The Tyranny of Bureacracy

I recently got a bill from a company for 0.31 cents. This is bureacracy at it’s finest…

I recently got a bill from a company for 0.31 cents. This is bureacracy at it’s finest…

Consider the costs involved with sending me a bill for 0.31 cents. There is the cost of postage, the cost of the paper, the time it took someone to review it – wait – I wonder if anyone did review it, not to mention the costs to me, as I now have to spend 0.37 cents to put a stamp on an envelope, and use a paper check, and spend my time dealing with it… I suppose if this whole process had been electronic it would have made more sense, what with micropayments and all, but still, even the processing power to deal with all of this probably costs more that 0.31 cents and could have been put to better use…

I mentioned “someone” above, in the thought that perhaps some human was involved in this whole equation… Doubtful eh? And even if there was a human involved, they’d just be following business rules, but would it not perhaps make sense to add something into your business rules that says that if a bill is under a certain amount just forget about it, or if it’s a recurring bill, add it on to the next or, let this one slide, whatever… It’ll never happen you say? Sure it will. It already does. The “take a penny, leave a penny” thing on the counter at the store serves this exact purpose. It keeps things moving, it prevents the wasting of time by customers who dig and dig for that penny they just know they have somewhere, and it allows the store to grab that penny when you don’t have it so they can save the time it would take to give you 0.99 cents in change. This works. It works because in a store they realize that keeping people waiting in line is not worth a penny.

So the next time you’re working on some system that does ridiculous things, consider suggesting that it take the smart approach and not be some dumb computer system that sends out bills for 0.31 cents.

3 replies on “The Tyranny of Bureacracy”

Hear hear! I once worked in a pharmacy where there was a framed check on the wall for like 1 cent (or maybe 5 cents…something like that). Rather than cash it, the pharmacist framed it ’cause it was so rediculous. I bet not cashing it screwed up the sending company’s books…good! ;)

Well, they definitely cashed my check for 0.31 cents, because when I got my bank statement I thought to myself “Why did I write a check for 0.31 cents” for about 5 seconds before I remembered the whole incident.

The whole reason the “take a penny, leave a penny” gimmick works in brick-and-mortar establishments is because there’s the human factor involved: there’s a human monitoring the state of the penny jar for abuse. There’s also far fewer transactions per unit time going on which also makes it easier to monitor.

I once received a credit card statement saying I owed some amount less than $0.50 (it was the interest on the balance I had just paid off) — I called up and said, “Can’t you just credit my account instead of making me write a check and waste a stamp?” and they did. All I had to do was ask. Of course, if I repeatedly did this (leave a small balance and ask for it to be waived), I’d sure hope their system has some way of flagging my account to be reviewed for abuse.

What’s more fun: over-pay your balance by $0.01, then let the credit card go inactive for a few months. Some credit card companies will eventually mail you a check refunding you the balance of credit. It’s less likely that they have abuse-detection code in their systems to see if people are doing this on a large scale: I wonder what kind of material impact a few million customers could make on a company if they started doing this …

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