Omnisperience recently released some research that shows that for a typical telecoms service provider one-third of call centre traffic is due to bill enquiries. For some it can be half. For the best performing it’s less than 25%. There’s a substantial gap (more than 40 percentage points) between the best performing and the worst in our sample of 40 tier 0/1 service providers.

This highlights a key issue in telecoms that’s often overlooked.

It’s commonly thought the cause of bill enquiries is inaccurate bills (ie the charges are wrongly calculated). The billing system gets the blame. But it’s not as simple as that. Human error means that accounts can be set up incorrectly or discounts not applied accurately. However, a large proportion of bill enquiries are due to customers not understanding their bills, or requesting additional information. It stands to reason when you think about it. The number of calls to call centres are vastly more than the regulatory targets for bill accuracy.

Even billshock events are usually due to confusion. Customers don’t run up large bills for the hell of it. Usually it’s because they did not understand the (often complex) terms and conditions of their service usage. When they realise their error, they panic.

The sheer volume of calls a Tier 0 or Tier 1 telecoms service provider gets, means customer confusion is not just a big customer experience problem but also a substantial cost. A cost that could be reduced by making the way the information is presented to the customer (the bill) easier to understand and more user-friendly.

Bills should be loyalty tools, not a customer experience blackspot

This problem though goes beyond the accuracy and the clarity of the bill. The bill is often a dissonant document.

Service providers put considerable effort into enticing customers via their marketing, and trying to show that they’d be a good company to do business with. But the warm tone of marketing quickly turns into an officious, cold and sometimes even rude tone when it comes to bills. What should, at worst, be a neutral statement, can be a cold and churlish demand for payment that customers dread or are simply bored by.

Bills continue to be the one of the biggest holes in the customer experience fabric.

Let me give you an example. How many bills contain threats about what will happen to a customer if they don’t pay on time? (Or at least, requests to pay on time.) These threats and requests are sent even to customers who are good payers because, of course, they’re part of the standard format and are not targeted just at poor payers.

At the same time, the bill might be stuffed with unpersonalised adverts for new services that are available. This is a failure on an epic scale. How can you upsell and cross-sell when you haven’t warmed the customer up (but rather been rude to them) and then present information that is irrelevant because it is untargeted and generic?

To succeed in using billing communications to their full potential, service providers need to take a different approach. This is where personalisation is your friend. Information presented in a bill should be relevant to the customer, highlight value and not just costs, and show services, offers and promotions that are attractive or helpful to the individual customer (and not just ones that the service provider themselves are currently promoting).

This latter fact is a key area of personalisation that’s missing. How many times have you, as a customer, discovered you just missed out on a promotion that would have been attractive to you? How did that make you feel? For most customers missed promotions are a buying barrier. They often react by delaying buying until another promotion is offered, which is clearly not good for the service provider.

This hammers home another aspect of customer centricity: promotions should be tied to customer lifecycles and goals, not internal goals. Arbitrary timescales are unhelpful in building loyalty – especially when they’re only open to new customers and not existing ones.

In short, service providers have to understand that bills are not just retrospective financial statements, but a key part of experience and loyalty building. Delivering good bill accuracy is not enough. We all know that it’s not what you say, but how you say it that matters. A simple insight that’s currently not being sufficiently exploited by service providers in their billing communications.

Posted by Teresa Cottam

Teresa is the Chief Analyst at Omnisperience and has over 25 years' experience in the telecoms and technology markets. She is an expert on SME and enterprise telecoms, and has considerable vertical market expertise. Her research focus lies in helping B2B telecoms firms become more commercially successful by better understanding and meeting their customers' needs. She is a judge of the GSMA Global Mobile Awards (GloMo's) for customer experience and enterprise innovation, and for the UK Cloud awards. You can follow her on Twitter @teresacottam

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