Application Integration Should Enhance Customer Experience, Not Kill It

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“Do you want fries with that?”

It’s a great question when the objective is to encourage a customer to part with just a bit more money. But some companies augment revenue without explicitly asking permission, because application integration and other advances in information technology make it easy for a vendor to slip in a charge here, and a service there, nibbling just a little more revenue.

Call it e-nibbling. Embedded on page four of my latest Verizon bill, in the section, “Miscellaneous Charges and Credits,” I found “Info Techno MthlyFee,” $14.95, and “EmailBundle Mntly Fee,” $14.97—about $30.00 for products I never ordered and never heard of. Ironic that Verizon, a communications company, couldn’t even provide a consistent abbreviation for the word “monthly.” But there might be method to the spelling mismatch, because the confusion appears calculated. I won’t refer to Verizon’s practice as “deceptive,” because I’m looking for a word that fits better. I’ll let you know if I find it.

Chagrined, I called Verizon. Press one . . . press two . . . press three . . . followed by a voice greeting me, and asking permission to access my account. “Yes, you have my permission. You’re billing me for services I never requested,” I told the voice. Tap, tap, tap, click, tap, done! Charges eradicated. The transaction steps were clearly familiar to the efficient Verizon representative. “Did I provide you excellent customer service today, Mr. Rudin?” “Yes, if you can explain what these products are and how they got on my bill,” I replied. The representative told me she didn’t know, but she could put a “block” on my account to prevent unauthorized services from billing in the future.”

Information technology offers greater transparency, except when it doesn’t. As I ruminated on the meaning of her offer, this conversation seemed profoundly weird. In essence, what she told me is that it’s incumbent on customers to request a supplemental free Verizon service to prevent Verizon from passing erroneous third-party charges that should be prohibited in the first place! That blurred image you just saw was my trust, bolting from the conversation.

It became clear why Verizon’s rep handled my call so efficiently. The social media buzz about these charges began well before my experience. Hello, Verizon! Are you listening? Perhaps their employees are blocked from accessing ComplaintsBoard.com. And it’s hard to imagine executives at Verizon’s headquarters getting a pat on the back and an “attaboy” over these conversations.

As selling systems embed more external products, services, software, and databases, executives must consider:

1. Value to the consumer. Do optional services improve outcomes for customers, and do they offer them greater choice, control, and convenience? Are they offered by legitimate companies?

2. Auditability of events. Can details of purchase transactions, including those of third- party billers be disclosed, especially how and when a transaction occurred? Are providers accountable when purchases cannot be proven?

3. Traceability of information flow. Do customers and customer service agents have visibility into where and when purchase and billing information originated, where the information went, and how it appeared on an invoice?

Verizon offered no information about “Informative Technology Gr,” and “EmailBundle, LLC,” the third-party billers identified on my invoice. No contact information, no website, no nothing. That seems wrong.

If only Verizon were an isolated example of a company that has built a monolithic storefront to move funds from consumer wallets to corporate bank accounts. They’re not. I’ve experienced the same issue with every provider that offers bundled services, from AT&T to Cox to Sprint to Verizon.

Technology enables improved customer experience along with confusion-by-design, take your pick. But from Verizon’s example, developers of sales enablement systems should recognize that when applications are integrated between providers, so are customer experiences, and the logo that gets egg on it is the one at the top of the invoice.

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