June 25, 2014 –
I’m thinking about my water bill. Like many people with busy schedules and access to the internet (most adults in America), I have transitioned my bill payments to make them automatic and pay them online.
Online bill payment is a boon for everyone but the post office. It provides benefits for both the bill payer and the bill recipient. For the bill payer, there is no need to worry about late payments and you can quickly monitor all your accounts online. For the bill recipient, it provides prompt electronic payments directly into their account and drastically reduces the cost of each transaction. It also eliminates late payments, items lost in the mail, etc., thereby reducing the cost of customer service.
Imagine my surprise when I tried to automate my water bills with the Atlanta Department of Watershed Management. After I set up my account, I was informed that there is a $ 4.50 per transaction charge for paying online. It is called, without irony, a ‘convenience fee.’ That means for each water account paid online, a customer would be paying an extra $ 54.00 per year! On top of that, according to the 2012 Circle of Blue’s Survey, Atlanta has one of the highest water rates in the country.
I sent an email query to customer service at Watershed Management, and I also copied my City Council representative, Alex Wan – neither responded.
To me the ‘convenience fee’ is emblematic of a much larger problem that pervades many of our public institutions – that of intransigence to new ideas and lack of customer focus.
Imagine you ordered an item from amazon or iTunes and at checkout you were alerted to a $ 4.50 ‘convenience fee’ if you paid online, but the charge would be waived if you sent a paper check in the mail. Welcome to the upside down world of Atlanta Watershed Management!
Imagine if the majority of customers paid their water bills automatically online, it would reduce costs and the need for personnel in accounts receivable and customer service. The savings could be put toward upgrading systems and services, and/or reducing our water bills, some of the highest in the nation.
Imagine a time when conducting an online transaction with a public agency would be as frictionless as dealing with Google or Apple. Why is that not our reality today? How can we make this better?