COLUMBIA, SC — For half a century, SCE&G customers have used the utility’s Lady Street office to pay their electric bills or discuss them with customer service representatives.
But that ended last month, when the Cayce-based utility moved its customer service center into a newly renovated office at 1213 Flora St., just off Assembly Street across from the Capital City Stadium.
“It gave us a chance to modernize,” S.C. Electric & Gas spokesman Eric Boomhower said.
The recognizable Lady Street brick building with a colorful design on its first floor exterior and long, narrow windows on its upper three floors likely will be put up for sale, Boomhower said. The utility doesn’t have a time frame for when that will happen.
The utility already has had interest in the 1960s-era building from potential buyers, Boomhower said, adding he did not know what those buyers might do with the facility. The area around the building – just a couple of blocks off of Main Street – has seen a resurgence in recent years with an influx of residential, retail and office projects.
Before the four-story, 20,000-square-foot building is sold, there would be a 30-day bidding period open to the public, Boomhower said. Also, the 30 to 40 utility employees still working in the building would have to be moved. The customer service center was on the first floor only, Boomhower said.
Early in its history, the building was an administrative headquarters, including a boardroom and various offices, he said. “It was part of our early executive and administrative presence in the downtown area.”
That presence largely is gone now. A Main Street high rise, which formerly held the utility’s corporate offices, is being redeveloped into a student housing project after SCE&G parent SCANA moved its headquarters to a new campus in Cayce five years ago.
Meanwhile, the utility’s customers must get used to a new setup – one the company hopes will give them a more pleasant experience.
The newly renovated building on Flora Street – with glass cubicles, lots of windows and an open layout – gives the customer service center nearly double the working area it had in the Lady Street building, Boomhower said. It also has an education area, where customers can learn about how their meters work, how to prepare for a storm or how to make their homes more energy efficient.
Despite advances in bill-paying technology, SCE&G says its walk-in traffic still is brisk.
Between 2008 and 2013, the utility saw a 15 percent increase in electronic payments and a 10 percent decline in mail-in payments. But customer-service center supervisor Cindi Hux said walk-in traffic has not declined significantly in the six years she has been working at the center.
There always will be a need for that personal interaction, Boomhower said. “There are people that just don’t feel comfortable making arrangements online.”
The new building also includes:
• Areas designated for personal conversations with customers. Sometimes customers are facing challenging issues and need privacy to discuss a situation, Boomhower said. The former building offered little privacy.
“A lot of the people that come into a customer service office aren’t necessarily just coming to pay a bill. They want to talk,” he said. “Sometimes, they’re emotional.”
• An attached drive-through lane with three windows and a handicapped-accessible drop box. The Lady Street building had a detached drive-through with two windows.
• Better access. The new building has 61 designated parking spaces for customers – triple the amount at the former building. That should keep customers from dealing with downtown traffic or parking meters. The new building also is on the bus line for customers who use public transportation.
“This is a model for the future for how our offices are set up,” Boomhower said. “It’s not just the space; it’s the functionality of the space.”