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I’ve seen images posted on various social media sites declaring that the 6 most dangerous words in business are “We’ve always done it this way”.

People talk about avoiding this kind of thinking, but it’s often easier said than done.

I’m a member of a wine club. Once every three months, a box of wine is randomly delivered to our house. I say randomly, because I usually forget about it and it’s a nice surprise – Look honey! A box of wine just turned up!

So it’s not something I think about regularly. Last year, one of my credit cards expired and the bank duly sent me a new one. I tried to remember all the various services, subscriptions etc that I use with that credit card. I remembered most of them, but the wine club slipped my mind.

A few weeks after the next wine delivery arrived I received a letter from them. It was perfectly nice and went something like this:

“We tried to take payment from the credit card we have on file for your recent wine delivery. Unfortunately, we were unable to process the transaction. Please call us on XXX at your earliest convenience in order to make payment.”

Someone at the company tried to process the payment and it failed, so they wrote (or ordered) a letter to be sent to my home address. They probably updated my record to show that that they had tried and failed to take payment and ordered the letter.

Instead of all this activity – why didn’t they just pick up the phone and call me?

The simple fact is that “We’ve always done it that way”.

I’d like to add another phrase that’s dangerous to business: “It’s not my job to do that”.

The effort spent by this organisation in trying to get me to contact them could have been better spent by simply calling me and asking me for updated card details. They’d have the money, I would have expended less ‘customer effort’ and they would have eliminated an inbound call into their organisation.

This last one is a big deal. Because when you ask someone to call you – you have no power over when that will happen. Maybe I’ll call at your absolutely busiest period and I’ll be annoyed and frustrated by the fact that I have to wait for you to answer the call.

But if you make an outbound call – you control the demand. It’s much easier to manage and plan.

Perhaps I’m being unfair to this company. Maybe it’s all automated and no one is spending any effort processing my invoice. Maybe a computer picks up all the fails and generates an automatic letter (maybe… but this is not our firms experience with processes like this).

However, it’s the call to action that’s wrong. Even if this is the case, why not route the failed transaction item to an outbound queue or dialer?

I’m scratching my head to think of any real reason why a company would result in a snail mail customer contact process for something so simple and the only thing I can think of is privacy and fraud.

The company may hold a concern about calling up people and asking for their financial details. However, this is regularly overcome by financial services companies. Some companies for example, use a ‘call & response’ technique. They provide me with some of my personal information and ask me to supply the rest. Or they ask me for a portion of my security code or password.

In this day and age, there’s nearly always a better way to communicate with your customers than snail mail.

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