Faraway Bill

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Utility companies traditionally sent out monthly bills by snail mail, but today they tend to put them online - leading to bills that are rarely seen and easily forgotten. How you receive your bills is framed by companies as a choice between "offline" and "online", but is in fact also a decision of "push" versus "pull". With snail mail bills, you received a detailed breakdown each month. With online bills, few companies will email you the detailed breakdown, citing security concerns. Instead, you have to remember to log in, then go through the tedious process of navigating to your most recent bill. As a result, a certain proportion of people just don't bother - and as a result they forget about the costs of the service, and aren't able to react unexpected additions to the bill.

Example: Capital One

Capital One does this when you first sign into their website to check your credit card balance. Suddenly, a physical bill will no longer come to your door, and you are expected to figure out when to pay your bill next on their website. When you figure out that you are no longer receiving a physical bill (after you've damaged your credit rating, most likely), and navigate to their website to resubscribe to a physical bill. You will not find the option and must call them to resubscribe.

What should happen here?

  • Companies should be willing to email details, not just hide them behind a website.
  • Companies should provide a flexible choice of what is regularly emailed, e.g. nothing versus an alert versus summary details versus the entire breakdown.
  • Companies should consider supporting delegated login services like Open ID - including those available to every user of Google, Yahoo!, and others; as well as , Twitter and Facebook, to ease the friction of logging in. this depends on the nature of the data and services offered within their walled garden, but many times (e.g. a gas bill), it is far from critical.
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2012-10-05 / 10:10:35 UTC