Mobile data billing

The difficulty with data

These days it’s increasingly difficult for us to understand and keep a tab on the amount of data we consume on our smartphones and devices. Checking the football score, finding the restaurant on a map, watching that latest episode on a bus – not many of us would know the MBs we’re munching as we go. What we use our mobile data for, and the amount of data we use, is broadly determined by rapidly evolving device and network capabilities. This causes us to have unpredictable levels of consumption over time, and we find it hard to set a benchmark to measure our data use against.

The traumas of tariff complexity

Alongside this we’re increasingly bamboozled by growing tariff complexities; the infinite variety of premium rate numbers not included in our allowance, or the multitude of different rates and charges if we decide to use our device abroad. Not least where we use it, but whether we use voice, text, or data and so on. SMS or MMS? LTE or 3G? You get my point… The negative effect of these complexities will only increase over time, as new devices continue to allow us to diversify our mobile consumption, and produce new and evolving requirements for mobile billing.

The constraints of legacy technology

Further obstacles blocking our path to understanding are the often dull and difficult to comprehend bills we receive from providers – generated by legacy systems and designed for simpler mobile billing scenarios. A poorly constructed bill view, whether in print or pixels, will cause problems and drive customer contact in it’s own right.

The impact on regulation

What it all adds up to is significant consumer confusion, dissatisfaction, and ultimately complaints. The rising tide is evidenced by the recent announcement from Ofcom (the UK regulator) of a series of measures to “reduce consumer harm” from mobile phone companies.

Ofcom plan to review how providers communicate charges and tariff structure to customers across all channels. At the moment this is just a conversation between the regulator and industry, but it’s easy to imagine things going the same way as with UK gas and electricity billing, with utility providers now being mandated to display certain tariff and charges information in a prescribed way on their billing communications.

Unbilled usage and bill shock

‘Reducing consumer harm’ in this context means reconsidering the format, frequency and delivery of bill communications to combat ‘bill shock’. No longer will simply a retrospective or advance demand for payment meet emerging telco bill standards and expectations. Customers want intuitive account management tools, real-time information, and customizable alerts and notifications. In short they need pre-emptive care and the provision of billing information with clarity and transparency that helps them make informed choices regarding their usage and spend.

Tips on tackling bill shock and gaining customer trust

  • Providers must work to explain data consumption to consumers, and illustrate the difference in data used between streaming video compared to surfing the web, for example.
  • If a customer is getting near an allowance, a provider should notify them and offer a recommendation or choice for their next best action.
  • Clear tariff information should be presented at the point of need alongside transactional billing information to give the consumer the full story of their charges without having to search for long forgotten tariff terms.
  • Key facts such as the contract length and end date, as well as comprehensive call and usage rates should be readily accessible to consumers.
  • Telcos should work together to create a common lexicon of terms and terminology explained, to demystify the techno-jargon of telecommunications for unfamiliar and non-technical users
  • If providers have a product, tariff or add-on that could save certain customers money, they should message those customers with details in advance of unnecessary charges building up. Ideally they should personalize the messaging and make it highly relevant by illustrating the savings for particular individuals.
  • Providers should inform consumers of their rights and signpost them to independent advice and information should they need it.