On April 19, 2017, the National Energy and Utilities Regulatory Commission (NEURC) introduced a consumer call center, which will allow consumers to promptly receive answers to their questions and obtain important information. The call center is staffed with at least one NEURC official from each main department – these staff are empowered to either answer questions or forward the calls to relevant departments as needed.
The move, which will help the regulator align more with the European Union’s policies on consumer rights, protection and empowerment, came via the assistance of the U.S. Agency for International Development and its implementer, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC).
Energy Security through Transparency and Market Reform
USAID’s assistance to NEURC on customer service promotes stronger governance and creates avenues for economic development. Improving the power sector is also a top priority of the Ukrainian government.
More broadly, the call center bolsters NEURC’s ability to facilitate the restructuring of the country’s energy sector and the introduction of more competition. As new market players enter and investment opportunities emerge, the call center will help NEURC assure both market entrants and consumers that issues and complaints are being resolved and fairness and transparency are being ensured.
NEURC officials have also expressed interest in further exploring how to resolve disputes between utilities and consumers. Existing processes placed a significant time and resource burden on NEURC staff, and improvements can help align NEURC policies with those from the EU.
Improving Consumer Relations
NEURC introduced the call center “in order to ensure the principles of openness and transparency,” NEURC’s website said. The call center “will enable customers to automatically get answers to more than 50 topical questions of regulation which is the responsibility of NEURC and, if necessary, consult specialists in the departments,” NEURC said on its website.
In less than one month, NEURC received more than 700 calls through its hotline, with 43 percent of callers seeking information about electricity issues and 25 percent about natural gas issues (see infographic above for more detail). The call center is currently in the pilot phase, and NEURC is collecting feedback and suggestions from consumers for improvements moving forward.
Consumer relations is a priority topic for NEURC in its work with USAID and NARUC. In 2016 and 2017, U.S. volunteer regulators from Arizona, Kentucky, California, the District of Columbia and Ohio provided lessons learned and best practices on dispute settlement and call center operations during engagements in Kyiv, Ukraine.