A win-win situation

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Use payment automation to improve business processes and build customer loyalty

Tired of wasting time with antiquated bill-processing procedures, in 2003 Bob Harriett, on ladder, Ann Harriett, from left, Bonnie Harriett-Crosby and Jack Crosby decided it was time to automate the payment system for Harriett’s Oil Service.

When you have been in business over 75 years, the implementation of new ideas does not always come easy. Not true for Harriett’s Oil Service of Medford, N.J. Bob Harriett, Jr., his sisters Bonnie and Ann, and Bonnie’s husband Jack are all part of the third generation of Harrietts that now run this successful family business of 3,750 customers. Harriett’s now boasts eight delivery trucks serving approximately 45 towns.

Bob Harriett attributes much of Harriett’s success to a customer service-driven attitude. ‘We look at our relationship with our customers as a partnership” Harriett said. ‘We try to find proactive ways to make it easy for our customers to do business with us.”

One of the key components of this philosophy is the payment automation that Harriett’s began implementing in 2003. With oil prices on the rise and homeowners facing higher-than-ever bills to heat their homes, Harriett’s Oil started encouraging its customers to pay via credit card or electronic funds transfer.

‘We have a system in place that allows us to set up our customers to pay their bill automatically. Previously, this took hours each week. Our customers love it because they don’t have to send in checks and they can control their monthly payments and not over-extend themselves.” Harriett said. ‘We love it because we have our money immediately and don’t have to chase down payments.”

Paula Thigpen and Darlene Orts of Harriet’s Oil Service look over a customer’s payment history with their automated system from COCARD.

‘We started working with COCARD in Beverly, Mass.,” said Paula Thigpen, CFO of Harriett’s. ‘They were able to drastically reduce the rates we pay to process MasterCard and Visa transactions and COCARD helped us implement a simple automated billing solution.”

This allowed Harriett’s a cost-effective way to automate the payment process and improve the level of service to its customers.

‘If our customer service agents are not bogged down collecting or processing payments they can spend time in more customer centric areas,” said Thigpen.

It was actually a Harriett’s employee that brought the COCARD idea to upper-level management. When Darlene Orts came onboard she knew there had to be a more efficient way to communicate with customers and process their payments. Now, Orts e-mails receipts to customers when their cards have been charged, keeps the customer up-to-date when their cards are expiring and lets the customers know when a charge has been declined. The best part is that it is all automated.

Now, some dealers may be questioning why, when margins are decreasing, a dealer would want to tack on the additional fees to accept credit cards, let alone encourage their customers to pay via this method. Harriett has a good answer for this.

‘We need to be proactive to control overhead and this payment option is a great example of that,” he said. ‘We are drastically reducing the amount of man-hours it takes to process payments and chase down money. Without automation we could not provide the same level of service for a competitive price and our customers have come to expect excellent service.”

Harriett’s Oil also embraces many other automation ideas, including an automated voice-mail system linked into their Nextel phones, Instant Messaging, and now online ordering and bill payment via the Harriett’s Oil Web site.

For more information on the Harriett’s Oil payment automation solution, contact COCARD at www.cocardprocessing.com or (866) 849-8800.

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