What Is Sexy Billing?

The term “Sexy Billing” was first coined by Darran Clem of Telesperience (in fact Darran coined the twitter hashtag #sexybilling) in response to this post where Teresa Cottam complains that telecommunications billing wasn’t seen as sexy, but that it should be. At first it just made me laugh. But then I began to think – why was that? I have devoted several years of my life to working on and thinking about billing in telecommunications (and elsewhere) – why would I do that if I didn’t think it was sexy in some respect? What would it mean for billing to be sexy? In fact what does it mean to say that a topic is “sexy”? We don’t mean we are sexually attracted to it (I hope)! Instead, when we say that something like a car is sexy, we mean that it is glamourous, it’s attractive, that when we are involved with it we are filled with a sense of delight. Pondering this, I realised that many of the core aspects of billing aren’t sexy. Those hard issues around rating algorithms, trade-offs between the performance and reliability, processing vast numbers of transactions, integration with the demands of customer relationship management, finance and business intelligence systems are just that – hard, and not intrinsically exciting. However, the experiences that billing gives rise to can be sexy – that is they can be the kind of experiences that customers, management and internal staff want to have and be associated with. Now, they often aren’t sexy – but they could be and should be! So here is my take on what sexy billing might look like.

Sexy billing is first and foremost about delighting your customers. If you delight your customers, then everyone within your organisation will want to be seen with you! Now, no-one is delighted about having to pay a bill, but the experience of being billed and making payments can be made as delightful as possible by attending to some key factors. Firstly the way that products work must be simple and transparent. If the customer understands what they are paying for, how much they are paying for it, and the value they get, then they are more likely to be happy with receiving a bill for it. Secondly, billing must be accurate and timely. If there are no mistakes on the bill then this builds up trust between the service provider and the customer rather than them viewing the arrival of their bill with fear and trepidation. Thirdly, your bill must be clear and available to the customer via their channel of choice. A clearly summarised bill allows a customer who trusts you to avoid having to look at the detail of every phone call and when the details are clearly presented you avoid confusing customers over what they have been billed and why. Delivering bills to a customer via the most channel most convenient to them is always going to make them happier. Lastly, give the customer plenty of payment options so that they can choose the one most convenient for them.

Billing that delights customers also delights marketers! Beyond that, however, marketers and product managers want a rich set of billing capabilities that are flexible: they want a wide range of different billing constructs that are able to be combined to allow them to create those innovative new offers that will differentiate them from the competition. They also want the ability to launch new products and offers in record time. Time to market is crucial in a competitive environment, and when billing is the quickest area in going from concept to market, billing will be seen as sexy. Marketers also want accurate and timely information about the success of their campaigns. The basic measure of success of a service provider’s marketing campaign is revenue. You tell that by looking at how much money customers are spending, and you find that out from your billing systems. Billing that can provide detailed, quality information on customer behaviour quickly will delight your marketing teams.

High quality billing information will also delight executives and senior management. Clear information about what you are billing and how much will allow them to understand their current position and will enable higher quality decision making. They will also be delighted with billing that does not under-bill (thus reducing revenues) or over-bill (thus creating ill-will and perhaps encouraging regulation), and they will definitely be delighted with billing that is cheap to operate!

The last key group that should be delighted with sexy billing are your operations teams. These are the dedicated individuals who keep billing running, who perform all of the billing processes and who support the running of the billing systems. Sexy billing delights the operations teams by being easy to run, reliable and transparent. Operational staff want automation if it adds efficiency, but includes enough flexibility to accommodate different styles of working and the different needs of various business units. They want user interfaces that make their jobs easier, not harder. They want processes and systems that are reliable, repeatable, efficient and effective. They want to be able to implement changes quickly and have operations continue without a hiccup. If you have all of that, then billing will be seen as an attractive place to work and a glamorous one to be associated with.

When we achieve all of this, when billing delights customers, marketers, executives and operations teams, then billing will indeed become sexy. Billing will be the glamorous, attractive guest at the party that people are delighted by and will want to be with. And if this is what sexy billing looks like we are immediately faced with two new questions: why isn’t billing sexy today? And, how do we make billing sexy? Good questions,  and good topics for other posts!

This blog post is a part of the blogfest BOSSfest11 run by Telesperience.

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11 Responses to “What Is Sexy Billing?”

  1. Great post Doug. I think Ashley’s point here is worth re-emphasising. After the initial honeymoon with your new smartphone/ tarrif/ CSP – that’s it. Bills are the customer face and the touchpoint of the organisation so it’s in everyone’s interest that these aren’t a baffling ordeal. Similarly internal operations and marketing departments are key internal customers, but the real customers here are the finance dept. We think it’s got to be the innovative marketing and sales opportunities that sexybilling creates, the chance to really push ARPU that will cause adoption. There are some significant technical hurdles to the implementation of sexybilling (ones we help to address) so we know that there has to be a solid argument for the bottom line. To build on what Teresa says – it must be sexy from a commercial perspective. It’s the personalised, tailored and flexible services that sexbilling enables that will cause CSPs to really re-think how they bill.

  2. Doug – some good points in there. You say “Billing that delights customers also delights marketers”. I would say that it is the marketeers that put the sex into billing – and into the rest of our industry. They should be specifying what is sent to the customer: the billing formats, the flexibility, the colours, the marketing messages but they don’t always understand this responsibility. Billing is the organisation’s face to the market and is therefore the marketeer’s tool – in league with finance, of course.

    • HI Ashley,

      You are absolutely right – marketing teams at CSPs need to realise that billing is a key part of their repertoire. However, in too many cases marketing have given up on billing because the people, processes and systems are too inflexible and can no longer deliver what they want. Billing at most CSPs has to demonstrate that it can now do what marketing wants and regain their trust before marketing will be willing to put the sort of effort in that you are suggesting – and that I want.

      Doug

  3. interestingly, I feel that the point you raised in last para should be the most important aspect when it comes to billing. Billing is more tool for internal customers than external (actual consumers) for a CSP.
    Getting an accurate and clear bill is not a ‘good to have’ but a ‘must have’, hence I might not consider it a part of #sexybilling feature.
    Sexy billing, as you correctly pointed out, should be the one which reduces the load of operations team, allows flexibility to product managers, and is lightening quick.
    Customer is least bothered about how you bill. All he cares is that he should get correct and neat bill. Payment options, delivery of bill, etc are not part of billing but are your customer touch points which might be more suitable to be handled by CRM and other 3rd party relationships.

    • Hi Deepesh,

      Firstly I think of billing as an area of capability, not as a technical system, and that may account for our difference in opinion. Billing for me is anything that touches or manages customer accounting. And Billing involves people, processes, information and technology. So parts of billing may be implemented in CRM systems, or they may be outsourced, but they are nonetheless billing under this wider definition. I also think that you underestimate how many places customers interact with billing. In real time converged billing customers interact with billing everytime they make a phone call or use any service. If you aren’t correctly managing a customer’s balance, or a product’s pricing then you may deny service or incorrectly charge a customer. Bill presentation these days is so much more than printing and distributing a bill – it may involve real time queries on balances or rated usage displayed over a range of different channels (IVR, SMS, web, email). In addition I think that the fact of the matter is that many CSPs do not see clear bills as a must have – we can judge this by the fact that they do not currently issue clear bills today. Looked at from both the wider perspective and from a narrowly technical one, I beleive that there are many custoemr touchpoints that are billing.

  4. Nice post Doug, a good rounded view of what billing needs to be. One quick example of #sexybilling from my personal experience would be that of the Oystercard ticket system on the London Underground. The ability to “Auto top-up” when the Oystercard is below a certain threshold is brilliant. I still see many people queueing up at the ticket machines to recharge their Oystercards and wonder why they go through the hassle. Auto top-up is so simple, but also so effective and is a great example of using technology to solve a real customer problem – in this case saving time when commuting to work.

    • Thanks Dominic. The “Auto top-up” is a great example of sexy billing for a number of reasons. It is a way of using a payment mechanism that generates additional revenue, while making your customers happy! But it also illustrates the value of trust as part of the billing relationship – you trust that you will be billed correctly, that you don’t need to check it each time to see that you aren’t paying too much, you trust how much you are paying overall, and you receive the right amount of value to be happy with parting with the money automatically.

  5. Doug – thanks for this. I think an important point is that #sexybilling has to be “sexy” from the customer’s point of view. All too often we see business models, offers and technology that CSPs believe to be “sexy” (ie they may be technically complex) but are meaningless or offer little added value to customers. An example of this is per-second billing, which I blogged about some time ago.(see http://www.microsperience.com/?p=3870) Vendors are pushing it, regulators may mandate it, technologists may seek to support it, but few asked the question whether it delivered real value to customers – were they delighted by it? In fact it’s the classic cost-benefit analysis story.

    To my mind per-second billing misses the point. What customers actually want is cheaper prices and clear offers, and per-second billing is seen by them purely as a mechanism for achieving this when prices for a particular service are high. Reducing the per-minute price would have much the same effect without the need for the upheaval and cost of having to implement new billing software.

    So the crux of this is that what’s “sexy” from a technical perspective isn’t necessarily “sexy” from a customer or commercial perspective. Your points though about flexibility and ease-of-use when it comes to billing are very important. I believe “changeability” is a key attribute of #sexybilling in future. Offers and products will need to be far less static – refreshed regularly, and eventually even made contextual and far more personalised. This is where many billing systems will struggle to cope. Is your billing system truly able to be “driven” by marketing – such that minimal technical effort is required to refresh an offer or rollout a new one? Can you really support personalised offers, products and tariffing? Can you refresh these regularly? Contextually?

    In fact when you start to think about it, there’s so much to talk about and do with regards to #sexybilling that it’ll keep us all busy for many years to come. What we have to ensure though is that the IT “horse” is empowering but not driving (or constraining) the business, and that IT and the business work together to keep the “cart” full of lovely customers and cash.

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