I’ve had some recent issues with this company. I have to use a local water company that is a subdivision of Southwest Water Company.
On Friday, August 5th, I got paid and went to my bank’s bill payer service and proceeded to spend all that money that was just deposited to my account that morning. One of the payments went to SWWC.
Now, unlike ALL the other businesses I routinely deal with (with one exception), they do not accept electronic transfers. So, my bank prints a check in my name and mails it off to the vendor that SWWC uses to process their payments.
Normally, this process goes without a hitch. Except today. Today, I got a notice that my water would be cut off if I did not pay them by August 22nd, 2011. Now considering that today is the 18th of August, I was understandably concerned. So I checked my bank to verify that I had indeed paid them. I’ve been known to be forgetful, it happens.
Nope, I had paid them. I had paid them on the 5th of August. So called up, very concerned and the call center was, shall we say, less than helpful. As of today, the 18th, the payment hadn’t been received.
The woman I talked to wasn’t interested in helping and refused to give me the name of the manager of the billing office. Oh, how little did she know me.
It took me about 35 seconds to find the above website, the link to the Texas division, which granted me a phones number. A quick call to the receptionist and I had the number of the Manager of the Texas Billing Office. I had to leave him a voicemail. That was unsatisfactory, so I went back to the above website and checked the investor section. That usually contains the names of the big dogs. Sure enough, a complete list of VPs and executives.
Then I remembered something really useful, the Texas division office had a phone book feature. A quick call and a few button pushes yielded the Managing Director of the Texas division. I had to leave him a voice mail as well. Finally, because I was pissed off, I looked to see who might be in the best position to effect change. Nice, they have a VP of Business Improvement. Why not?
I put his name into the phone book system and he answered right off. So I explained the above situation to him and he agreed that it was unpleasant and he said that he would see what he could do.
I had calmed down by that point and gone all the way up to a VP. I would have gone to the president if they had one. But that was enough for now.
Within a few hours, I got a call from the Managing Director of Texas (MDT). He wasn’t very helpful either, blaming my bank for not processing my check as quickly as I thought they would and the US post office for being extremely slow. I politely (yes, I actually was polite) disagreed.
The bank posts when they mail the check and the USPS might be slow, but even they can get a letter from Austin to Dallas in less than 13 days. He told me if I could provide any evidence, then I could send it to him. Again, he just didn’t have a clue who he was dealing with.
If you live in the Austin area and don’t bank with Amplify Credit Union, then you are not banking properly. The people at Amplify are by far the best employees that I have ever had the joy to do business with.
So, I looked at my bill payer account and then called Amplify for some help. The women I talked to was fantastic. She walked me through the entire banking system of how a check clears. I had this in college, many moons ago, but I appreciated the help. She also told me how to check the clear date (i.e. when the receiver of the money actually gets the money).
This date was the 15th of August. Wait a minute… today is the 18th and they say they haven’t gotten the money, but they money was sent to them (or their vendor) on the 15th. I copied some screen shots of my banking information showing this.
I called the MDT back and asked for his e-mail so I could send him the screen shots of my banking info. He informed me that the payment had just been received in their system… on the 18th of August.
The MDT had been less than pleased at my insistence that it was the companies problem and not my, my bank, or the USPS problem. So I thought, let me get the crown jewel here. I called Amplify again and again talked with a wonderful woman who, while I waited, made a PDF of the cancelled check for me. I was thrilled. I was even more thrilled when the check was cancelled on the 12th of August.
Six fracking days and they still hadn’t gotten my payment. Bwah hah ha.
So I sent an e-mail to the DMT with the following timeline
- August 5th – I make arrangements to pay via bill payer
- August 8th – the check is mailed
- August 9th-10th – the check is received by the vendor (because it takes one day to process)
- August 11th – the payment is processed by the vendor
- August 12th – the payment clears the bank (i.e. my money has officially been transferred to the vendor)
- August 18th – the account is cleared by SWWC
I said, what the hell and sent it to the VP of business development too. I wasn’t given his e-mail address, but the DMT e-mails was firstinitiallastname. It was easy enough to crib the e-mail of the VP of Business Improvement.
Finally, at about 3:30PM I get a call from the Manager of Billing Services. I layout the entire setup to him. He really seemed much more concerned by the fact that their vendor held the money for 6 days than anything else. Six days of interest doesn’t sound like much, but we’re talking several major cities in Texas here. A few hundred thousand payments (of a minimum of $125 each) with 6 days of interest can be quite a lot of extra income. Not millions… hmmm…. I’ve got a calculator…
200,000 households averaging $200 per payment = $40,000,000
Let’s say that they can get 4% interest… that would be $1,600,000 per year. But it’s only 6 days. So divide that by 365, then multiply by 6 equals
$26,301. If that vendor’s company is holding everyone’s payments for 6 days. That’s a bit more than I make every month.
So anyway, the Billing Manager and the VP were very polite and seemed concerned. The Managing Director of Texas seemed to be an ass… a polite ass, but an ass.
Oh well, evidence trumps belief. He may believe that his company is without fault, but it’s his company or his vendor. It’s not me, my bank, or the USPS. That much is evident.
We’ll see how they respond. I’ve got their e-mails and phone numbers, I will be checking back with them.
Interesting… according to the Billing Manager, the director of billing had already researched the issue and I will be receiving an e-mail shortly.
Forgive me if I quietly say ‘bull cookies’. There is no way they figured this out in 4 hours. This isn’t ‘someone found a check on the floor’, this is six days where they don’t know where my money is.
I’ll update this again, when I get the e-mail from them. To say I’m curious is an understatement. It’ll be even more interesting to see what will be done about it.
Turns out the fault does lie entirely with Southwest Water and the Texas manager had to say so.
Apparently, on or slightly after the due date of the payment, they lock the accounts of the people who haven’t paid. No updates to the status of those accounts can be made until they are unlocked.
They are unlocked after the billing department finishes running delinquent letters and completes all of their processing, which takes about three days (according to Texas Manager Guy). So, if your payment gets sent to SWWC seconds after the billing office closes your account, then no matter what, it cannot be processed for a minimum of three days.
The systems (vendor, billing, delinquent, IT) do NOT talk to each other. Each must individually updated and once one group locks the account, nothing can be changed until that group unlocks the account.
Texas Manager Guy says (and this was verified through a VP at SWWC) that they are in the process of switching software to SAP and these issues will not occur anymore. Further, the TMG suggested that they would look at the payment history of the customer before deciding to send a delinquent letter or a ‘gentle reminder’ letter.