Every Customer Is Key

Northern Wasco County PUD’s Customer Service and Key Accounts Manager Emphasizes Everyone’s Value

By Rodger Nichols

Justin Brock and his customer service team celebrated the holiday season in fashion. From left are Justin, Hector Sanchez, Cherish Southard, Bethany Pounds, Melinda Evans, and Laurie Layton. Photo courtesy of Northern Wasco County PUD

Although Justin Brock was born on the Oregon Coast, he is a mid-Columbia success story.

Justin graduated from Goldendale High School in 1996 and has lived in the Gorge most of his life. After high school, he attended Clark Community College in Vancouver, Washington, but says, “I didn’t have a good direction to go after those two years.”

He moved to Montana, where his older brother lived, landed in retail work for several years, and met his wife, Traci.

It was after the couple moved to Spokane, Washington, that a conversation with his mother triggered Justin’s decision to return to the Columbia Gorge.

“You know, there’s a lot of wind turbines being put up in the area,” she told him. She also mentioned a program starting at Columbia Gorge Community College.

“The college had just completed its pilot program,” Justin says. “I was accepted into the first full-blown cohort of the energy program.”

After completing the program in 2009 with an associate degree in electrical engineering/renewable technology, Justin was hired to work for Siemens at a wind project based out of Centerville, Washington. While working there, he took online classes from Bismark State College, earning a bachelor’s in energy management, followed by a master’s in energy management from the New York Institute of Technology.

In September 2015, Justin was hired by Northern Wasco County PUD as a power analyst. In 2020, he was promoted to customer service and key accounts manager. He had some experience working in retail customer service. Between that and his electrical knowledge, the PUD felt he was a good fit to be a point of contact for the utility’s customers.

“I think of all our customers as key customers,” Justin says. “I really try to put the emphasis that our customers—whether they are residential, commercial, or industrial—should be viewed in a similar fashion.” A lot of his job is answering questions.

“The electrical industry is a bit more complicated than the retail world,” Justin says. “A large part of it is trying to answer questions and explain certain aspects of utility operations, but there’s also the part of showing the value of what the utility provides. Yes, we always strive to try keep the lights on, but it’s not just that. It’s other programs and services that we provide to the community.”

Justin helps get the word out about available customer programs. Among other things, the PUD provides grants for local nonprofits, helps the city put up Christmas decorations, and coordinates a staff volunteer day for community projects.

Justin Brock and his customer service team celebrated the holiday season in fashion. From left are Justin, Hector Sanchez, Cherish Southard, Bethany Pounds, Melinda Evans, and Laurie Layton. Photo courtesy of Northern Wasco County PUD

Recently, the PUD distributed LED lightbulbs to local residents.

“It’s great for our customers,” Justin says. “They’re able to reduce their usage through the use of LEDs, thus reducing their electricity costs.”

Reducing demand on the PUD’s distribution system helps keep its expenses down, which in the long run contributes to low rates.

Justin has a lot of praise for his co-workers and PUD management.

“It’s really been great to see the ideas from new staff that have come from outside of the utility industry,” he says. “With new or improved processes, the utility operates more efficiently. This makes us that much more effective in helping customers on the other end.”

One of the advantages of the pandemic is the increased confidence people and organizations have in working from home. That allows the utility to hire people locally and outside the area.

“There’s no geographical bounds to have that talent available,” Justin says. “We’ve certainly become a very dynamic utility.”

“Dynamic” might also be the word to describe Justin and his family.

“We’re pretty avid obstacle course racers,” he says. “It’s very similar to mud runs where we go out there and race through obstacles, over trails, or in mud, competing against other racers. We’ve also just recently gotten into what’s called Hyrox competitions. They’re more of a functional fitness type of competition with a series of workouts broken up with runs in between, and you compete against other people. I guess you could say we like to push ourselves in physical endeavors.”

Justin and his wife are not alone. Their 11 1/2-year-old daughter, Ellie, competes in mud races in her age group. She also plays volleyball, basketball, and softball.

“We’re that family that goes here and there, runs and gets dirty, and then comes back and says, ‘All right. What’s the next one that we get to do?’” Justin says.