External assessment

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					                                          Consumer Affairs
Consumer Activity at a glance:
     Help consumers understand their rights and responsibilities and make informed choices, make
        sure companies treat customers fairly, and resolve complaints involving regulated companies.
     $2.2 million budget
     In a month, resolve over 260 complaints, respond to 2,000 contacts, and distribute more than
        1,000 consumer publications and fact sheets
Strategic goal – outcome - measure:
     Consumer protection – Resolve problems, provide good customer service - percent of customers
        who report positive interactions with staff about their complaint

External Assessment

Major partners:
   To resolve customer problems, we work closely with consumer specialists in regulated
      companies to obtain information about the circumstances of specific complaints.
  End here 4-05
  We will be partnering more with other state consumer protection agencies, such as the Attorney
  General, Office of the Insurance Commissioner, Labor and Industries, and Financial Institutions.
  Working together, we’ll determine methods to ensure that consumers get to the right agency for help
  and assistance. The “one number” project will enable us to establish policies and procedures for
  getting consumers to the right organization for help and should improve cooperation between
  consumer protection agencies. This will affect our work and our call volumes in ways that we don’t
  fully understand at this point.

It will be especially important for us to develop a closer working relationship with the AG’s office. We
deal with many of the same issues. The AG’s office receives close to 150,000 calls per year from
consumers seeking help. The UTC could help many of those consumers while the AG cannot. We will
work on methods to improve communication, coordination of activities and making a smooth handoff
from one agency to the other of a consumer complaint.

We expect to develop closer working relationships with state and community-based agencies that serve
the same populations as the UTC: senior, low-income and immigrant communities. The principal
purpose of these closer relationships is to use these organizations as distribution channels for relevant
consumer information and to let them know that we are available for help should they need to file a
complaint against a regulated company.

We’ll also be working with other state public service commissions and the national NARUC
organization to share information about consumer developments in Washington, learn about
developments in other jurisdictions and participate in policy development work at the national level.

Service demands:
The number of consumer complaints handled by the section has declined for each of the last 5 years.
The number incoming telephone calls have also declined for the same period. In 2006, Consumer
Affairs will expand its consumer education and outreach activities to inform citizens of the assistance
we can provide. One outcome of this may be an increase in the overall number of phone calls as well as
the number of informal complaints we receive. We also are expanding our public involvement activities.
We will implement a new public involvement system that enables us to better document consumer
comments and provide that information to decision makers at the commission. Duties related to outreach
and public involvement are new to the unit and as we expand these activities, there will be fewer staff
Consumer Affairs Assessment –JS Edits April 2006             Page 1
hours available for staffing the phones. This will cause a shift in workloads as staff take on new duties
and responsibilities.

Regulatory fees paid to the commission by telecommunications companies have declined every year
since 2001 and we estimate the decline will continue at approximately four percent a year. At the same
time the cost of regulating this industry has not declined and costs have exceeded revenues for all but
two years since 1998. The agency may wish to, at some point, better balance telecommunications
revenues and costs. This will be a challenge in Consumer Affairs where telecommunications issues
continue to drive our complaint work – three quarters of our complaints relate to telecommunications
service providers.

The telecommunications industry is changing as more and more people are switching to wireless phones
and internet based telephone services (VOIP). The nature of the calls we receive will change and staff
will need to become more familiar with wireless and VOIP issues. Our jurisdiction is currently limited
to wireline service providers but it will be important for us to ensure that all consumers are treated fairly
and appropriately. We will be spending more time working with companies on customer service issues
and defining the UTC’s role in this new environment.

The web has caused customer expectations about service delivery to change. Customers now expect
faster resolutions and responses to their inquiries. They also expect more information to be available
when they need it. Using the web to receive complaints and public comments should cause some
efficiencies in our processes.


Federal policy initiatives / changes:
There is a likelihood of new federal legislation for the telecommunications industry, specifically
wireless and, possibly, VOIP services. This new legislation could alter our jurisdiction and change our
focus. We will need to stay on top of these coming changes and adjust as needed, when needed.

The FCC has reserved for itself the right to regulate VOIP services, because of its interstate nature and
we will need to work closely with the FCC on many telecommunication consumer issues given the
extent of federal involvement.

In 2005, Congress passed an Act that replaces the current Base State System of annual trucking renewals
with a new system, the Unified Carrier Registration system that becomes effective in 2007. Money
collected from Base State currently supports all UTC transportation-related activities, to the extent that
fees from an industry segment do not cover the cost of regulation of that segment. We don’t fully
understand the impact on states of this change at this point. We believe that funds generated by the UCR
system may only be used to cover the cost of a state’s registration and safety activities. This may result
in a funding shortfall for other activities including consumer complaints, rate-setting and entry
enforcement. Consumer Affairs devotes approximately a third of an FTE to consumer complaints from
household goods moving customers. Consumer Affairs will need to monitor implementation of UCR as
it unfolds.

Technology:
The telecommunications industry has seen the largest number of technology changes. Wireless and
VOIP technology are taking customers from the traditional wire-line service providers. We will need to
keep up to speed on these new technologies and focus on how we can help consumers with potentially a
new set of issues.

Jurisdiction:
Consumer Affairs Assessment –JS Edits April 2006              Page 2
Our jurisdiction is likely to change, especially in the telecommunications industry. Changes to federal or
state regulations will require us to change as well. We’ll have to understand our jurisdictional
boundaries and responsibilities and potentially partner with other organizations to continue helping
consumers.

Within the telecommunications industry, changes in competition and competitive classification
designation could dramatically impact our jurisdiction and change the way we work with companies and
consumers. Consumer protection regulations are always changing and we’ll have to keep up to speed on
these changes.

Internal Assessment

How does your section’s staffing compare with the tasks you are assigned?

Technical knowledge and skill: For the most part, staff have the knowledge and skills needed to do their
jobs. Staff are provided training on using our Consumer Contacts System but could use some ongoing
refresher training. Staff also could benefit from more computer program training and time to apply the
skills learned.

The program is lacking staff with working experience in writing brochures, pamphlets, and other
publications. We are building our expertise in using the web as a business tool but need to focus more on
this need. Staff are proficient in proper telephone techniques and practices. They have the ability to
handle difficult callers and know how to diffuse difficult situations.

Organizational knowledge and skill: The majority of staff in the program have a strong understanding of
the agency’s purpose and mission. They are clear in how the consumer affairs program contributes to the
agency’s mission. Staff have a good knowledge of agency policies, laws, and rules, particularly those
related to investigating consumer complaints. However, staff has identified the need for occasional
technical training from other programs in the agency. One example would be the need to learn more
about Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP). There also is a need for staff to learn more about the
adjudicative processes, especially how hearings work and the terms and processes used.

Recruiting, retention and workforce challenges: Recent recruitment efforts for consumer program
specialists have produced a limited number of qualified candidates. Fortunately, each recruitment has
identified at least one strong candidate but has not identified for us potential candidates for future
vacancies. Retention does not seem to be a problem. Most staff in the program have been in the agency
or the program for several years. The program has expanded its role over the past 18 months and has
taken on new duties related to education and outreach, and public involvement. We are building
expertise but are still lacking someone with formal communications training, background and
experience. We have requested authorization to fill a vacant position with someone with these skills.
This request is pending.

We’ll also need to explore the need for bilingual staff to handle complaints. We are receiving many
more calls from non-english speaking consumers. We’ll need to assess which languages are most in
demand and consider filling vacancies with bilingual staff.

Do you see an opportunity for changes in technology or service delivery methods?
Our new public involvement system will enable us to receive and manage public comments received
electronically via the Internet. We’ll also use the web to educate and inform both consumers and
companies about the UTC and the services we provide. We’ve recently revived the use of an electronic
newsletter.
Consumer Affairs Assessment –JS Edits April 2006            Page 3
In the future, we should consider upgrading to a phone system that “recognizes” callers and identifies
them as the calls arrive. We also need to invest on more data reporting capability for the phone system.
Currently, we receive very limited phone data.

Having access to various company databases also could speed up the gathering of information. We
should explore this with the companies we have a lot of interaction with.

What technology investments will be needed in the coming period?
We need additional features added to our Customer Contacts System. We need expanded reporting
capability to enable us to automatically collect information to report on our performance measures.
Currently, we have to collect much of the data manually. Discussions with IS have already started on
this subject.

Technology will play an important role in improving our processes. We’ll be implementing a new Public
Involvement system that will enable us to better manage public involvement cases. All staff will receive
training on this new system and its use will be incorporated into daily work processes.

We’ll also be promoting the agency web site as a method for consumers to submit complaints and public
comments. This will change how we receive our workload and will require some changes to work
procedures.

As part of a multi-agency effort to make it easier for consumers to find the correct agency when seeking
help, we’ll be focusing on technology to assist in accomplishing that mission.

The web has become business tool that can drive efficiencies and speed up processes. It also has raised
customer expectations for instant or immediate communication. We will have to respond accordingly
and determine how to meet those expectations.

What capital or equipment needs will you have in the coming period?
We are in the first year of our new expanded role with education and outreach. We are establishing
budget patterns and may need additional funds to be more effective with this activity.

As we investigate the “one number” concept, there may be some investment needed to support the
recommendations, especially around the phone system and an electronic “consumer resource” database
that can be shared across agencies.

Do you see revenue or fund balance trends that may affect your organization?
In 2005, Congress passed an Act that replaces the current Base State System of annual trucking renewals
with a new system, the Unified Carrier Registration system that becomes effective in 2007. Money
collected from Base State currently supports all UTC transportation-related activities, to the extent that
fees from an industry segment do not cover the cost of regulation of that segment. We don’t fully
understand the impact on states of this change at this point. We believe that funds generated by the UCR
system may only be used to cover the cost of a state’s registration and safety activities. This may result
in a funding shortfall for other activities including consumer complaints, rate-setting and entry
enforcement. Consumer Affairs devotes approximately a third of an FTE to consumer complaints from
household goods moving customers. Consumer Affairs will need to monitor implementation of UCR as
it unfolds.



Consumer Affairs Assessment –JS Edits April 2006            Page 4

				
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