With a price war in full swing in South Africa’s telecommunications market, the time is ripe for mobile providers to start looking at the central role that billing has to play in their customer strategies. This lynchpin of the customer experience has been neglected for years, but it offers networks and service providers strong opportunities to differentiate themselves, says Kevin Meltzer, co-founder of EOH division Consology.
Complex, opaque billing is one major cause of customer dissatisfaction with operators among contract subscribers, says Meltzer. Telecommunications products have grown in complexity over the years as operators have sought to differentiate themselves with a range of pricing schemes and packages, and as new data products have been added to the mix. Product bundling has also resulted in multiple products being presented to a customer from a billing perspective.
The result is that many consumers struggle to understand how they will be billed for voice and data usage and are often at a loss to find out which of the myriad complex packages on the market are right for their usage patterns and levels, says Meltzer. This aspect of the telecommunications experience is finally getting some scrutiny from the networks, he adds.
“The price war is heating up, and one aspect of that is that operators are finally starting to relook their packages,” Meltzer says. “We are seeing some of them slim down their numerous contract offerings into fewer, more streamlined options that consumers can understand and compare without resorting to a spreadsheet. At last, we are also seeing uncapped, flat-rate voice tariffs come into play, though we have a long way to go before we can compare to Europe and North America in this regard.”
Meltzer says that networks are beginning to understand that simpler and more transparent billing structures benefit them as much as they do consumers. In addition to fostering customer trust and loyalty, they also help cut down bill disputes and ensure prompter payment of bills by customers.
What’s more, simpler billing provides a platform for real product innovation and helps operators to streamline their own back-office and frontline service structures. “For example, it becomes far easier to help customers move to mobile or online Self-Service billing, because they don’t need to pore over a complex paper bill to understand their telecommunications spending,” says Meltzer.
Meltzer says that one area where networks need to focus more on transparency and simplicity of billing is in data usage, where in-bundle and out of bundle data pricing structures can be mystifying. With some operators looking to bill LTE services at a higher rate than 3G services, the picture is set to get more confusing.
“There is plenty of room to streamline here, “ says Meltzer. “Data is the future for operators, so they should be looking to simplify their offering here as more users adopt smartphones, tablets and data cards.” Data call volumes can now surpass voice call volumes for many customers and itemized billing could start become unwieldy if not viewed in a new way.
But overall, a shift towards simpler and more transparent billing is inevitable in a market where competition is heating up and regulation is getting tighter, says Meltzer. “Laws like the Consumer Protection Act and the price war will accelerate this change in the market,” he adds. “There is a growing understanding that consumers should be able to assess the costs and value of a service with a glance at their bill.” This is not only valuable from a customer’s perspective but for many service providers billing could now become the foundation of good customer service.