I recently took a closer look at an old personal credit card that we don’t really use that much. The bill is never more than about $20 or $30 a month, so I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to it as most of the time as it consists of miscellaneous drug store purchases and that sort of thing. I happened to pull up the details of that month’s transactions and they showed a weird charge for $9.99 that I didn’t recognize. Curious, I did a little research on the company name and much to my utter amazement, it was the billing arm for a fantasy baseball website… that i haven’t used in ten years.
I quickly started looking through all of my past bills and realized that every month, for ten years, this company has billed me $9.99 for a service that i haven’t used, changed, logged in to, stored data with, or visited — even briefly. Do the math… yikes. What an idiot I was for missing this charge for all this time. I corrected things right away.
Then I started thinking, what part in this ‘oversight’ does the business need to play? Are they accountable for honest business practices and audits of usage? Should they be? At what point did we, as online consumers, give up our rights to be fairly interacted with. Do companies that operate in only the digital space have less of a responsibility to operate equitably? Because it was a small dollar amount does that make it ok? What part of this company’s overall revenue is based on inactive accounts? SO MANY QUESTIONS!!
At Nickelfish, we have a bunch of ongoing monthly engagements where we bill clients a fixed monthly rate for services provided. If our clients stopped using those services, could we get away with still charging them that fee? No way, we’d have a set of furious clients demanding refunds… and they would be right to do so. We always strive to operate with the utmost integrity and even if a true oversight were to occur, we’d own up to it and make it right. But why?
Is that because the dollar amount is higher or because we are honest? Is it because it's a business to business transaction? Is it because we’ve met our clients, they’ve met us, and it’s become a human interaction as opposed to something anonymous? Who the hell knows, but I think it’s time that all online businesses grow a pair and start acting responsibly.
There will always be a cost and risk associated with doing business anonymously, but it has become such a huge part of commerce today that the status quo for digital transactions needs to change.
I believe it comes down to the decency of the folks running online businesses and their personal level of honesty. Do the right thing and operate your business with solid principles and genuine fairness. Doing so is a better long term business plan as the relationships you’ll create with consumers will in most cases be strong enough to fight off their urge to leave and chase a slightly better deal. Those relationships are what create long term success, not just short term gains, because frankly, not only will I never use the company that billed me for absolutely nothing for ten years, but I’ll go out of my way to encourage people to avoid using them as well.