’s Raleigh headquarters responded to more than 5,910 calls seeking environmental assistance and customer service, according to a recent survey the program completed. That’s more calls than any of the previous three years.

The program’s 2015 survey also revealed that:

  • 23 percent of hotline calls dealt with water issues. Fifteen percent of all calls were related to waste management issues; another 15 percent were energy, mineral and land resources issues; 11 percent were geared to environmental assistance and customer service; and the other 14 percent of calls were divided among fisheries, coastal management and the rest of the agency’s program areas.
  • 22 percent of the calls were about an environmental topic such as forestry but were redirected to another agency because they are not managed by the state environmental agency. For such occasions, staff are prepared to provide callers with the appropriate contact and other information when questions come not related to the state environmental agency.  
  • Call volumes about certain topics increase at particular seasons of the year or after there has been breaking news about the environment. Each December, for instance, staff receive many calls about renewing underground storage tank operating permits or wastewater operating licenses since both expire Dec. 31.

Among their other duties, staff in the environmental assistance and customer service program provide industries and businesses with advice on how to cut costs by reducing electricity and water usage, help the regulated community navigate the state’s complex environmental permitting process, and provide outreach to communities and citizens on reducing waste.

Answering the questions of people who call the agency is an important function of the program. The survey reveals the importance of having knowledgeable staff to answer questions about the agency because of the department’s diversity and the frequency with which programs change, says Ted Bush, who directs the program.    

Some calls come from small businesses planning to expand their operations in North Carolina. Staff get the businesses started by discussing the business’s operations and needs before putting the caller in contact with one of the agency’s five permit coordinators, who will meet with prospective clients to inform them of the state permits they will need. 

The people who answer calls in the main office and in the agency’s seven regions have a greater understanding than most about the programs and functions of one of the state’s most complex agencies, Bush says.   

“The customer service division is kind of like the front door to the department,” Bush says. “Someone comes to the door and it’s our job to provide them with the information, the contacts and the online tools that will answer their questions.

“For those reasons, we must be well informed on current issues affecting our department and its programs, and the easiest way to guide the public so they can get the information they’re seeking quickly and efficiently.”

Have an environmental problem? Call one of our experts at 1-877-623-6748