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EXCLUSIVE: Customer Service Complaints for Washington Gas Spike Amid Staffing Shortages

Washington Gas’s customer service, or reported lack thereof, has prompted a flood of calls to Virginia’s utilities regulator.

The State Corporation Commission tells ARLnow that its utilities regulation division is receiving upwards of 30 calls a day from Virginians who say they can’t reach the Washington Gas customer service call center or are experiencing long wait times.

“This is unusual,” said Ken Schrad, the director of the SCC’s Division of Information Resources. “Typically, the division averages only about 40 a month, two-three per day, involving Washington Gas… And, that would include all matters brought to the division’s attention, including bill disputes, not just the current problem regarding the inability to get through to the company.”

Virginia’s largest natural gas local distribution company, in terms of customers served, has been the subject of a flood of complaints on social media, in internet forums, tips to ARLnow, and a letter sent to PoPville. Those affected include people moving, who who need services started or stopped and and worry about having the ability to cook and take hot showers in their new homes or getting charged for gas at their old residence.

The delays appear to be tied to staffing shortages in Washington Gas’s call center. In response to ARLnow’s request for comment, Washington Gas, which also serves D.C. and Maryland, said it is addressing these shortages while rolling out new ways to connect with customer service workers.

“Washington Gas apologizes to our customers who continue to have difficulty reaching our call center over the last few months. We know that we have not met our customers’ expectations or our own high standards of service,” Washington Gas spokesman Bernie Tylor said.

These shortages made moving more stressful for Jesse Croft, who relocated from Ballston to the Tara-Leeway Heights neighborhood while pregnant and caring for two young children. She said she called Washington Gas about a dozen times trying to set up service, and at one point, she spent three hours on hold, having to hang up because she had to take a work call.

“It is truly shocking that they operating like this,” she said. “Not to mention, it appears to have been going on since at least last December. How have they not hired more customer service reps or an outside company to help?”

Another ARLnow tipster expressed similar frustrations with the two- to five-hour call center wait times required to set up gas.

“People are resorting to tweeting them or sending them messages on Facebook,” the individual said. “If this was a random business, that is one thing, but this is the area’s only provider of gas service! They really need some press shined on this!”

Hundreds of customers are able to use the website to start and stop service, Tylor said. But, certain circumstances require additional review of an address and customer service intervention.

“In these instances, customers have experienced excessive hold times,” he said, adding that the volume of requests via Facebook and Twitter has “strained our resources as well.”

That happened to one person whose address wasn’t being recognized in the company’s new system. In a thread on the online forum D.C. Urban Moms and Dads, the poster described trying Twitter and Facebook, and being ready to show up at the gas company’s D.C. office: “I’m desperate… I’m ready to throw my phone out of the window.”

Another poster said that during a call with Washington Gas, the company “blamed [the delays] on COVID and said lots of people were out sick, or no longer working for them, or something dumb like that.”

The SCC said a contributing factor could be a recent change to a third-party customer service provider.

“Staff is aware that the company recently changed its third-party provider to perform both the non-emergency and emergency call center functions and the transition may be contributing to the delays customers are experiencing,” he said.

Washington Gas did not attribute the staffing shortages to any particular cause, but the spokesman apologized and outlined changes that are expected to improve things by mid-September.

“We are working hard to transform our customer experience and fix these issues,” Tylor said. “Customers can expect to see significant improvement in service and decreasing wait times in our Call Center by mid-September.”

The company is hiring more staff, implementing a virtual “hold” feature so that representatives can call customers back — which is expected to eliminate the long waits — and developing additional ways to reach the company, such as online chat.

“These are only the initial steps on our transformation journey, and we are excited about what’s next to deliver the kind of experience our customers expect and deserve,” he said. “We know that we have a lot of work to do to improve the customer experience but we are confident that customers will see significant progress by mid-September.”

The customer service woes go beyond the call center. Earlier this year, an ARLnow employee emailed Washington Gas via its website about a billing issue. More than two weeks later, no reply was sent. A customer service rep later said over the phone that such delays in response were normal. Others have reported similar experiences.

In the meantime, Tylor listed a few tips to remember when starting and stopping service:

  • As a general practice, contact Washington Gas at least three days in advance to place an order for service.
  • Service cannot be started and stopped on the same day. There must be a one-day separation between the services.
  • Customer premises that require gas to be turned on will typically require the customer speak with a representative.

As for Croft, a week after she started calling, she reported the gas company to the SCC. Someone from Washington Gas reached out to her on Monday with a form to complete. She completed the form on Tuesday and was told via email on Wednesday morning that an account has been set up.

“I am unable to confirm the account at the moment,” she said, “but it gives me hope, I guess.”

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