Billshock: have we still not learned the lessons?

When does 2022 feel like 2017 again? When you have yet another depressing billshock story to report.

In this sorry tale of woe, car salesman John Nisill used 43Gb of data on his work phone during a short holiday to Turkey. His plan had a 250Mb limit and what inevitably followed was shocking to say the least. He says he made a few calls and answered a few emails and that was it. Whether you believe him or not, you probably won’t believe the size of the bill – a whopping £192,069 (EUR228,000/$260,000).

Mr Nisill’s boss, Paul Trotter, of AAA Performance in Rainford, Merseyside, said: “I’ve had a look at the bill and it shoots up £80 every 30 seconds or so. That’s just not possible.”

But not only was it possible, it reinforced the huge gap between consumer contracts, controls and experience and SME contracts, controls and experience – even though Ofcom has indicated that SMEs should be covered by similar terms and conditions. In this case, the customer was on a BT Business mobile plan. BT claims to have alerted the customer “several times” that he had exceeded his data allowances, that standard roaming charges were in place and that he was incurring high usage. They also said the data cap had not been applied.

Although BT has since waived the charges, the incident reveals a few things.

  • £4,465/EUR5,284/$6,039 per GB is not reasonable in any scenario
  • roaming billshock is set to become a ‘thing’ again post-Covid
  • whether the customer sets a cap or not, charges should not be allowed to escalate above a certain level without the express permission of the account holder. Forgetting to set a cap is no excuse: CSPs have a duty of care to customers to help them avoid getting into difficulty
  • CSPs must provide proactive advice on charges
  • warnings of high use must be in real time, not hours or days later
  • there is little incentive for customers to move to so-called business accounts that offer them lower protection and an inferior experience.

Omnisperience’s view

In this case the billshock was caused by the customer’s out-of-bundle usage and the roaming partner’s excessive charges. We recognise BT’s generous response in waiving these charges but it is not entirely off the hook. These charges could have been the result of a stolen handset, in which case what protection would the customer have had? More importantly, if CSPs hope to build their SME and microbusiness customer bases then this is exactly the type of scenario they need to proactively work to avoid. They should ensure customers are steered to roaming partners that charge fairly, proactively monitor costs as they’re incurred, and have roaming agreements that place a premium on transparency, fairness and trust as much as upon service quality.

Being truly customer-centric requires CSPs to have their customers’ backs. To ensure that bad things don’t happen to them on their network or on roaming partners’ networks. But sadly in 2022 this is yet another stark reminder of the gap between customer expectations and what CSPs are delivering.