Remembering the Human Side of Billing

Talk of billions of dollars of leakages can lead us to forget that customers are human beings, that some of them make innocent mistakes, and that telcos make mistakes too. A recent story in the Somerset County Gazette, a small local newspaper in England, serves as a reminder that we should avoid being insensitive when chasing customers for payment. 90-year-old Peggy Smith told the newspaper that BT had threatened to disconnect her over the late payment of a bill she had already settled.

Mrs Smith, of Norton Fitzwarren, told the County Gazette it was the second time this year there had been confusion over her bill payment…

“BT have worried me to death. The first time it happened, I’d just come out of hospital. When they did it again I was crying my eyes out.”

It seems this elderly customer has long believed in paying her way.

“I’ve never been in debt in my life. That’s why it was so upsetting. The day I got married, my father said to me, ‘If you haven’t got any sugar, don’t ask anyone for it – go without. Don’t buy something until you’ve got the money to pay for it’.”

BT subsequently apologized for the anxiety they had caused. They explained that they continued to chase Mrs. Smith because her automated payment had not been credited to her account because it had been made through an “incorrect route”. Her account was updated when the payment was finally identified.

In this situation BT received the money that was owed to them; they simply failed to match the payment to the correct customer account. Vulnerable customers, like the elderly, need to be treated appropriately. When we think about gathering customer data and using analytics to improve a telco’s profitability, consideration should also be given to tailoring the messages we give to customers based on an understanding of their age and personal circumstances.

You read the Somerset County Gazette’s story about Mrs. Smith by clicking here.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.