Tag Archive | activity-based management

Customer support costs – should “difficult” customers be charged more?

A simple answer to the question posed in the title above is yes. This is because such customers use up more time and resources and should be charged more. If you have learned activity-based costing or activity-based management in your studies of management accounting, you will also know that such techniques try to allocate costs based on the resources used. Thus, a more time-consuming customer will pay more.

Of course, it is not that simple. You may not be able to charge customers more, or your business may be a service provider with back-end or post sale support. The latter case is what inspired me to write this post. My better half works for a large financial institution. She often tells me how customers are asked several times for the same thing e.g. documentation to prove their address, their age or even their identity. Some seem to ignore requests, not provide full information or deliberately try to hide some information. Getting back to the customer a second or more times adds to cost. Thus, the management accountant in me thinks I should charge these customers more. In normal circumstances no organisation would. But what if, as a bank for example, I asked a customer three times to provide a scan of their passport for identity purposes and each time they blanked out the date of birth? This would imply much more effort (and cost) was needed than should be. If it were up to me, I would say to the customer “ok, €/$/£25 please, as you as wasting time”. I guess no banks would be gutsy enough to do something like this, but maybe it would make for greater efficiency as customers would comply more the first time. I am just using a bank as an example here, I am sure there are many other scenarios where customers could be dissuaded by threat of a greater price/charge like this.

Does my milkman use Activity-Based Management ideas?

Not my milkman…

Ok, the title of this post is not really correct. It should be more like “does my milkman and his supplying dairy use activity-based management principles”? First, let me explain that where I live we still have milk delivered to our door twice per week.  This is quite common in Ireland and has been happened for as long as I can remember. The only difference nowadays is that deliveries are no longer daily due to refrigeration technology improvements. Second, what is Activity-based Management (ABM)? In a co-authored text book (see burnsetal.com), ABM is defined as “The
use of ABC information to identify operational and strategic improvement possibilities”. We could extend this to say that ABM assumes a business manages itself based on activities (as in Activity-based Costing) rather than functions.

So what has this to do with my milkman?  Well, despite its very traditional nature, technology has made its way into milk delivery. A new website (mymilkman.ie) has been set up by several dairies in Ireland to streamline milk delivery. Through the website, I can pay for my milk, change my order, pause my order if I go on holidays and so on. And when I signed up, I got €10 credit on my account.

I asked my milkman what he thought about the site. He told me that even if he gets only 50% of customers to sign-up, he will save 8 hours work per week. Why? Well he does not have to call to the door to collect money for one thing.

So what has this to do with ABM? Well the €10 credit on my account makes me think that someone is thinking that it costs less to manage a customer if online – and I would suggest this is a customer service activity. And if we think about it, how many businesses charge us more if we do things through call centres versus online for example. So there may be many businesses out there using the ideas of ABM – managing activities. But would they all use ABC? I doubt it. For example, the dairy industry probably used some form of process costing. Nevertheless, I think many businesses may use the basic idea of managing activities they perceive as costing more/less in different ways.



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