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Changing customer behavior… one customer at a time.

Posted June 20, 2012 by Nicole Haskins

Can you hear me now? Loud and clear.

I recently had the pleasure (ahem) of sitting next to a wonderful lady in her twenties on a plane. From landing to taxiing to the gate, she spent the entire time yelling at a customer service rep of her local gas utility.

From what I could gather, she was upset that her bill did not reflect the last payment she had made and wanted to know if they received her payment. The bill had been printed on the 8th of the month and she received it on the 12th. She had sent a payment on the 5th. Now she inquired, “Why was it not showing up on the bill?”

Maybe it was my proximity to her or perhaps it was the stress that flying exacerbates in some people. But this young woman lost all trace of ladylike manner as she read the riot act to the customer service rep.

She hung up the phone, and leaned over and said with a note of incredulity, “Can you believe this? I mailed my payment and they said they did not get it until today!” As if she had to justify her case further, she added “They are so slow processing this payment and almost shut off my service.”

We did not know each other; of course, but I had a hard time biting my tongue. It wasn’t the utility’s fault and it certainly was not the customer service reps fault. I was going to point out the fallibility of the US Postal Service and its mail process, but thought the better of it. Casually I probed, “So you mailed your check? Don’t they have a website that you could pay your bills through or does your bank offer online banking and payments?”

“I am sure they do,” she replied. “But I just don’t trust that stuff with my credit card or checking information.” Just then, the flight attendant announces a momentary delay before disembarking.

My seatmate huffed about the delay…another inconvenience in her life. She pulled out her smartphone and laughed loudly. Leaning over to me, she boasted, “I just bought this awesome app and it is such a blast to play with.”

”Oh. That’s nice,” I said before inquiring “How did you pay for it?”

Without missing a beat, she chirped, “I just keep my credit card on file with the company and they charge it every time I hit this button.”

So, now is where I have to find restraint as somehow this lady has more trust for a system she has never interacted with, never met the staff behind it, and from which she’s never seen a single employee or ever received a single paper bill or correspondence. Yet, she will not use the automation services provided by her utility that she has done business with all her life because she does not “trust” the system.

How does this happen?

Glancing over her shoulder, I notice the bill has no marketing about their automated services on it whatsoever. No notice that this secure, real-time system could save time, paper, money, and hassle. No mention at all that these services have been purchased and invested in for the customers’ benefits and to provide greater options for a more demanding population. Nothing. Nada. Just a plain old, boring bill. What a waste of space and 44 cents…not to mention the tree that paid dearly for that bill printing.

I know the utility, and it’s a large public company. They have the technology. They should be filling all of the bill’s white space promoting this convenience. But I digress.

As we deplane, she asks what I do for a living. I smile and tell her that I work with utilities to automate their billing and payment practices, and educate customers about using automation to replace manual processes like mailing a check. I add that reducing paper internally and externally as well as allowing the customer to have more access to their account information and payments creates a better customer service experience for all.

A lot to say in one breath…but here’s the result that reminded me it is one customer at a time we are educating.

“Really?” she asks. “That sounds interesting…maybe I will look at the utility’s website again.”

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