Automatic phone bill payments with Aliant: Modern world absurdity

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Society, Technology
September 16th, 2005 • 2:30 pm

This is about our regional phone company Aliant, but I am pretty sure it must the same just about everywhere.

We have set things up so that our phone bill is paid automatically every month with our VISA card. In other words, Aliant has our VISA card information and every month, on the billing date, they charge our VISA card with the amount of our phone bill. We don’t have to do anything.

Except when the VISA card information changes, of course. In July, we got a new VISA card with the same number, but with a different expiry date. I immediately got on the phone with Aliant and notified them of the change, so that things would go smoothly and the next payment wouldn’t fail.

Do you think it went smoothly? Of course it didn’t. We just got our phone bill for August and, sure enough, the August bill indicates that the July bill was paid automatically on August 9 (“CR” amount with a “Thank you for your payment” note) and then on August 11 there is a “Returned cheque” mention with the same amount charged to us again.

Let’s ignore, for now, the fact that the “Returned cheque” statement doesn’t make any sense in the context of automatic credit card payments… But why wasn’t the July bill payment processed properly? Obviously, it was time to get on the phone again and see what this was all about.

I called the company and got through (reasonably quickly) to a live person. I explained to her what had happened. She did confirm that the change to our credit card information was made on July 19, but said that it was “too late” for the August bill payment. Apparently, they need to be notified “at least 30 days in advance.”

I asked her how much sense it made to require a month of advance notice in the context of a monthly payment. Regardless of when in the month you phone to notify them of a credit card information change, it is never going to be a month in advance! As I told her, I got my new VISA card from the bank, activated it, and on the very same day I phone Aliant to notify them of the change. How could I notify them any sooner?

It is completely absurd. And of course the person I was talking to couldn’t be bothered with this. To her, it was very simple. I didn’t notify them more than a month in advance, and so I was too late. It obviously didn’t occur or didn’t matter to her that notifying a company more than a month in advance of a change to a monthly payment arrangement is, in this particular space-time that we live in, purely and simply impossible.

Now, I suspect that somebody at Aliant is aware of the absurdity of all this, since I wasn’t actually charged with a late payment fee. The bottom-line, as she eventually conceded, was that I didn’t have to do anything, and that the July bill would automatically be paid at the same time as the August bill, and all would then be back in order.

So obviously, in the eyes of this person, I was making a big fuss about a non-issue. Well, I am afraid that, no matter which way you put it, getting a bill that states that you haven’t paid your previous bill is not a non-issue. Even if no late fee is charged, it’s a fundamental failure, at least from the point of view of customer communications. But of course, unless I really decide to get on my high horse and ask to speak to a customer service representative and make a really big fuss about this and the fact that it’s unacceptable, etc.—nothing will change.

I think that this particular incident is a perfect illustration of how issues of user-friendliness are not limited to computer software, and affect all aspects of our lives that rely on one form or another of automated processing. In many ways, this particular problem with Aliant is a basic design flaw in the automatic payment process. It doesn’t affect the process itself—but it affects the way this process is communicated to the user/customer. In other words, it affects the “user interface” aspect of the process. And it demonstrates that, in this modern world, user interface flaws are everywhere.

Comments are closed.

Leave a Reply

Comments are closed.