• March 8, 2011
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Executives Need a New Perspective on Billing

Despite its critical role in revenue collection and corporate cash flow, billing has apparently become such a systematic function that it is no longer viewed as strategic, even by billing executives themselves.

In fact, according to a survey released yesterday by billing outsourced services provider Billtrust, two-thirds (67 percent) of billing executives view billing as a utility, while only a third of those polled (33 percent) see billing as strategic.

“If you simply view billing as a collections vehicle, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity,” says Flint Lane, CEO and founder of Billtrust. “The bill is often the only communications a company has with its customers every month, and if it doesn’t capitalize on that, it’s a huge opportunity lost.”

Companies that capitalize on the billing process, on the other hand, use the monthly bill to communicate with customers about new programs, upsell to them, and make special offers based on their account activity, according to Lane.

Some companies include inserts with their customer bills or monthly statements, which have limited success, Lane says. “We’re talking more about one-to-one content that is specific to my bill and account activity and included right on the bill,” he says.

This information is typically read by about 5 percent of customers while inserts typically garner much smaller numbers. But even then, there is a benefit to the company because “there is a small percentage (about 1 percent) who do actually look at the inserts,” Lane says.

The survey points to the growing number of businesses that are missing opportunities for cost savings, accelerated cash flow, customer relationship building, and even revenue generation in the billing process. And, according to Lane, most marketing executives are aware of the shortfall but are not involved in the billing process.

Billtrust surveyed nearly 40 executives associated with the billing function across a spectrum of North American businesses. The lack of recognition of billing’s role in customer relationships was apparent, as nearly two thirds of those polled (64 percent) said that billing either hurts, or has no impact, on customer service. At the same time, 59 percent of respondents believe their current billing processes support the building of customer relationships. When asked their highest billing priority, 81 percent said accuracy and 19 percent said timeliness.

“When it comes to billing, most businesses focus on the basics,” Lane notes. “With a more strategic approach to billing, companies can create cost savings, build better customer relationships, and drive revenue growth.”

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