Why is bill shock even still a thing?

16 Apr 2015

We really should be beyond bill shock. And yet stories like the one about a businessman who was wrongly issued with a £15,000 ($22,260) phone bill by Vodafone and only managed to get it cancelled by staging a three-hour sit-in at the firm's headquarters, make us hold our heads in our hands. Getting a bill for £15,000 with no explanation and a request for payment is not acceptable. Any £15,000 bill will trigger bill shock, even bill rage, on a grand scale, particularly if the customer has already spent eight hours on the phone to the company trying to get it sorted or, at the very least, get some explanation for the error.

This problem, it seems, was caused by an “internal communications error” and we are left wondering exactly what that means. Bear in mind that this is the same Vodafone that reported increased revenues of between 1% and 2% because it is now using real-time functionality and analytics to better offer its customers services at the right time and in the right way. Well, some of them anyway.

Fundamentally, this is a classic example of common sense being absent from the customer service process. There was clearly no one to take on the case and discuss it properly. No one seemed to know why the increased bill occurred, even when the customer said he had not used any more data than before.

The sad part is that we now talk of omni-channel support and the need to link real time capabilities into a centralized view of the customer. And yet still these stories of bill shock appear. It would be reasonably safe to say that there was some ‘manual workaround’ that caused the problem, and then probably the ‘threshold manager’ was not updated, and then everyone looked at everyone else and no one took responsibility.

And that is a fundamental customer service issue.

Stories like this will keep appearing until there is responsibility, common sense, IT investment, centralization and automation in place – and the press will continue to publish them, with glee.

Of course, billing issues are not unique to telcos. As the finance industry moves toward transaction fees to make up for the lack of margins due to historically low interest rates, they may suffer the same fate. The situation is so bad in some markets that banks have been caught lending money out at a lower rate than they are paying on long-term interest bearing accounts.

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