Two weeks ago, Alectra (my electricity provider) sent me an email with the subject line, "Go paperless to support local food banks".
The email read as follows:
Dear Valued Customer,
Alectra Inc. has donated 16,800 N95 masks to local hospitals, as well as $230,000 to food banks in our communities. With your help, we can do more to support those most in need during these difficult times.
That’s why we’re asking you to switch to paperless ebilling today. Alectra will donate the savings from every customer who switches to ebilling between May 1 and July 15, 2020 to food banks in our communities – with a goal of donating up to $100,000.
In most cases, going paperless makes a lot of sense. You eliminate clutter on your desk, you do something positive for the environment, and you help save the company some printing costs that they're willing to donate towards a good cause. Win-win-win, right?
Except when it comes to my bills, I need that clutter on my desk.
I'm a neat-freak, and the clutter reminds me I have to do something with that bill: pay it. If it's on my desk -- or alternatively, flagged in my inbox -- I'll almost certainly pay it before the due date. If it's not, I'm likely to be hit with a late-payment penalty. It's an unusual system, perhaps, but it works for me.
Still, I wanted to at least consider the viability of the paperless option. So I replied to Alectra's email with a question:
Quick question: if I switch to paperless, will you email me a PDF of my bill every month, or do I have to go to your website and download it?
If you'll email me a PDF, I'd happily switch. But if not, I have no interest in making more work for myself by having to remember to download a bill, and then getting hit with late charges when I (inevitably) forget.
Please let me know, and thanks.
I'm willing to bet you can guess how they replied.
Thank you for your email. Unfortunately we are not able to email the bill directly. You would have to log into your profile to view or print off the bill.
As problems go, I fully realize that not being able to have my monthly bill emailed to my inbox is embarrassingly small. But that's not the point.
If you want somebody to do something, make it easy for them to agree.
Of course Alectra wants me to go paperless: after July 15th when the "food bank promo" has ended, I'm not likely to switch back to paper... and then those "paperless" savings turn into incremental profit for the company. And if I don't remember to download my bill every month? Those late charges I'll incur represent even more profit. That's fantastic for Alectra, but not a great risk-reward proposition for me.
The mistake Alectra made was in assuming the idea of a food bank donation would be motivation enough for me to change my status quo. They didn't realize that a) I understand how little savings I would personally generate by going paperless, and b) I really rely on my current clutter-based system.
If Alecta really wanted me to switch to paperless, they wouldn't have introduced a Food Bank tie-in. (And although donating to local food banks is a worthy endeavour, don't even get me started on why an electric company would choose to pursue this type of promotion instead of doing something more closely aligned with their core business... like using those savings to offer heavily-subsidized electricity to low-income households who need it, for example.)
Instead, they would have made it easy for me to agree by eliminating all possible objections.
"I'm not going to have time to download a bill every month." No problem, we'll email it right to your inbox!
"I'm worried I'm going to forget about my payments if I don't have a bill sitting on my desk." No problem, you can opt-in to text-message reminders, and we'll text you three days before your bill is due so you can't forget!
"I don't want to incur late fees." No problem, when you sign-up for paperless billing, we'll allow you to miss your due date by a week without penalty three times each year!
If Alectra would have put these systems in place, switching to paperless would have been an easy decision for me, because I wouldn't have had any rational reasons remaining to avoid doing so.
Understanding your customers means understanding their motivations and concerns.
If you can increase their motivation and eliminate their concerns, you make it easy for them to say yes.
P.S. On a related note, here's another pet peeve: when customer service emails end with, "Please do not reply to this email address as this email address is not monitored", as this one did. Nothing says, "we're not really customer-focused, we just pretend to be for our shareholders" than a message like that, right?