One of the first things I did when I started Empire Information Services in 1985 was to take out an American Express card for business expenses. Through the years, having an AMEX card helped me keep personal from business expenses when outside my office. I didn’t mind paying off the card right away. It was a good discipline. I didn’t want to float my business on my credit cards.
A few weeks ago I cancelled my AMEX card. Why? Because I accepted their invitation to get my monthly statements and pay online, only to end up paying late fees several times. The idea of getting statements online instead of by mail may work for some people, but be warned — if you ever change your email address or change your email program or change the settings in your email, you’re in danger of not getting your statement in enough time to pay it ontime. Further getting an email is not like getting something on paper. Now I know people can and do misplace paper. I’ve done it myself, but if you’re used to managing paper, you have a higher likelihood of doing so successfully than if you’re not used to managing emails.
Then there’s the matter of logging in and making a successful payment. How many times have you tried to log into a site that you’ve logged into dozens of times previously only to discover, they’ve changed the procedure or all of a sudden your password no longer works? Then there’s the situation when you think you’ve made a payment only to find out weeks later that it didn’t go through and you’ve got a $40, 50 or even $60 late fee.
American Express saves money each time they get someone to receive statements and make payments online. However, what they save doing business that way, they’re losing when their system ticks off customers like me.
That outcome was avoidable however if someone at AMEX had been smart enough to understand that you can’t change one part of the process without making commensurate changes in the rest of the process. For example, if their software had detected my attempt to make a payment, noticed that I didn’t complete the process and sent me an email asking me if I meant to abandon the payment, they would still have a customer today.
A second thing they needed to do was send me a second notice. It would be very easy to set that up. If someone is sent their statement 15 days before payment is due and doesn’t make a payment within 10 days, a second notice could go out. Not hard to do, only hard to conceive when you’re so focused on rationalizing your business processes that you ignore the impact on your customers.