Usability and Direct-to-Credit-Card Billing

Although it’s no doubt useful for vendors, I find direct credit card billing extremely UNusable, because vendors seem to think that it exonerates them from having to inform the people whose money they are taking. But they risk misunderstandings, and annoying and losing customers.

Just on this month’s credit card statement:

  • KQED billed me twice in one month, a few days apart, for different amounts. I renewed my membership during their last pledge time (anyone remember when that was? I don’t). I assumed my annual membership was expiring though, in retrospect, I’m not sure why. They certainly never tell me. So I renewed. Are they now billing me for two different memberships simultaneously?
  • The SF Chronicle billed me $247. Why? For what period of time? For past or for future delivery?
  • My DSL fee has gone up. I guess they informed me, since in theory I have an email account with them. But I never check it, since it’s one that I don’t use. Surely they could ASK me what email address to use?

Once again I’m sending off annoyed email to KQED. Now I have to track down the Chronicle and ask them what they’re doing. I’m annoyed with all these vendors — which is not a good way to keep customers. Worse yet, KQED is relying on my goodwill, and it seems that I have problems with them every time I renew. Certainly an organization that relies on voluntary contributions should realize that they need to stay in their contributors’ good graces.

More generally, billing transactions are not just about exchange of money but ALSO about information and customer relations. While using direct credit card billing to save themselves effort and expense on the billing side, these companies are also abandoning communication with their customers. They shouldn’t be surprised if their customers then abandon them.


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