Paperwork stinks. Bookkeeping stinks. Nobody gets into a business because either of those tasks are fun. They have to be done, though, and in a prompt manner. Procrastinating makes you look unprofessional and does a disservice to your customers.
I got a bill in the mail last month that took me aback. A cable television and Internet service provider was billing me for charges due. Not necessarily an unusual occurrence, but I didn’t think that I had an account with that company anymore. I had also never received a bill for so little money. Comcast was trying collect fourteen cents.
My fiancée and I used Comcast when we were living in Chicago…last year. The week before we moved to the East Coast, I called Comcast and arranged for my account to be cancelled. I dropped off my cable box in July before we moved and paid our final bill, thinking that was the end of that. And it was. Until February, when after hearing nothing from Comcast for six months, I received a Disconnection Notice billing me for $0.14. Two days later, another bill came in.
I was amused. Comcast had sent me two paper bills for this overdue fourteen cents. The envelopes aren’t individually metered, but considering they both include all the usual regulatory and advertising filler (and the obligatory return envelopes) I figure there’s a good chance Comcast had burned more than fourteen cents trying to collect on my account.
I decided to call customer service. They couldn’t be serious about this, could they? The representative who fielded my call was very polite and laughed along with me when I pointed out the absurdity of using a $0.42 first-class stamp to pay a $0.14 charge. She responded that I could use either the online or phone-based payment system to settle the charge on my account at no additional cost.
That would have been fine, but it seems my account doesn’t exist in Comcast’s systems anymore. Trying to look up my account within the automated phone system doesn’t work, and the Web payment system can’t find my records either. Comcast has forgotten about me, except for one stubborn billing system that doesn’t talk to anything else.
I’ve invested more than $0.14 cents' worth of my time by this point. I just want Comcast and this problem to go away. My solution? I decide to use my bank’s electronic payment system to transfer payment directly to Comcast. That was how I paid my bill before I moved, and I still have them in my list of payees. My bank won’t transfer an amount less than one whole dollar, though. It’s worth those extra few cents to me to shut Comcast up. I’m also curious to see whether that obsessive billing machine they have drops a refund check into the mail.
Why pay Comcast at all, you ask? Well, as far as I can tell from my records, I actually owe the money. It appears that my last transfer to Comcast in July 2008 was fourteen cents light. This discrepancy was never mentioned, though. Not when I turned in my equipment, not when I called to give the company my new address in Virginia, and not for the last six months. It’s a company’s right—its duty, even—to collect what it’s owed, but it seems capricious to me to invest so much effort to recoup an insignificant amount. The fact that my account doesn’t exist in any of Comcast's payment systems anymore only adds insult to injury.
Whatever. Comcast can keep the difference. An electronic funds transfer means I have documentation that the payment is settled, and that’s all I want. I can tell you though this last little taste of Comcast’s customer care has left me unimpressed. I could never get away with waiting half a year to bill my clients. But then, there’s nothing I could teach the number one residential broadband provider about managing a business, is there?
The day after my electronic payment to Comcast went through, I got another bill.
For $0.14. That’s three, and counting.