You might have seen a story appearing in the press recently, which reported that a UK SME (Small Medium Enterprise) customer was hit with a gigantic bill of over £163,000.
Although the network operator had agreed to waive the bill, they continued to send out requests for payment more than seven months afterwards.
The error was caused by a faulty device that, in a three week period, downloaded the equivalent amount of data to 5 million e-mails or 15,000 songs to the customer’s account.
This is not the only ‘billshock’ story to make the news recently; in February this year a UK customer was ordered to pay a £19,000 bill. In an even more extreme circumstance in October 2012, a French telephone user was sent a bill for 12 quadrillion Euros – amounting to 6,000 times the yearly economic output of France as a whole. Fortunately, the bill was waived.
This raises two interesting questions: firstly, why are operators not making use of the systems available to detect and prevent such excesses? Secondly, how many billshock-type invoices are sent out each month that simply don’t make the headlines?
At the heart of the matter, surely, is the need to drive greater intelligence and robustness around the business processes that drive the customer experience.
With consumer spend increasingly being diverted to non-network services, apps and content, building long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships with business customers must be a priority – in particular with the traditionally un-tapped and under-served SME segment, which can sometimes pass under the radar of big operators who instead look toward the bigger single-contract accounts with enterprise customers.
With over 99% of businesses in Europe being classed as SMEs (amounting to 20 million organisations), there is obviously a lot of potential. Despite the SME market offering uncontested revenue-generating potential, communications service providers may not necessarily have the strategy in place to be able to reap the rewards immediately. With the focus of IT spend always going to consumers as the priority, the misconception that consumer and B2B services can run using the same system is arguably not the case – particularly if incidents of billshock such as the one above aren’t fixed, and trust is lost early on in the business relationship.
That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, however.
As legacy consumer-oriented systems may not have the capabilities and features required to support the niche needs and service packages that small business want, operators can overcome such barriers and get to market quickly by supplementing their existing system ability to support their SME and overall business proposition. This would allow them to provide evidence of billing granularity to SMEs, assure the business processes that IT systems drive and support and certainly steer clear of billshock-type events.
There is also the issue of service having to identify their customers in the first place. The unique profile of SME business customers, in particular the SOHO and micro businesses, means that, for many service providers, their business sits somewhere in between the realms of larger corporates and individual consumers. To that degree, many SME customers may not even be known to the provider.
An opportunity does however exist, for service providers to utilise sophisticated analytics integrated into their BSS environments to harness the wealth of customer data available, across the multiple touch points they have with customers, to ascertain their true status. By doing so, and by identifying small business customers, operators can structure SME packages according to their needs, and therefore provide additional value.
While a billshock-type incident such as this may prove staggering (and make front page news), it underlines the very real reality that CSPs are not targeted enough in the services they offer, and the business processes that the many IT systems across the BSS estate drive are not joined up and operating as required – particularly for the SME segment.