• February 18, 2009
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Bad Billing Will Kill Off Your Biggest Buyers

When dealing with telecommunications service providers, dissatisfaction is a familiar refrain among consumers, often thanks to lengthy and confusing billing statements. Turns out, however, that the tale of woe is being repeated at the enterprise end of the scale as well, with 10 percent of enterprise telecom customers dumping their providers due to billing issues in customer service, according to a recent report by management and technology consultancy Accenture.

The report, "Achieving High Performance in Telecommunications through Superior Billing: Carriers' and Enterprise Customers' Perspectives," shows that carriers are aware of a huge discrepancy between the level of service they intend to provide with enterprise telecom billing and the actual level of service they admit to delivering. In fact, when asked to name the most-important attribute of service, 82 percent of carriers cited "ease of understanding the bill" -- but only 11 percent said they achieved that ease. The three other factors included in the report -- multiple ways to pay company bills, efficient resolution of billing inquiries, and billing bundled services -- were much closer in desired and observed performance, with carriers actually exceeding their own expectations in terms of bundled-service billing.

The fear that customers might not understand their bills was well-founded, apparently: Among enterprise customers, 62 percent said it was important the bills from their telecom providers be easily understood, but only 22 percent said the bills they received actually were. According to the report's authors, this was one of a number of disconnects between what customers want from their carriers and what those carriers actually provide. Another example: A very large share of customers (84 percent) considered "efficiency of inquiry resolution" important, but only 12 percent of carriers agreed.

The reason for these gaps appears to be analytical in nature: More than half (56 percent) of carriers in the survey said they did not measure enterprise customer satisfaction regarding the billing experience. In a sign of hope for future improvement, however, eight of 10 carriers acknowledged that they needed to improve billing practices and make bills easier to understand.

"Particularly in the current economic climate, it's truly surprising that more attention isn't being paid to billing, which is probably one of the most frequent and consistent communications a carrier has with its customers," said Rob Purks, leader of Accenture's North American billing practice, in a statement. "Carriers that don't take full advantage of effective billing solutions -- which can help them spur revenue growth, increase customer retention, reduce operating costs, and ultimately fend off competitors -- are in effect leaving money on the table."

Purks also suggested two first steps that carriers might take to align their billing processes with the realities of what their enterprise customers need:

  • Conduct ongoing, quantitative, and qualitative customer research to gain a better understanding of what those customers want and value in terms of billing, and
  • pay more attention to supporting the needs of those customers.

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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