Marketers are routinely ignoring one of their best marketing channels. Want to know what that is?

Siloed software is a problem in telecoms. Siloed thinking is a much bigger one.

A typical example of this is something I come across all the time. Marketers believe that bills are the domain of IT – of billing operations to be precise.

But they’re wrong.

In the 90s this might have been the case; but the days when marketing could just stuff a leaflet about a new offer or product into bills have long gone. Billing today has evolved from a simple request for payment into a critical element of customer communication. And that is why marketing must be involved.

Billing communications are the most important mid-lifecycle channel to customers

Today, marketing divides into two main camps: marketers who are focused on attracting new customers versus marketers who are trying to upsell or cross-sell to existing customers.

Unfortunately, too many marketers and too much budget is spent on the former and too little effort is put into the latter, which often gets delegated to customer care. This approach might have been logical when markets were growing exponentially, but markets have now either matured or are fast reaching maturity. There are few new customers. Focusing too much time, effort and resources on acquisition means not enough is left to reward loyalty. This fuels a negative cycle of churn and acquisition that hammers both customer satisfaction and subscriber growth.

For CSPs that would prefer to upsell and cross-sell to their existing customers, a key starting point is to create a better dialogue.

Do you understand the difference between bills and billing?

The siloed thinking about bills begins with a misunderstanding. Many CSPs believe that billing ops should be responsible for bills. Wrong.

To understand why you first have to understand the critical difference between bills and billing. IT and billing operations are responsible for the technical discipline of calculating billing data. The bill itself – how information is communicated to customers – should rightly be within the domain of marketing and customer experience teams. Because marketing and customer experience have failed to assume responsibility for bills, they currently sit in a no man’s land between IT and the rest of the organisation. IT valiantly produces them – because they always have – and do their best even though they’re not marketers or experts in customer communications.

At a very basic level marketers need to ensure that their bill communications, which we could now call ‘commercial communications’, are in line with branding, which goes beyond simply sticking a logo on a PDF or paper bill. If you’re promoting a fast, high-tech, digital experience, then presenting a paper bill that hasn’t really changed since the 90s, or its PDF equivalent, jars with that messaging. It communicates that the network may have changed but the experience hasn’t.

Then there’s the tone of voice. The honeyed-tones of marketing that spend so much effort sounding warm and inspirational won’t sound authentic if the tone of communication in the bill is cold, harsh and routinely has menaces attached (‘if you do not pay your bill on time…[insert negative consequence]’). And that menace is delivered even to customers who pay on time by Direct Debit.

If commercial information isn’t communicated clearly, precisely and well, then it undermines the marketing team’s ability to communicate new products and offers. Customers will already be bored and disengaged. They might even be stressed, frustrated, angry and lacking trust. None of these feelings create a good foundation for building more business with existing customers.

Bills are still the most valuable mid-lifecycle communications channel you have

The sheer marketing value of the bill is huge. It’s still the most read customer communication and it belongs to you. You don’t need to go out and book advertising space to exploit it; you just need to use what you have more effectively. By making bill communications more interesting and less jarring for customers, you can encourage more of them to read their bill communications and engage with your firm.

Communicating charges effectively are at the heart of a healthy commercial relationship between service providers and their customers. The bill – or whatever it is turning into – has extraordinary marketing value that is not being fully exploited. Marketers need to wake up and pay attention to the huge opportunity that’s right under their nose. They need to consider how they optimise this key touchpoint to build loyalty and make cross-selling and upselling more effective.