Monday, December 11, 2006
When she explained the situation to me, it became clear that it could easily be resolved with a visit to the Town Hall or a card payment of £6 over the phone, which she assured me she would do. But the issue served to highlight the frustrations that many of us face these days in dealing with massive service-providers. I can very much relate to the sense of powerlessness and despair that this lady felt in having to deal with these situations - I am currently buying a property, and dealing with the lawyers makes me want to tear out my hair!
But I think so many of us share the same experiences of unavoidable confrontations with big organisations. And often they leave a sour taste.
I went on holiday for three weeks not so long ago. On the first day I was away, a gas bill arrived, which obviously wasn’t paid because I was away. Over the course of the next fortnight, a reminder appeared, followed by a summons and a threat that my gas bill would more or less treble with all the excess fees on top. Now, obviously, I was three weeks late paying, but surely there must be a less heavy-handed way to deal with the situation? I pay my bills on time, every time, like the lady with her Council Tax last night. This must be known to the Council and to the gas company. So why the rush to go from bill to court summons? All it does is make the customer angry and the demand, increase everyone’s blood-pressure, and does nothing to make either side happier.
I know how to pay bills easily – I have phone, internet and vehicle access and I can articulate my thoughts well. But if I was more vulnerable, or less sure how to deal with big companies, or unsure of how to pay my bills, then this kind of approach would really scare me. It simply isn’t fair to those amongst us least able to help themselves with these issues.
There is a raft of data available to service providers, who should tailor their responses to the individual circumstances of the customer. Gas companies know how good bill-payers are at settling their accounts on time, so shouldn’t come down like a ton of bricks on people who’ve gone on holiday for a fortnight. If I was always late, and I never sought help, then react differently.
Councils know whether someone is on JSA or sickness benefits, or lives alone, or is old, so they too should tailor their responses to meet individual needs. Last night’s sick lady didn’t deserve to be treated like that. She just hadn’t got round to paying yet. An elementary search of her records would’ve shown the reason why. And instead of a summons, she could’ve been sent some information to help her out.
It wouldn’t cost the Earth to have half a dozen standard letters to customers who pay late, rather than just one. And it might increase satisfaction all round.