Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 10.25.45 AMThe customer of a major electric utility received a bill stating that the previous month’s bill had not been paid and was overdue.

This concerned him, as he was the type of person who always paid his bills promptly and, in fact, he had earlier arranged to have the utility automatically withdraw the amount due from his bank account each month.

The customer checked his bank account online and found that, indeed, the previous month’s payment had not been withdrawn. Next, he went to the utility’s web site and checked his account. It confirmed that the previous month’s bill had not been paid, but would be automatically deducted, along with new charges, at the end of the current month.

Seeking an explanation, he called the utility’s customer service number and spent several minutes navigating the voice-mail system, which passed him through multiple layers of unhelpful menus until he was finally able to speak with a live customer service person–though not before telling the voice-mail system what he thought of it.

The customer service representative explained that the billing mix-up occurred as a result of the company switching its meters to automated smart meters. After the next “catch-up” payment, the following payments would be withdrawn monthly, as they had been before. There was nothing the customer needed to do.

What’s wrong with this scenario? Just this: a loyal customer, who always paid his bills on time, was “rewarded” with a confusing communication and the need to spend a portion of his workday sorting out the problem. The incident left him with a bad feeling towards the utility that could have been avoided with a simple email message or note attached to his bill.

If you change policies or procedures that might affect your customers, make sure they know about it ahead of time. It could prevent a negative interaction and keep your customer saying nice things about you rather than expletives.