opinion


A design-led approach to billing creates new opportunities for service providers

Bill Contract Tear

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Brendan O’Rouke, Head of Design at BriteBill, explores what CSPs can do to make the billing process more positive for their customers.

With the pace of customer experience now being set outside the communications and media industry, the ability to deliver outstanding experiences is now a moving target. Becoming a top performer, such as Amazon requires service providers to consistently deliver exceptional experiences across all customer satisfaction measures, according to the Institute of Customer Service.

“The top 10 organizations [in terms of customer satisfaction] perform better than other organizations across the full range of customer experience metrics. There is continuing evidence that consistently outperforming the sector average for customer satisfaction is linked to better financial performance.” The Institute of Customer Service, UK Customer Satisfaction Index, July 2018   

The fiercely competitive nature of service providers in mature markets, combined with customers’ increasing propensity to complain or churn, throws down the gauntlet. Service providers need to act fast to address notorious and persistent customer experience blackspots such as billing, in order to deliver the consistency of experience that unlocks loyalty, recommendation, trust, reputation, and ultimately, better financial performance.

 Competition fueling the need for better experiences

The hypercompetitive environment in mature markets, means that service providers are shifting their focus from customer acquisition to customer retention. This requires them to work harder than ever to meet their customers’ expectations and consistently deliver the experience expected.

With four mobile network operators (MNOs) and more than one hundred active mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) in the UK, which collectively support over 13.5 million customers (or one in seven mobile connections), competition has never been fiercer.

MVNOs differentiate themselves and consistently outperform MNOs, not on network quality or coverage but on products, tariffs, offers and the customer experience they provide. For example, Which? Magazine’s annual consumer satisfaction report revealed that customers are increasingly snubbing the big four MNOs in favor of MVNOs such as Utility Warehouse – partly because they’re pocket-friendly, but also due to higher rates of customer satisfaction delivered.

Billing remains a customer experience blackspot

Let’s face it, no-one likes receiving a bill; they can stimulate such negative customer reactions that we’ve even coined terms for these, such as ‘bill-dread’ (fear of high bills that cause customers to alter consumption patterns) and bill shock (the emotional impact of receiving a higher than expected bill). They remain one of the most digitally untransformed areas of experience, and are so boring that many customers have given up reading them.

To deliver greater consistency of experience, service providers are now focused on improving the design of their bills, which according to The Institute of Customer Service is one of the top three areas that service provider customers want improved.

Design-led approach to improving customer communications

Customers perceive bills to be boring, confusing and stressful. Aside from additions and extensions, the service provider bill has changed little since the 1990s. This means the format of many bills are packed with too much information, making it hard for customers to locate and process the information they require. Since these bills are generic, much of the information squeezed into them may not even be relevant to an individual customer. For example, warnings about late payment and the stern tone of a cold demand for payment may seem rude or even insulting to a prompt payer, and does nothing to enhance the relationship.

Bill design shouldn’t be an accidental evolution, but should be carefully planned to achieve the goals of the service provider. Since its job is to subtlety enable information to be more effectively communicated, service providers need to employ a range of design techniques, including:

Aesthetic enhancements

  • Using size, color and weight to create a hierarchy of information that places emphasis on key elements within the bill.
  • Aligning elements on an axis to create a visual connection between them. This prompts eye movement, as well as adding order and stability to bill design.
  • Arranging elements within a given space to ensure there is a comfortable balance. With an equal distribution of weight, the bill design will feel more harmonious and approachable to customers.
  • Repeating visual elements throughout the design such as fonts, weights, lines, colors, icons and images. This creates unity and consistency throughout the bill and customers will automatically come to recognize and expect these patterns.

Transforming customer data
Although aesthetics are great steps towards improving a bill design, there are further techniques to improve the customer bill experience. If you look closely at a customer’s billing information, you can learn a lot about their activity and behaviors. So why not turn this into an engaging interaction? For example:

  • Customers can access an incredibly long list of calls they made over a period of time. Extract and present insightful information, such as:
    • Who was called most frequently
    • Most expensive calls
    • Longest calls
    • Most active call day of the week
    • Three premium numbers dialed, costing USD7.50 for example
  • Let’s say a customer is regularly exceeding their data usage allowance. Why not display a trend graph that spans the past three months, highlighting at what point in each month they exceeded their plan, and what the extra cost is per month? To further inform the customer, this can be used as an opportunity to present add-on options or alternative plans that better suit their behavior.

Functional customer messaging

This is vital to achieving a conclusive billing experience. By introducing contextually relevant messages at key points, you will transform the bill from a generic and impersonal piece of communication to a more personalized experience for each and every customer. This can be as simple as a standard greeting for a long-term customer: ‘Hello Jane, this is your March bill, and everything looks in order. Thank you for being one of our most loyal customers.’ The tone in this case is positive and slightly informal.

Another example would be a more sensitive message, such as a request for an overdue payment. The tone here needs to come across as knowledgeable, formal and to the point. ‘Your account is past due, please pay USD112.00 immediately.’

Throughout the bill, it is imperative to be as pre-emptive as possible. For example, to reduce customer bill shock, why not display key information in a prominent place? This will enable customers to identify excess charges that would normally drive questions to customer care. The first thing the customer should see is a concise explanation of why their bill is higher than expected, such as:

  • ‘You added a service last month, resulting in a partial charge of USD15.00 this month. Please see page 4 for details.’
  • ‘You were charged a late fee of USD13.95. To avoid this charge in the future, please sign up for direct debit at provider.com/direct-debit.’
  • ‘You have high usage charges of USD22.12 this month.’

A design-led approach to billing means always thinking about how your design affects the customer and putting them first. This will result in clearer and more usable bills, and ultimately fewer calls to care. When designed to meet individual needs, the bill is not only a welcome tool for regular communication, it also provides the customer with a window into their relationship with the service provider.

Transforming bills from an experience blackspot into an asset

For many service providers, bills are already an experience blackspot. With the ever-increasing volume and variety of services, experimenting with charging models, and delivering more one-off and personalized offers, the potential for customer confusion is bound to increase. This is where design-led thinking plays an essential role in creating ways to deliver greater depth of information effectively and attractively.

 

Five Tips For Better Bills
  1. Know your customer
    Excellent design begins with understanding your customer. Service providers should know and understand the history they have with each customer, including how long they have been a customer and the services they have purchased over their lifecycle. They should also know and track the usage patterns of each customer. This will enable the service provider to deliver personalized billing content to each and every customer.
  1. Focus on clarity
    If a customer can’t understand a piece of communication or can’t perform a basic action without frustration, then there are failings in the bill design. The design should be simple and clear throughout. It should save the customer time and provide all the answers they need. This is achieved by disclosing more information when needed and not overwhelming the customer with useless content. Some customers will spend 10 seconds reviewing their bill, others will spend up to four to five minutes. The bill design should cater to all.
  1. Remove technical verbiage
    Systems-driven language is typically difficult for customers to decipher and is often perceived as dishonest. If a customer purchases a device from a service provider or signs up for a new service, there is an element of excitement. This feeling is soon replaced by confusion and discontent when they receive a bill with a different product description to what was expected, and in some cases a complex pricing structure that makes no sense. Aligning old legacy terminology and pricing with what’s sold will help deliver on brand promise and keep the customer experience positive.
  1. Don’t allow technology to restrict design
    Design should not be added retrospectively to try and fix outdated billing processes or be force-fitted into existing technology. Instead, the presentation should be at the core of the billing platform. Design should drive questions such as, ‘what other systems or feeds should be integrated?’, or ‘how can we identify or tag this data to display it as we want?’ If the customer experience is the reason behind a bill transformation project, then all areas of the business need to agree on this common goal.
  1. Don’t forget the business needs
    With the bill being the most regular form of customer communication, why not use it to help support the business needs? The bill can easily deliver content from departments such as sales, marketing or legal. It can also be designed to help reduce print costs. More importantly, it can re-enforce the value of what each customer is getting for their monthly charges. In addition to ensuring customers are connected around the clock, service providers are constantly offering promotions and rewards. So why not educate customers on these benefits and affirm why they should remain your customer?

 


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