Columnists Features

Communicating costs to customers is vital

THE average customer is interested in knowing the cost of all items they purchase or use.  This is because price is one of the determinants in a buying or purchasing decision. This is why retailers and providers of service display both their products and prices.  
When buying a tangible item, it is easy to see the price of the item and think about it before you buy.  One can only make a budget when they know what the items they need to buy or services they need to pay for will cost.
In today’s article, I would like to express my concern about the cost of services such as banking, water, electricity, airtime and internet bundles.
Last week, some customers of a South African bank based in Zambia reported to the Central Bank about what they suspected to be charges made by the bank on accounts where the holders did not expect to be charged.
It occurred to me that despite my many years of banking with both Zambian and foreign banks, I really didn’t know what rates banks used to charge interest or bill me for the different services that I use at the bank from month to month.
There have been months when I have gone to the bank expecting to find a higher balance than I would find and upon querying, I have been told that there were some bank charges.
Unless you are an accountant, bank charges are probably one of those costs that you would have difficulties planning for because you would not know, beforehand, how much bank charges for a particular month would be especially for personal accounts that we hardly reconcile.
Sometimes the time you spend queuing at an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) for your bank is worth more than the fee you would be charged if you withdrew money from an ATM of a different bank with visa services.
I didn’t know this either until my bank manager Samuel Chabuka of Zanaco Manda Hill branch in Lusaka educated me. Before that, if I went to an ATM for Zanaco at one place and found no service, I would drive all over Lusaka looking for another Zanaco ATM yet I could have used Stanchart, Barclays, Stanbic or any other visa ATM.
Banks could do more to inform their customers about the different charges that accrue for different services on a continuous basis.
Other charges that are difficult to understand are tariffs on water, electricity, airtime and internet bundles especially on pre-paid accounts.  For water, it is more or less standard and the charges do not vary much from time to time.  But one has to scrutinise his or her bill and ensure that there are no errors.
You will be lucky if the water firm officers notice the overstated bill on their own and give you a reversal.  Often times, the customer must spot the error and send a written complaint.
For electricity, I am yet to understand how the pre-paid meter works.  In some months, I spend less while in others I spend more for domestic electricity.
What  many people have complained about is the charging of television levy on behalf of the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation whether one has a television set or not.
Conversely, you can imagine how many households have three or four television sets but are only paying for one television set because they only have one electricity account.
Coming to airtime, it is difficult to understand when there is off-peak or peak period, and what sort of promotions are running and how they work.  One moment you have units and the next you don’t.
Some mobile phone providers warn you while others do not.  It is also difficult to know how the airtime diminishes.  It is worse for internet bundles and sometimes I wish I could do away with dongles.
Can someone please tell us when the optic fibre project will be completed?  It is my hope that this is what will improve access and affordability of internet services.  I do not think that a fourth mobile service provider is the solution.

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