That wasn't meant to be a trick question, but rest assured the answer isn't five dollars.
Here's the scoop. I drive a Nissan Altima and I've been reasonably happy with it. It's neither the best car I've ever owned nor the worst, but I'm not a car guy so if it gets me from point A to point B safely without costing me an arm and a leg in gas money I'm satisfied. The Altima more than fits the bill.
I don't mind telling you that the lease runs me about $315 per month and I'm pretty diligent about paying right on time, almost always by check through the good ol' U.S. mail. This month though, I lost track of time and when I woke up this morning realized that I hadn't yet mailed the payment that is due today.
Luckily, Nissan offers an online payment option -- so I logged onto their site and authorized an electronic deduction from my checking account. No worries, but here's where the $5 comes into play.
Nissan, for whatever reason, charges customers an additional $5 for online payments (more if you prefer to charge it to a credit card.) Now, don't get me wrong -- $5 isn't a ton of money and, for all I know, other auto manufacturers levy similar "convenience changes" for online payments. But I pay plenty of bills electronically and none of my other creditors ding me for choosing my preferred method. Some -- Peapod springs to mind -- even offer discounts for customers that choose direct debit over other forms of payment.
Why? Because (and I'm pretty sure I'm right about this) even taking into account any fees charged by the third party payment processing vendor, it has to be less expensive (not to mention simpler and more reliable) to accept an electronic transfer than it is to print, stamp and send an invoice then receive, open, log and deposit a physical check.
So if it's better for their customers and ostensibly better for their company, why does Nissan charge $5 for an electronic payment? If I told you, I'd have to kill you. OK, the truth is I can't tell you because I have no idea. I suspect that someone (I'm guessing some dude or dudette in the finance department) figured that the incremental service charge would for the most part flow directly to the bottom line. In terms of pure dollars and cents, the decision seems like a smart one.
But in terms of perception and sense, I'm not so sure. Like I said, I'm a pretty happy Nissan driver but on this fine Fall morning I'm pretty annoyed with Nissan as a company. Even a minor inconvenience (in the form, ironically, of a convenience charge) takes its toll on how I feel about the brand itself and my experience as a customer. So much so that I'd not consider trading in and trading up to another Nissan when the time comes? Maybe. I'm not sure. But if that were to happen, wouldn't the lifetime cost to the company (in the form of lost opportunity and lost business) outweigh the near term $5 windfall?
Perhaps this is a case of accidental blame (should I be railing against the payment processing company?) but that almost doesn't matter. Despite my generally acceptable experience with my car, my perception of the Nissan brand takes a hit over this one trivial thing. And of course, when I tweet or blog about my frustration I potentially influence how others perceive the brand as well.
And so, a seemingly simple accounting decision ladders up into a potentially thorny sales and marketing challenge.
But enough about Nissan...
If we view this through a wide angle lens, the truth is that most of us work for companies that do things (no matter how small) that might look like good ideas when viewed up close, but turn out to be slippery slopes with plenty of downside when seen from a distance. I've written about this before but it's worth repeating... cuz in the race to bump up this quarter's numbers so many businesses don't stop to take in the long term view.
A fiver for your thoughts. Chime in.