Billing – and the Law of Unintended Consequences

Long ago, during a discussion about making processes more efficient a lady from BT came up with a comment that still lives on. “If you want to make a process shorter and more efficient, find the laziest person you can and give them the job.” They are, after all, always trying to cut corners.

This slightly counter-intuitive idea is reflected across many areas of business. One of them is the bill.

Because the bill is the focal point of a business – its shop window, to some extent – it is obviously important to get right.  The problem is that for the same, shop windowy, reasons every department that has a say in what goes onto a bill wants to put more and more information in it. Product Managers are keen to get as much information and detail as they can, Legal needs its disclaimers and messages, Marketing wants to promote a special offer.  And Billing knows that the bill must be as clear and simple as possible.

Obviously, this dilemma can be solved to some extent with online bills. Send a summary to the customer and if anything catches his eye as being odd, links within the summary will take him to the detail.

A question came up recently that was intriguing. Do we actually have to send out bills, or notifications that bills are online?

One operator in Central Europe had a production problem just ahead of the bills being processed and so he didn’t, as he normally did, send an SMS to alert customers that their bill was ready to look at. Several days later he met the head of customer service in the corridor, who mentioned that it had been a quiet few days, did the Billing Manager have any ideas about why that might be.

The answer was that, because they had not drawn customers’ attention to the fact that their bill was ready, the customers did not look at the bill, frown and call the company for clarification. Calls, in fact, were down by 10 percent.

The conclusion was that by not alerting customers the call centre costs dropped dramatically, so they stopped sending alerts when bills were ready. Is this acceptable behaviour? Do we have an obligation to actually send a bill?

The answer in this specific case was that “very few customers actually look at their bills. What they do look at is their bank statements.” The fact that they are available online and can be looked at if a problem becomes apparent from a bank statement seems to be enough. The Regulator might have a view, but it is an interesting idea.

It is a little like the Law of Unintended Consequences. 

There is a huge debate in the US at the moment about overage fees, which, we are pleased to say, are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Even though the ‘dark’ revenues from overage fees is substantial (around $1 billion it seems), the customer experience benefits of not charging overage, plus the reduction in numbers of calls to the Call Centre in itself saves significant amounts of money.

There is never a wrong time to look at processes and strategies again.

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About Alex Leslie 400 Articles
Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet.

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