LAS CRUSES. For El Paso Electric utility customers who rely on personal payment centers in New Mexico and Texas to pay their bills, big changes are coming. Over the past two months, El Paso Electric has quietly begun to push customers away from in-person payments to their online bill collection systems.
EPE’s regional director of government relations, Eric Montgomery, said the move is an attempt to eliminate in-person payments.
“A lot of it really has to do with the new technologies and advances that we’re bringing in,” Montgomery told the Doña Ana County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.
Less than 5 percent of all utility customers pay in person at one of four branches in New Mexico and Texas, according to EPE director of customer service Robert Hamer.
“Most of our client traffic that we see… was mostly by phone,” Hymer said. “He’s also growing online.”
Hymer said branch closures come down to saving money. In addition, because very few people use the centers, Hamer said EPE wants to focus on meeting people through other access points.
In Texas, EPE has already closed in-person pay centers. This change took place on January 13th. In the two centers of Las Cruces, in-person training will end on February 10th.
How can customers pay their bills?
For the 5 percent of payers who pay in person, EPE offers several bill payment options.
Through the EPE website, utility customers can pay by credit card, ATM/debit card, or electronic check. For each account, this option includes fees ranging from $1.50 to $2.35.
Another option involves using payment kiosks in El Paso, Van Horn, and Las Cruces. However, kiosks may charge fees depending on how customers pay. In addition, third-party payment agencies such as CheckFree or Western Union accept fixed-value payments. According to an EPE press release, over 100 third-party payment agencies are in EPE’s service area. These agencies are located in stores such as Walmart, Dollar General, and many grocery stores.
With the closure of payment centers, third-party payment agencies and kiosks will be the only way to pay electricity bills in cash.
Utility customers can also make bank transfers to EPE through their website. In this system, the utility takes money directly from the utility’s bank accounts when the bill falls due. There is no charge for this method.
EPE also accepts mailed checks in a stamped envelope to its El Paso office at El Paso Electric, PO Box 982, El Paso, Texas 79960. Except for the cost of the envelope and stamp, this method is free of charge.
Finally, EPE accepts payment by phone between 7:00 AM and 7:00 PM Monday to Friday or through a mobile app. Both of these methods have fees ranging from $1.95 to $2.35.
And the workers?
EPE employs 21 people in four offices. No one will be fired, Hamer said.
Instead, EPE will create new roles for workers.
“We are currently working to ensure that everyone who works at the branch can successfully transition to other channels,” Hamer said.
Hymer did not specify how the work of branch employees will change. However, he said that increased communication with customers via the Internet or by phone has created a demand for EPE’s attention in these areas, and suggested that EPE train workers in these areas. He also said that many will start working from home.
“By reusing these employees, we can do more for our customers than we can today,” Hamer said.
Hymer acknowledged that the relationship between clients and EPE representatives in the face-to-face centers is very deep.
“Customers bring (workers) treats and gifts and ask ‘how are you kids’ and stuff like that,” Hamer said. “There’s a great relationship there.”
But in the end, Hymer said these workers will have to get used to working with people without seeing them in person.
Justin Garcia covers crime, courts and public safety. He can be contacted by email [email protected].