Bill me simply, quickly

25 Apr 2014

I remember years ago receiving a paper bill from my mobile service provider in Australia that was accompanied by instructions on how to actually read the bill. I was stunned. Not only that a bill could be so complex it had to be accompanied by an instruction manual, but also that it wasted so much paper.

That was 18 years ago and I thought we had come a long way as an industry in making bills simple enough to understand. I was wrong, very wrong. Despite the fact that we are moving post-paid bills to electronic format and deliver them by email, and allow customers to view their accounts via apps on smartphones, many operators are still managing to confuse the hell out of their customers with complicated bills.

Basic common sense would presume that any document demanding payment should be so clearly understood that the customer would have no reason to question it. For some reason, billers still think it is a requirement to be detailed to the point of generating nausea, and to use terms that only a telecoms expert would understand.

I even remember one popular billing system that generated line-item charges with three decimal places. Very clever but totally confusing to the punter who received the bill! At least it rounded up to two for the final bill tally.

Billing-related inquiries to call centers have for many years dominated, not helped by silly bill layouts. These days with so many prepaid customers and packaged deals or bundles in post-paid offerings, the complexity should have diminished. Not necessarily.

We are still producing ‘bad’ bills, ones that are not easy to decipher, and we are going to great lengths to help people understand them rather than making them simpler in the first place.

The CTIA goes as far as providing a “How to Read Your Monthly Wireless Bill” advisory page with great advice on plan selection and what terms on the bill actually mean. Take a trip to YouTube and search for “how to read your bill” and page upon page of instructional videos from all sorts of service providers will appear. Yes, you heard right, videos explaining how to read a bill! There’s one way to get data traffic up, I guess.

I have yet to see any CSP market that has easy-to-read bills, but I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be an effective draw card. Or is it that customers don’t even have the time to look at their bills these days? And do they really care about bills?

In countries where paper bills are still a legal requirement nothing will change for now, but where they are not and presuming that customers of a CSP are accessing the internet, have a smartphone and are reasonably computer literate, then electronic bills must be the best alternative.

That way, if the customer needs any explanation, the help can be built into the line item itself with a little question mark button, etc. A cleaner, simpler bill with the ability to view in summary or at line detail level is where we should be. Or, alternately, do what some digital service providers do – one bundled service price or simple item pricing. No need for an instruction manual at all.

Tony Poulos is a market strategist and editor at TM Forum

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