Bill presentation is an untapped opportunity for telcos – survey

A survey of telecoms professional commissioned by BriteBill has found they reckon they could be making much better use of bills to improve the customer relationship.

Now we know what you’re thinking: a company that specialises in optimising phone bills has commissioned a study that concluded we need to optimise phone bills. That’s what we thought too so we spoke to Becky Byrne of BriteBill and Teresa Cottam of Omnisperience, who conducted the survey.

They directed their questions at senior execs working for the largest operators but in non-technical roles including those responsible for digital, customer care, marketing and finance. The questions focused on their views on the bills their company produced so, while this was a highly targeted study, we’re satisfied that the resulting data stands up by itself.

Cottham said her company wanted to get a snapshot of operator attitudes to how phone bills are presented and concluded that it remains an afterthought for most operators. This shouldn’t be confused with billing itself and all the other stuff handled by BSS, the actual physical or digital bill itself hasn’t really evolved much over the years. You can see a summary of the findings below.

One of the biggest missed opportunities regarding bill presentation, according to Byrne, lies in using it to interact with the customer. Apparently 40% of people read their bills but only 4% read marketing material, so in other words you’ve got ten times more chance of getting through to them through the bill. And it should just be used to flog them stuff either, regular communication about the benefits of their contract can do a lot to reduce churn, a big chunk of which can be directly attributed to billing issues.

“It’s good to see that service providers understand the importance of customer experience to their digital transformation and innovation programs,” said Byrne. “However, in the rush to transform their businesses, many have completely overlooked the bill’s role as the most common and critical customer touchpoint. Improving and innovating their customers’ billing experience is one of the most tangible ways service providers can communicate the benefits of digital transformation and innovation. This in-turn transforms bills from dull financial statements into strategic customer engagement tools.”

“Service providers face conflicting investment demands, from upgrading their networks to creating new revenue streams and enhancing the customer experience, which can take years to show value,” said Cottham. “However, they’re beginning to realize that by focusing resources on customer experience blackspots such as on boarding processes and billing, they can make a more immediate impact for often modest levels of investment.”

At a time when operators are more worried about new competitors such as OTTs than each other, CEM seems like an obvious area of differentiation. Not only can the bill be a more useful, functional thing itself, in the digital era the operator app through which people increasingly access it is a clear opportunity to engage with them in loads of other ways.

Britebill infographic

Churn is breaking the telecoms market: here’s how to fix it

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Brendan O’Rouke, Head of Design at BriteBill, attempts to tackle the perennial telecoms problem of churn.

We’re operating in an experience economy where success is not just determined by the best brands in the communications and media industry, but by the best across all industries. So how do you stack up?

Low levels of satisfaction in telecoms fuels churn

According to the latest UK Satisfaction Index , published in July 2018 by the Institute of Customer Service, UK satisfaction with businesses across all verticals stands at 77.9/100. The score for telecoms is 74.3, making it the lowest scoring – apart from transport (72.5). Industries that achieve higher scores are doing so by delivering a consistent experience throughout the entire customer journey.

The low level of satisfaction in telecoms translates into an industry with high levels of churn, which are exceptionally high in prepaid, and significant even in the lucrative postpaid sector. According to a new TM Forum Quick Insight Report sponsored by BriteBill, An Amdocs Company, postpaid churn currently ranges from 5% to 32% per year.

The report analyses the links between a consistent customer experience and churn rates in 36 service providers across 24 countries. This revealed an enormous 27-point gap between the best performing and worst performing service providers. The reasons for this gap might not just be due to variations in customer satisfaction, but also to the service provider’s attitude to churn. Any service provider can reduce their churn rate almost overnight if they are willing to invest enough money into customer retention efforts. But therein lies the problem: if they are already losing money, can they really afford to spend such significant sums?

The cost of churn is substantial

Calculating how much to spend on acquisition and retention is something of a black art. If too many customers are lost, revenues will plummet. If too much is spent, margins will suffer unduly. But big money is at stake. Research by Tefficient  shows that the average service provider in a mature market typically spends 15-20% of service revenues on acquisition and retention activities. That’s pretty staggering. To put it into context, McKinsey says average CAPEX spending on infrastructure (networks and IT) is 15% of revenues.

What makes the situation even more challenging is that since there are few new customers in mature markets, service providers must acquire them from their rivals. And, with more service providers chasing the same group of out-of-contract customers, the Subscriber Acquisition Cost (SAC) of recruiting new customers is rising. With SAC a key metric for shareholders to measure the health of their investment, this can be daunting for service providers.

Deutsche Telekom, for example, revealed that its SAC increased by 8% across five of the markets it operates in – Germany, Greece, Romania, Czech Republic and Slovakia – between FY2016 and FY2017. If Deutsche Telekom is spending an industry average proportion of revenues on acquisition and retention, an 8% rise equates to an extra 1-1.5% of revenue being swallowed up, simply to maintain their customer base – wiping out a substantial proportion of any revenue growth they manage to achieve. In a double-edged blow, Deutsche Telekom also revealed that its retention costs fell by 34% over the same period.

Deutsche Telekom’s figures exemplify that service providers need to focus on retention, not acquisition. An acquisition focus fuels churn by only focusing on the customer until the contract is signed. A retention focus ensures customers receive a consistent experience and are nurtured throughout their journey, paying dividends in terms of far higher customer lifecycle values.

There can be huge differences between the cost of retention and acquisition. Take Canada’s BCE and Telus, for example. They revealed in 2017 that it cost almost 50 times less for them to keep an existing customer than to acquire a new one, with retention costs of C$11.04 and C$11.74 respectively, while average SAC in Canada weighed in at a whopping C$521.

Billing should be a retention tool, rather than a churn agent

It seems like a no-brainer. Retaining and nurturing existing customers should be our priority, with SAC fueling net additions and not just replacing churning customers. Of course, the $64,000 question, as always, is how can service providers retain more of their customers?

This is a complex question that doesn’t have a simple answer, but often the reason for churn lies in the most obvious, simple and prosaic of things.

Take the humble bill, for example. Currently, it’s more of a churn agent than a retention tool. The change in tone from the warm messaging of sales to the harsh, impersonal tone of billing can create a jarring effect on customers. Customers often find bills boring, hard to understand and stressful. According to a study by the   in June 2018, one in six mobile users haven’t even checked their bill in the last six months. When asked why, 18% or 1.3 million mobile users said they couldn’t be bothered.

It’s hardly surprising. Even if charges are correct, they are often confusing and unclear because of factors such as device leases, proration (billing for part of a month), billing in advance for some services and in arrears for others, overages, confusing and vague descriptions of charges and so on. And while we may have spent many millions upgrading IT systems to support the digital customer experience, outputs such as the bill are frequently overlooked. Too often, the bill remains old-fashioned, poorly designed and unengaging, creating an inconsistent digital experience for customers.

Taking a fresh approach to bills, however, can pay measurable dividends. Cricket Wireless, for example, a wholly-owned subsidiary of AT&T, rolled out a campaign called ‘Let’s Look Inside Your Bucket’. They used a video-based approach to communicate information, offers and a good dose of humor. It was incredibly successful, leading to a massive 37% reduction in early customer churn.

Three has taken a different approach. They focused on using bills to demonstrate the value delivered to individual customers by revealing how much they’ve saved using its Feel At Home roaming offer.

Sprint’s Mark Edwards, Director Applications Development, says that his company recognizes how important the first ten days of the customer relationship are, and has been working to ensure consistency between what’s promised in the sales cycle versus what’s delivered and what’s billed for. This means working to ensure the customer understands their charges, which in turn reduces enquiries and increases satisfaction.

So, what can service providers do to transform their bill from a source of stress, dissatisfaction and churn into a retention tool? The TM Forum says it boils down to three things:

  • Communicating billing information accurately, clearly and concisely – the aim of the bill is to provide answers, not generate questions.
  • Demonstrating value – rather than being a source of negative information (a demand for payment), bills should be a way of demonstrating value and savings.
  • Communicating new information – with customers increasingly unreceptive to promotional material, the bill provides a regular opportunity to make them aware of new products and services that are relevant to them.

The challenge is to remove inconsistencies in the customer experience by changing the bill from a 1990s paper artefact into a digital era asset, thereby transforming it from a churn agent into a valuable retention tool.

The TM Forum notes that service providers who can do this will have customers that “have a lasting positive impression that takes them beyond contract renewal time and sees them advocate their service provider”. And I’m sure we can agree, that’s a win-win for everyone concerned.

A design-led approach to billing creates new opportunities for service providers

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Brendan O’Rouke, Head of Design at BriteBill, explores what CSPs can do to make the billing process more positive for their customers.

With the pace of customer experience now being set outside the communications and media industry, the ability to deliver outstanding experiences is now a moving target. Becoming a top performer, such as Amazon requires service providers to consistently deliver exceptional experiences across all customer satisfaction measures, according to the Institute of Customer Service.

“The top 10 organizations [in terms of customer satisfaction] perform better than other organizations across the full range of customer experience metrics. There is continuing evidence that consistently outperforming the sector average for customer satisfaction is linked to better financial performance.” The Institute of Customer Service, UK Customer Satisfaction Index, July 2018   

The fiercely competitive nature of service providers in mature markets, combined with customers’ increasing propensity to complain or churn, throws down the gauntlet. Service providers need to act fast to address notorious and persistent customer experience blackspots such as billing, in order to deliver the consistency of experience that unlocks loyalty, recommendation, trust, reputation, and ultimately, better financial performance.

 Competition fueling the need for better experiences

The hypercompetitive environment in mature markets, means that service providers are shifting their focus from customer acquisition to customer retention. This requires them to work harder than ever to meet their customers’ expectations and consistently deliver the experience expected.

With four mobile network operators (MNOs) and more than one hundred active mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) in the UK, which collectively support over 13.5 million customers (or one in seven mobile connections), competition has never been fiercer.

MVNOs differentiate themselves and consistently outperform MNOs, not on network quality or coverage but on products, tariffs, offers and the customer experience they provide. For example, Which? Magazine’s annual consumer satisfaction report revealed that customers are increasingly snubbing the big four MNOs in favor of MVNOs such as Utility Warehouse – partly because they’re pocket-friendly, but also due to higher rates of customer satisfaction delivered.

Billing remains a customer experience blackspot

Let’s face it, no-one likes receiving a bill; they can stimulate such negative customer reactions that we’ve even coined terms for these, such as ‘bill-dread’ (fear of high bills that cause customers to alter consumption patterns) and bill shock (the emotional impact of receiving a higher than expected bill). They remain one of the most digitally untransformed areas of experience, and are so boring that many customers have given up reading them.

To deliver greater consistency of experience, service providers are now focused on improving the design of their bills, which according to The Institute of Customer Service is one of the top three areas that service provider customers want improved.

Design-led approach to improving customer communications

Customers perceive bills to be boring, confusing and stressful. Aside from additions and extensions, the service provider bill has changed little since the 1990s. This means the format of many bills are packed with too much information, making it hard for customers to locate and process the information they require. Since these bills are generic, much of the information squeezed into them may not even be relevant to an individual customer. For example, warnings about late payment and the stern tone of a cold demand for payment may seem rude or even insulting to a prompt payer, and does nothing to enhance the relationship.

Bill design shouldn’t be an accidental evolution, but should be carefully planned to achieve the goals of the service provider. Since its job is to subtlety enable information to be more effectively communicated, service providers need to employ a range of design techniques, including:

Aesthetic enhancements

  • Using size, color and weight to create a hierarchy of information that places emphasis on key elements within the bill.
  • Aligning elements on an axis to create a visual connection between them. This prompts eye movement, as well as adding order and stability to bill design.
  • Arranging elements within a given space to ensure there is a comfortable balance. With an equal distribution of weight, the bill design will feel more harmonious and approachable to customers.
  • Repeating visual elements throughout the design such as fonts, weights, lines, colors, icons and images. This creates unity and consistency throughout the bill and customers will automatically come to recognize and expect these patterns.

Transforming customer data
Although aesthetics are great steps towards improving a bill design, there are further techniques to improve the customer bill experience. If you look closely at a customer’s billing information, you can learn a lot about their activity and behaviors. So why not turn this into an engaging interaction? For example:

  • Customers can access an incredibly long list of calls they made over a period of time. Extract and present insightful information, such as:
    • Who was called most frequently
    • Most expensive calls
    • Longest calls
    • Most active call day of the week
    • Three premium numbers dialed, costing USD7.50 for example
  • Let’s say a customer is regularly exceeding their data usage allowance. Why not display a trend graph that spans the past three months, highlighting at what point in each month they exceeded their plan, and what the extra cost is per month? To further inform the customer, this can be used as an opportunity to present add-on options or alternative plans that better suit their behavior.

Functional customer messaging

This is vital to achieving a conclusive billing experience. By introducing contextually relevant messages at key points, you will transform the bill from a generic and impersonal piece of communication to a more personalized experience for each and every customer. This can be as simple as a standard greeting for a long-term customer: ‘Hello Jane, this is your March bill, and everything looks in order. Thank you for being one of our most loyal customers.’ The tone in this case is positive and slightly informal.

Another example would be a more sensitive message, such as a request for an overdue payment. The tone here needs to come across as knowledgeable, formal and to the point. ‘Your account is past due, please pay USD112.00 immediately.’

Throughout the bill, it is imperative to be as pre-emptive as possible. For example, to reduce customer bill shock, why not display key information in a prominent place? This will enable customers to identify excess charges that would normally drive questions to customer care. The first thing the customer should see is a concise explanation of why their bill is higher than expected, such as:

  • ‘You added a service last month, resulting in a partial charge of USD15.00 this month. Please see page 4 for details.’
  • ‘You were charged a late fee of USD13.95. To avoid this charge in the future, please sign up for direct debit at provider.com/direct-debit.’
  • ‘You have high usage charges of USD22.12 this month.’

A design-led approach to billing means always thinking about how your design affects the customer and putting them first. This will result in clearer and more usable bills, and ultimately fewer calls to care. When designed to meet individual needs, the bill is not only a welcome tool for regular communication, it also provides the customer with a window into their relationship with the service provider.

Transforming bills from an experience blackspot into an asset

For many service providers, bills are already an experience blackspot. With the ever-increasing volume and variety of services, experimenting with charging models, and delivering more one-off and personalized offers, the potential for customer confusion is bound to increase. This is where design-led thinking plays an essential role in creating ways to deliver greater depth of information effectively and attractively.

 

Five Tips For Better Bills
  1. Know your customer
    Excellent design begins with understanding your customer. Service providers should know and understand the history they have with each customer, including how long they have been a customer and the services they have purchased over their lifecycle. They should also know and track the usage patterns of each customer. This will enable the service provider to deliver personalized billing content to each and every customer.
  1. Focus on clarity
    If a customer can’t understand a piece of communication or can’t perform a basic action without frustration, then there are failings in the bill design. The design should be simple and clear throughout. It should save the customer time and provide all the answers they need. This is achieved by disclosing more information when needed and not overwhelming the customer with useless content. Some customers will spend 10 seconds reviewing their bill, others will spend up to four to five minutes. The bill design should cater to all.
  1. Remove technical verbiage
    Systems-driven language is typically difficult for customers to decipher and is often perceived as dishonest. If a customer purchases a device from a service provider or signs up for a new service, there is an element of excitement. This feeling is soon replaced by confusion and discontent when they receive a bill with a different product description to what was expected, and in some cases a complex pricing structure that makes no sense. Aligning old legacy terminology and pricing with what’s sold will help deliver on brand promise and keep the customer experience positive.
  1. Don’t allow technology to restrict design
    Design should not be added retrospectively to try and fix outdated billing processes or be force-fitted into existing technology. Instead, the presentation should be at the core of the billing platform. Design should drive questions such as, ‘what other systems or feeds should be integrated?’, or ‘how can we identify or tag this data to display it as we want?’ If the customer experience is the reason behind a bill transformation project, then all areas of the business need to agree on this common goal.
  1. Don’t forget the business needs
    With the bill being the most regular form of customer communication, why not use it to help support the business needs? The bill can easily deliver content from departments such as sales, marketing or legal. It can also be designed to help reduce print costs. More importantly, it can re-enforce the value of what each customer is getting for their monthly charges. In addition to ensuring customers are connected around the clock, service providers are constantly offering promotions and rewards. So why not educate customers on these benefits and affirm why they should remain your customer?

 

How about giving customers a better experience?

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Orla Power, Head of Marketing for Brite:Bill (an Amdocs company) explores some research into CSP customer expectations and what can be learned from it.

Mobile operators and the telecoms industry in general have never been known for excellent customer service and for many that’s an understatement. However, as generations Y and Z start paying for their own telecoms services, a new type of customer with different preferences and expectations is entering the market place.

We have found that this has presented operators with an opportunity to reset the customer relationship with these new customers. Typically, generation Y and Z are service- oriented customers who are willing to change providers frequently and will do so if they are not having a good experience. In addition, they want to interact in ways that suit them, utilising all available channels. They value increased personalisation and being recognised as an individual with specific preferences.

This is all very different from the traditional telecoms approach of communicating via traditional monthly – most likely paper – bills and offering a call centre interaction for those who are prepared to wait. Now, the interaction is multi-channel and much more aligned to the rapid resolution of customer issues and desires.

Yet, we know that operators are still in the process of transforming their systems to enable them to serve customers effectively and all too often the integration points fail to work smoothly, giving customers inconsistent experiences and exposing operators to the risk of customers leaving at key churn points in the customer relationship.

Brite:Bill has recently conducted extensive research with our operator customers across the world and, as part of this, we gathered valuable insights from respondents. Key challenges that were highlighted from the research are similar to the issues we here from the Communications Service Providers (CSPs), including the existence of various churn points. Among these, operators were keen to point out that customers receiving their first bill can be a churn point.  It’s one they are aware of and can quickly address if the customer feels the first bill doesn’t match their expectations.

Another key issue is the lack of personalisation in customer on-boarding communications. For customers that have been promised a tailored, personalised experience, receiving what are clearly standardardised form communications, using this less-favoured channel is an obvious source of discontent.

This is also highlighted in inconsistencies between the customer acquisition process and the on-boarding process. In the retail environment, the operator communicated its brand values as an exciting digital enabler and its capabilities to meet the needs of individuals. If the on-boarding resembles the experience your parents had getting a 2G voice phone in 1999, it’s clear there’s a gap between the promise made and the reality delivered.

Further irritations that CSPs are aware of at this early phase include the variety of different operator systems sending disparate notifications to customers. Some may be duplicated across channels such as SMS and email, while others might be about the same issue but use a different tone of voice or be untimely, for instance, telling them their router is on its way when, in fact it has already been installed.

These issues highlight the on-boarding challenges that operators face and clearly demonstrate the scale and scope of the customer communications challenges. In our research, we uncovered that 36 per cent of customers have switched operators in the last two years and, of those, 16 per cent switched because of billing issues. In saturated markets that’s a big issue and we estimate that for an operator with ten million subscribers the cost of churn is likely to be more than US$400 million.

This churn is not necessarily because the bill itself is wrong, it may be that the costs outlined are not clear to understand or the likely costs had not been properly explained at the time of sign-up. Our research uncovered that 68 per cent of customers say their bill is not clear or easy to understand. This has led to almost one-third of customers contacting their CSP because of billing issues.

More concerning, 18 per cent of customers said their first bill was more than they expected, causing the relationship to get off on the wrong foot and creating a climate of mistrust around the entire relationship. The fact that customers are still being surprised by the cost of their services and feel the need to interact with the call centre is costing operators significantly – both in the cost of call centre operations and in the likely increased churn because of dissatisfaction.

Our research also found that three quarters of customers currently have no interest in the information provided in their bill. However, this doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in receiving additional, relevant information via this channel. 56 per cent of customers want their bill to tell them how to save money while 29 per cent want the bill to tell them about relevant services.

Ultimately, customers want to receive the more personalised experience they get from other types of service providers. 29 per cent want their bill to include interactive graphs and icons so they can monitor and manage their consumption and 44 per cent want the bill to include what services they are spending the most or least on.

New technology, such as chatbots, will add another channel and dimension to customer communications and the bill will cease to be a static communication that simply states costs incurred. 39 per cent of customers say they would like access to a chatbot for bill enquiries, which rises to 50 per cent for generation Z customers, and almost a third (29 per cent) of all respondents think chatbots are a good alternative to a customer care line.

The new customer is enthusiastic and engaged, looking for more personalised relationships with their operators. As growth from new customers slows in saturated markets, the exciting news is operators already have valuable information about their customers and the tools in place to better serve them. They just need to utilise these more effectively to transform communications with the clarity and personalisation that customers expect.

Most people baffled by their phone bills – survey

Some research commissioned by billing vendor Brite:Bill has found that the majority of people find their phone bills hard to understand.

The precise figure is 68% and furthermore 75% are not even interested in the information provided even if they can get their heads around it. The apparent purpose of commissioning the research was to demonstrate that the phone bill and more generally billing communications are a major pain point for subscribers. It should be noted that Brite:Bill, which is owned by Amdocs, specialises in providing billing communications platforms.

“How much a customer likes a product often matters less than how they feel about their experience,” said Alan Coleman, Head of Brite:Bill. “Billing is the least transformed part of the digital experience today, but as a key touch point it must evolve, too. Service providers are under increasing pressure to transform billing from a negative, stressful experience into a useful and interesting one that can bring them a competitive advantage.

“This starts with presenting the information so that it is more relevant, visual, and easy to understand. At the same time, providers have to be more proactive in dealing with billshock and bill frustration – for example, by advising their customers on ways to save money that are relevant to that particular customer’s usage pattern.”

The research, which was conducted by Censuswide Research, surveyed 3,236 consumers across the USA, Canada, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Brazil and the UK It focused a fair bit on generational differences, with older people finding their bills more confusing. Apparently younger people are happier to communicate with chatbots and more likely to expect their billing communications to feature proactive efforts on the part of their provider to save them money.

Other interesting data points include the discovery that 29% of respondents have contacted their CSPs because of billing issues and that 44% of churners had experienced a billing problem.