We know that the pandemic has played havoc with the economy. One of the obvious problems is the lack of speedy delivery of mail by the United States Postal Service. My business has been affected by it. It has taken nearly two weeks for letters to reach us from less than 15 miles away. This can affect client communications, invoices, checks . . . you name it. In the legal profession, people increasingly rely upon email for written communication, sometimes with regular mail as a backup. Email is great, but it's far from perfect and not 100% reliable either.
One of the ways that slow mail affects everyone's life is in making timely payments on mortgages, credit cards, insurance policies, and similar financial obligations. Your check may have been mailed in plenty of time, but if it doesn't arrive on time you can be subject to late fees, penalties, default on loans, cancellation of insurance coverage, and a poor credit rating.
It's a Big Problem, and There Are Good and Bad Ways to Deal With It
First the good. Recently, I got an email from our homeowners insurance agent. Here's some of what it said.
"We are noticing unprecedented mail delays. These delays can have severe consequences for you when it comes to bills, payments, and even policy cancelations.
So, what can you do?
- Do not depend on a postmark to establish a payment date—most insurance companies date stamp received a mail and go by that date, not the postmark for payments.
- We also suggest that you not depend on the kindness of the insurance company (any insurance company) to add a "grace period" to your payment requirements. While we have been able to negotiate this from time to time, there is no guarantee that we are able to do that. We recently had a very disappointing experience with an excellent company who refused to extend the payment date by one day for a client who had a policy with them for over 20 years.
- You can make a payment online or over the phone via an e-check or a credit card for just about all of our insurance companies. To connect with your insurance company, use this link. We highly recommend that you use one of these options rather than sending checks through the mail. If you need help making an online or telephone payment, please call the office.
- If you must pay by check, you can drop them off at our office.
We are here to assist you in any way that we can."
Isn't that a great piece of client service? It educates you about a problem with payment processing that you probably didn't even know existed, puts your interests as the client first, and suggests concrete ways to overcome the mail delay problem so your policy doesn't lapse through no fault of your own.
Contrast that with this recently received from a major credit card company. When you consider that I've been with this particular company for 40 years you'll understand why I was more than a little annoyed to read the following.
"We're writing to let you know that paper mail delivery may be delayed due to the impacts of COVID-19. This means that communications you're expecting by mail may take longer than usual to arrive.
You may experience delays in receiving paper mail, including billing statements and other notifications from us. We're sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.
To help you with this potential issue, here are some tools you can use to conveniently manage your account online or in our App:
- Go Paperless
- Receive account communications, disclosures, and statements electronically.
- Turn on account alerts
- We'll text or email you when your statement's ready, a payment is due, and more.
- Pay your bill online
- It's easy – just log into your account to make a payment.
- Enroll in AutoPay
- If you haven't already, enroll in AutoPay to stay on top of your payments.
If you haven't already, set up an online account today to enroll and take advantage of these digital tools.
- Create an Account
- Download the App"
Translation: "We're going to help you by making it easier for you to pay us." How tone-deaf can you get? It amounts to "despite an unprecedented international problem, we want our money and we want it on time. And if you will save us money in the process by switching to an all-electronic relationship, that's even better."
Instead, how about something like this? "To help you with the burden imposed on everyone by mail delays, for the next three billing cycles we're going to extend the time for your payments to reach us by an additional ten days. Please mail your payments on time, as usual, but if there is a delay there's a better chance you won't be stuck with a late payment charge that you didn't deserve." Or this? "To give the Postal Service time to catch up without penalizing our loyal customers, if your payment is received less than10 days late we will waive the penalty. No questions asked. And you won't have to be bothered to call us to request it. It will happen automatically."
Well, we can dream, I suppose.
But think about it. If you're a customer, who would you rather do business with, the inflexible self-interested credit card company or the insurance agent who's going out of his way to help you avoid trouble? If you're a business, which approach will build stronger relationships with your customers? Important questions and businesses should be thinking about the right answers for their unique situations.