The devil's in the details

Digital service providers are at the forefront of our daily lives. Many of us experience these brands and use their products and services to varying degrees in almost everything we do. From practicalities like finding our way with a mobile map or getting the latest news, to human necessities like communicating with friends and family or even finding love – a vast mass of pixels, bytes and code underlie our every move.

Breaking brand promises

Naturally, digital brands strive to be seen as positive, contemporary, dynamic and forward-thinking as they compete for our custom in a highly competitive landscape. The images and ideas presented by digital brands share a high degree of commonality; future-focused straplines, bright colour palettes, naturalized imagery and friendly positive reinforcement. Many of us buy into these visions readily – we love our gadgets and digital services and we’re more than willing to pay for them.

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The problem comes however, as soon as we do…

The inspiring brand promise we’ve readily bought into suddenly starts to fade; ‘Life is good’ becomes ’24 month minimum contract’, ‘Be inspired’ turns out to mean ‘Please sign this 12 page document of tiny unreadable type and legalistic jargon that means nothing to you and is vaguely threatening’. Crucially, the most common in-life touch point – the bill – turns ‘The Future is Bright’ into ‘Bad news – pay now or else!’

Don’t overlook the bill!

With brands spending so much resource to develop and nurture their brand currency in marketing and acquisition materials, many are devaluing their stock with customers by not dealing adequately with the details. The bill is the one key regular in-life communication where service providers have the opportunity to build on customer relationships and deliver their brand promises. Shackled by legacy system constraints and increasing tariff and charge complexity however, many operator bills fall short of this and confuse and frustrate users with a poor customer experience. Ultimately poor billing leads to higher rates of inbound customer queries, increased churn, and reduced customer satisfaction and advocacy.

Change is gonna come…

Fortunately for customers the days when bills were considered purely transactional communications to collect revenue are numbered. Service providers now realize the business case behind customer-focused bill improvement, and the importance of the billing relationship as their last strategic asset. With limited ongoing competitive advantage in the quality of service access (network), and the battle to own service distribution having been lost to the likes of Facebook and Twitter et al., providers now see the key strategic area they can affect customer change is in service enablement, or in other words in customer care and billing.

Key obstacles

  • Legacy technology – making bill improvement long and costly IT projects.
  • Poor billing data – limiting options and flexibility at the presentation layer.
  • The need for organizational change – idiosyncrasies across business and product lines impacting on clear and simple presentation of bill information.
  • Lack of User-Centered Design – billing communications produced by IT and technical minds without effective stakeholder and customer engagement, or design, language and interaction best practice and process.

Top tips

  • Enhanced personalization – make use of the customer’s data to provide care messaging to pre-empt queries and explain known billing issues. Provide tailored messaging around relevant products and services based on customer behaviour, and make tariff recommendations. Include information on getting the most out of services, and the value customers receive.
  • Tariff and charge complexity – provide bundle contents at the point of need and easy access of out of bundle charge rates. Clearly highlight out of bundle usage as distinct from regular or other charges.
  • Bill clarity – avoid or explain jargon and abbreviations, divide information into accessible chunks and employ best practice language and layout to signposting, sectioning, headings, and hierarchies.
  • Useful data display – provide engaging and dynamic illustrations, graphic snapshots and interactive widgets to visualize and explain usage trends and charges breakdown.
  • Tone of voice and effective language – in bills which are usually dominated by formal, indirect and passive language, a polite and supportive, yet succinct and direct style can do a lot to humanize a bill and improve clarity. Ensure consistent naming and terminology across products, sections and headings, and make sure typography and layout adheres to basic legibility standards and best practice.