The customer is always charged

Right or wrong, the customer is always right. This is a quote attributed to American retail magnate Harry Gordon Selfridge Sr. in 1909. It was a marketing slogan to emphasize respect for customer satisfaction.

Through the years, other variations came out: “The customer is never wrong”; “The customer is king.” Some have adopted the business mantra, “The customer is a god.”

In this age when customer service is wanting in many businesses, particularly in public utilities, the motto has apparently retrogressed to the point that the customer is always charged.

Almost daily, we either experience or hear other people complain about inefficient services from telecommunication companies to water, electricity, cable, transport and other public utilities.

The complaints are recurring, making the customers feel that they’re not being taken seriously. We sometimes get sick of companies giving bad service and just opt to switch to another and end up getting equally poor service.

Inferior service seems to have become a norm in both private and public service companies. Has the phrase “the customer is always right” ceased being a motto? I have read and heard complaints from the business side that some customers have been abusing it with unreasonable demands.

Globe Telecom’s advisory that it will begin charging a P50 penalty for late payments starting Dec. 1 brought this to mind. The company is facing the possibility of a congressional inquiry for it.

Darius Delgado, Globe’s vice president and head of consumer mobile business, is correct in saying that “other sectors and even the government” are charging a late payment fee to justify its P50 late payment penalty.

Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., for instance, restricts access to the internet if you miss paying your bill on its due date. If you request reconnection, it will do so, but you have to settle your account within two hours; otherwise, you’ll lose your line again until you fully pay your dues.

The Manila Electric Co. and Manila Water may be considered generous for allowing until the second month of non-payment of dues before they cut off your electricity or water service.

Actually, the practice of credit card companies is worse. Apart from a late payment charge, expect your balance to balloon because of extortionate interest charges. But when you pay in advance, you don’t get any benefit from them. And if you deposit your precious cash in the banks, the interest income they pay is almost nothing.

The government makes late payment of taxes painful by charging prohibitive penalties. In some instances, the penalties carry civil and criminal liabilities as interest keeps on growing. But when you’re moneyed and can pay good lawyers and accountants, or when you get elected to a high government position, you will probably be able to buy time and avoid paying your dues.

Going back to Globe, its press release and notice to subscribers try to give an impression that it wants to instill the discipline of paying on time and that doing so will “keep your services active.” Does that mean Globe subscribers will no longer experience poor or no signal at all, even when they’re not in a far-flung place? Does it also free subscribers from receiving spam messages despite the enactment of the subscriber identification module (SIM) card registration law? How about drop calls?

Based on experience, telcos like Globe, Smart and PLDT (to which I have postpaid subscriptions) are too quick to disconnect services and charge fees but are too slow in acting on complaints of inefficiency. Customers almost always end up being charged with poor or no service at all.

If ACT party-list Rep. France Castro will pursue her plan of having Globe investigated for charging P50 for late payment of postpaid dues, she should extend the scope of the inquiry to include other public utilities as well as government agencies, banks and credit card companies for treating customers and subscribers as if they are cash cows while their customer service leaves much to be desired.

The Land Transportation Office, for instance, imposes a P200 weekly fine for late registrations, or 50% of the motor vehicle user’s charge if the late payment is made after a month. That’s the same agency that has a backlog of 13 million license plates, which it promised recently to address within two years.

Castro has been quoted in news reports as saying that Globe should consider shelving the plan, citing that it is “a public utility that should be primarily for the public good and not mainly for profit.” That goes as well for PLDT, Smart and the other public utility companies that have long been charging even higher penalties for late payment despite inefficient services.

Globe’s late payment fee of P50 will apply to Mobile Postpaid, Platinum and Globe At Home Broadband Postpaid accounts. The company said it has deferred charging the late payment fee, which is included in the terms and conditions of the postpaid subscription agreement.

Charging late payment fees earlier, now or later, may have been legal, but is it moral to impose on loyal customers struggling to cope with rising prices of just about everything? Why do customers always end up getting charged even for lousy service?


The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.