Gas company switch to automated bill pay still planned

Published 10:37 am Thursday, May 1, 2008

JACKSON (AP) — Natural gas supplier Atmos Energy has agreed to continue face-to-face customer bill paying service through May 30.

After that, customers will pay bills using automated machines, company officials said Wednesday.

Public Service Commissioners Brandon Presley and Leonard Bentz had asked Atmos to reconsider a planned switch to the automated machines Thursday. Presley said he was concerned older customers would be intimidated after years of in-person service.

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Automated machines already are being used in Jackson, Tupelo and Southaven. After May 30, customers also will use them in Clarksdale, West Point, Columbus, Natchez, Grenada, Meridian, Starkville, Greenville, Greenwood and Indianola.

Atmos spokesman Robert Lesley said customer representatives will be on hand to help customers use the machines. The company serves 260,000 Mississippi customers.

“Some companies have closed their offices completely. We felt like this was a good compromise,” Lesley said.

Entergy Mississippi stopped taking payments at its local offices in 1995. Customers can pay their bill in person at “quick-payment centers” such as grocery stores or drug stores. Atmos also offers that service.

A Mississippi Power Co. spokeswoman said more than 50 percent of the company’s 185,000 customers use in-person payment services.

“Our customers enjoy that one-on-one interaction, as do we. It gives us an opportunity to see how we’re serving them,” spokeswoman Cindy Duvall said.

Public Service Commissioner Lynn Posey said he’s taking a wait-and-see approach as Atmos begins the transition. He said company officials assured him recently they would “maintain adequate customer service.”