When your app, processes, and use of data are designed in a way that sends the police after your customers — even when they use your service legitimately — you have a problem.

When that customer is the Managing Director of the Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA), a leading light in the technology sector and a person with an up-sized social media presence, poorly designed processes are only the start of your troubles.

New ADMA chief Ben Sharp posted a letter he received from the NSW Police on Linkedin (105,000 views and counting) which read, in part: “Dear Benjamin, NSW Police are currently investigating an incident that occurred at the BP petrol station, 167 Pneshurst (sic) Street, Willoughby at 11.20 AM on Sunday 8 April, 2018. It is believed that the male driver of the vehicle registered to you, a Red BMW [number plate redacted], may have failed to pay for $79.50 of fuel from pump 1.”

Update: NSW police from the North Shore Local Area Command confirmed this is not an isolated incident, saying there has been at least one other such incident in their area. That suggests the problem could be more widespread given the app’s national distribution.

Sharp says he has been a patient early adopter of BP’s pay-by-app service. “I’ve been using the BPme app for a month or so, and found it quite convenient. You pay via the app at the pump without the need to go into the service station and pay over the counter. The app is a little slow — but I’ll give BP the leeway here considering it’s a V1.”

However, after using the app nearly a dozen times, Sharp received the surprising message in the mail — snail mail, not email.

He described his reaction as surprised and offended. “It states that BP have reported me for failing to pay for fuel, despite my usage of the app to pay. When I reviewed my transactions in the app, the payment was processed — although it was two days later than when it should have happened. When signing up for the app, I submitted all my details — and assume that I also included my number plate.”

As the head of ADMA, and a long-serving leader in the marketing technology field (he was previously the Managing Director of AdRoll), Sharp knows a bit about the importance of good product design, and great customer experience.

“To think that the first step that BP takes when its app doesn’t work — and a loyal customer had actually attempted to pay — was to notify the police, seems utterly ridiculous. Leveraging data to deliver an outstanding customer experience is what all brands should attempt to do. Sorry BP, you’ve lost me to your competitors over this.”

A spokesperson for BP told Which-50 it was investigating the matter. “We’re very concerned to hear what has happened and are currently investigating. We will provide further comment as soon as we can.”

BP announced the national rollout of the fuel payment app BPme on 10 December 2017.

The story is a salutary lesson for app developers (and the companies that commission them) to think through the consequences of design and implementation.

Police told Which-50 they would prefer payments were made before the pump began, which would solve the issue of drive-offs.

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