If you are anything like me you will laugh out loud at this story – read to the end as there are some good points!
THE GAS BILL
You will like this… And it is a true story! On Thursday, 24th January 2002, Derek Guille broadcast this story on his afternoon program on ABC radio in Australia:
In March 1999 a man living in Kandos (near Mudgee in NSW) received a bill for his as yet unused gas line stating that he owed $0.00.
He ignored it and threw it away.
In April he received another bill and threw that one away too.
The following month the gas company sent him a very nasty note stating that they were going to cancel his gas line if he didn’t send them $0.00 by return mail.
He called them, talked to them, and they said it was a computer error and they would take care of it. The following month he decided that it was about time that he tried out the troublesome gas line figuring that if there was usage on the account it would put an end to this ridiculous predicament.
However, when he went to use the gas, it had been cut off.
He called the gas company who apologised for the computer error once again and said that they would take care of it. The next day he got a bill for $0.00 stating that payment was now overdue.
Assuming that having spoken to them the previous day the latest bill was yet another mistake, he ignored it, trusting that the company would be as good as their word and sort the problem out.
The next month he got a bill for $0.00. This bill also stated that he had 10 days to pay his account or the company would have to take steps to recover the debt. Finally, giving in, he thought he would beat the gas company at their own game and mailed them a cheque for $0.00. The computer duly processed his account and returned a statement to the effect that he now owed the
gas company nothing at all.
A week later, the manager of the Mudgee branch of the Westpac Banking Corporation called our hapless friend and asked him what he was doing writing cheque for $0.00. After a lengthy explanation the bank manager replied that the $0.00 cheque had caused their cheque processing software to fail. The bank could therefore not process ANY cheques they had received from ANY of their customers that day because the cheque for $0.00 had caused the computer to crash.
The following month the man received a letter from the gas company claiming that his cheque had bounced and that he now owed them $0.00 and unless he sent a cheque by return mail they would take immediate steps to recover the debt.
At this point, the man decided to file a debt harassment claim against the gas company. It took him nearly two hours to convince the clerks at the local courthouse that he was not joking.
They subsequently helped him in the drafting of statements which were considered substantive evidence of the aggravation and difficulties he had been forced to endure during this debacle.
The matter was heard in the Magistrate’s Court in Mudgee and the outcome was this:
The gas company was ordered to
 Immediately rectify their computerised accounts system or show cause, within 10 days, why the matter should not be referred to a higher court for consideration under Company Law.
 Pay the bank dishonour fees incurred by the man.
 Pay the bank dishonour fees incurred by all the Westpac clients whose cheques had been bounced on the day our friend’s had been processed.
 Pay the claimant’s court costs; and
 Pay the claimant a total of $1500 per month for the 5 month period March to July inclusive as compensation for the aggravation they had caused their client to suffer.
And all this over $0.00.
The moral of the story
What a great story and sadly after a little research I have discovered that in fact it is an urban legend and a number of variants of this story have cropped up over time, however, the point for me was this: we all laughed at the stupidity of this story and could share in the sheer frustration of the poor customer. Now I want you take a little challenge and look around your organisation and your own customers and see if anything similar is happening to your customers?
We call it systems and processes or policies and procedures but our customers could call it stupidity; just make sure they don’t have reason to, after all the only reason we are in business (yes after making money) is to serve customers and if that is the case why would we make it any harder than we have to for them to deal with us?