That Was Fast -- After Only 24 Hours, Verizon Cancels "Convenience Fee" Following Customer Revolt
Yesterday, it looked like yet another company was deciding that screwing their customers for a few more bucks would make fine business sense. From CNN:
Verizon Wireless will soon make some customers pay for the privilege of paying their bills.
The nation's largest wireless company is instituting a $2 "convenience charge" for those customers who make one-time bill payments either online or by telephone. The fee will go into effect on Jan. 15.
Yep, you'd be paying a two dollar bill-paying fee to pay your Verizon bill. Brilliant!
The rules on what was to count as requiring you to pay that extra two dollars a month, as announced, were a bit complicated, but the short version is that if you sent a check in via the mail, you wouldn't get charged, but if you paid online, you would. Because electronic payments are just so dreadfully hard to process, compared to mailed checks? Not quite, since you also wouldn't get charged if you've signed up for automatic bill payment.
Reading through the rules, they seemed to be primarily designed as a way to screw customers, and especially customers who pay bills via credit card—unless they visited the store or signed up for automatic payments, in which case they could pay with their credit cards just fine. You could make the case that poor, poor Verizon is being charged money by the credit card companies for handling those transactions, and need to make it back somehow, but I don't think anyone credibly believes that those fees cost Verizon two dollars per transaction—or that the credit card fees are more than it costs to sort through mailed checks by hand.
So, as I said, it seemed fairly explicitly to be a Bank of America-style bid to just squeeze customers because they could.
But things look to be turning out differently. According to CNBC, the FCC stated it was "concerned" about the new fee, and is "looking into the matter". I can imagine so: the telecommunications industry is so dominated by a handful of companies that, if those other companies followed suit, consumers would quickly find themselves unable to avoid those pay-to-pay fees.
Now, a mere 24 or so hours after announcing that new fee, Verizon seems to be backing off:
Verizon said Friday that it was scrapping a controversial $2 fee for one-time bill payments announced just a day earlier. The announcement had immediately sparked an uproar online from customers irate about the prospect of incurring further fees simply by paying existing ones.
"At Verizon, we take great care to listen to our customers. Based on their input, we believe the best path forward is to encourage customers to take advantage of the best and most efficient options, eliminating the need to institute the fee at this time," Verizon CEO Dan Mead said in a statement.
Heavens. How very big of them.
While giving a tiny bit of credit to Verizon for quickly recognizing how badly this was going to backfire on them, this may otherwise have been the biggest corporate bungle since the Netflix debacle, or since Bank of America's own attempt to institute new "because we feel like it" fees. Or since GoDaddy decided to support SOPA, only to be met with massive boycott efforts? It's hard to say, there's been so many of them of late.
One lesson here may be that, for the same reasons the Occupy movement took hold, customers are simply too fed up at this point to tolerate these new attempts to screw them. Times are too lean, and people are too tired of it, and people are more and more willing to boycott or otherwise punish companies that try it. Companies looking to make a cheap, crooked buck off their customers are going to have to think a bit harder about it than they used to.