Wong Liang Zan

Wong Liang Zan

© 2020

the tyranny of billing

Billing is a critical function of any business. It is more than just collection of money. What better way than to tell a story.

We use the product of a fictitious company, ABC Widgets. The product is critical to our business. If the product fails to run properly, it causes a cascading effect to the company. We are happy with the product. It solves our problems. The price is reasonable. ABC Widgets bills us using the pre-paid model. In short, pay before you use. No payment, the service is cut. That is fair. We did not disagree.

Things were fine for months. One day, we received complaints from our customers that something was wrong. We investigated. It turned out that ABC Widget’s service stopped running. We reached their support. Our pre-paid account ran out of money. And our business critical service was cut. Our account was usually charged automatically when credits run low. This time it failed to charge.

We topped up our accounts manually. It did charge. Why wasn’t we notified? ABC Widgets replied they did email us. Twice. Sent automatically to our placeholder email: admin@so-and-so.com. They even pasted the email contents. It is our fault. We did not pay. They warned us. Not once, but twice. So, they were morally right to cut off our business critical service.

We were unhappy. But things has been going well this far. Besides, it did look like our fault. We let things past. A few months later, we received complaints from our customers. The account ran out of credits again. Our service was terminated. We are very unhappy. How can our accounts fail to top up again? We demand to know why. They replied it happens from time to time. And they apologized. We changed our notification email to point to a real person this time. We need to be actively monitoring our emails in case it happened again.

A sharp reader will see that the point of failure was the auto-charging of the accounts. It failed which led to the series of unfortunate events. Correct. So, it is a technical problem. Wrong. It is not simply a technical problem. It is a failure to understand the needs of the customer. This is how customers are lost.

The same incident happened for the third time. This time, we did not even receive the notification email. We decided to switch vendors. Our trust in them was lost. ABC Widgets lost a customer not because the product was no good, but because of they failed to understand their needs.

When you sell a business critical service, it has to run. In the case of ABC Widgets, the product is running fine. However their billing did not cater to the needs of their customers. You should never lightly cut the service of a customer especially when it is business critical. Repeat that. You should never lightly cut the service when it is business critical. How much effort did ABC Widget take to build a stellar product? A lot. How much effort did ABC Widgets take to reach their customers when there are problems in billing? 2 automated emails. Is that the best they can do? They don’t understand that it is critical, and it cannot be cut off like that.

If I were them, I would have customer service call the customer asking in person if they would like to cut the service. One phone call is enough. Is that a lot of effort? A switch to post-paid model would solve it as well. We would have continued with ABC Widgets. Please don’t subject your customers to the tyranny of your billing system. They would be grateful.