Communications service providers are probably facing the biggest challenge to their business in decades; maintaining their customer base while cutting operational costs and growing new revenue streams, all in the face of aggressive product bundling from rivals and disintermediation of the customer relationship by device manufacturers.
The challenges of cutting operational costs while maintaining a strong customer relationship requires agile and flexible bill presentment and self-care. This allows key billing issues to be tackled before the customer calls the call centre with queries, complains to their friends or worse still, just decides to leave!
In our experience of talking to many operators of various sizes and geographies, there is a set of recurring and common issues with no simple solution but a big prize – lower costs with better customer retention:
- Costly call centre volumes due to first bill expectations not being met, pro rata charge complexities causing confusion, bundle and tariff contents not being clear and high usage costs causing ‘bill shock’
- Loss of customer engagement due to the growing dominance of the handset provider in the main customer relationship and an increasing lack of distinction between operator services
- Failure of the online channel either to switch customers over to digital, or to help build and maintain customer relationships.
Traditional solutions for bill presentment and broader self-care focus on the channel; a dedicated paper channel and technology set, a portal architecture with aspects of CRM (typically presenting a PDF and some basic meta-data), and for mobile presentment a whole new project and associated integration.
At Brite:Bill we sought to solve these issues by focusing on a few key principles to deliver a lightweight, agile and cost-effective solution for operators.
Convert data to a common format that can be rendered by channel. We use an XML and JSON format. It is defined by a taxonomy and provides for a standardized, quality-controlled and semantically validated version of billing data that may be rendered to any HTML device and used to generate the printed bill or by third party applications and mobile apps.
Separation of user experience
Spot billing issues at source
Use the billing data and any other associated data to spot billing issues and call them out before the customer does. Brite:Bill ships with a rules engine and an associated architecture to facilitate dynamic decisioning. This allows for engine-derived or externally derived facts to be used to present messaging and other content to the user. This content is typically defined and managed in the CMS.
Provide a strong reporting and analytics capability to deliver immediate value to the customer. We use a lightweight reporting framework to allow for flexible best of breed reporting, and a JSON format to feed report data to client side reporting frameworks. This allows us and our clients to select the best reporting and analytics toolkit to suit their needs and UX requirements.
End-user approach to design
Even if it’s a bill it should be beautiful! Design all aspects of bill presentment with high quality creative and UX, and best practice information architecture in mind. From web and mobile HTML designs to Infoprint designs, the focus should be on clarity, ease of use and strong aesthetics.
Use open source standardized technologies and approaches throughout to keep the solution open while ensuring integration overhead is kept to a minimum. Brite:Bill uses standards and open-source frameworks throughout; Spring security for SSO, Enterprise bus middleware for ingest and data processing and other open source frameworks such as GWT and Jersey for applications. We’ve also developed a strong capability to import the bill stream and associated user data with minimal software build, mainly focusing on configured ETL processes. This reduces the requirement for internal IT involvement and decreases lead times to live deployment.
We’ve adopted these principles in the development of our bill presentment platform with immediate success and very encouraging statistics from our production systems which show higher levels of active users, lower contact-centre volumes and higher net promoter scores.
We aren’t stopping there. We’re developing a suite of features around unbilled usage to encourage users to visit on a regular basis, and we are focused on high quality HTML5 feature sets for mobile app-based presentment. We are also developing better management and monitoring functions to provide operators with feedback on what’s working and what’s not.
We are treating bill presentment as you would any web campaign, and why not? The user volumes are web-scale, as is the prize. The solution should be too.