You would have thought that telcos would have solved their billing issues by now. After all, it was over 20 years ago when competition was hotting up, and most telcos swapped legacy billing systems for something a little more modern than the dear old mainframe.
The most recent blunder was unearthed in the UK, where O2 has been fined £10.5 million ($14.5 million) for overcharging a quarter of a million customers who were leaving O2. The billing system, for some reason, charged these customers twice for some of the final charges.
The shocker with the O2 billing blunder was that the fault was known back in 2011 and the reason that the eventual fine was so large was because it took so long to fix. It also shows that some regulators are prepared to be harsh, and rightly so.
Billing blunders are not new, of course, and everyone accepts that billing is not easy. Billions of dollars have been invested in upgrading or replacing billing systems in the last 20 years. Many telcos (but not enough) have acknowledged the vital role a billing system plays in customer service and sales.
O2 is not alone in getting things wrong. Search for ‘billing woes’ or similar and you will be presented with a wide range of horror stories.
A favourite has to be from 2019, when Telstra decided to charge a lady in Bunbury WA over AU$450,000, instead of her usual $400. Obviously, the customer complained, via the local store, and things were looking to be put right when her next bill turned up and Telstra’s system had added her usual $400 to the unpaid $450,000.
She was quite upset.
Telstra has an interesting history with billing and several years ago stopped its practice of billing on behalf of others, much to the ire of some of the ‘others.’ In fact, Telstra once won an informal competition for running the largest number of systems on the planet, in a classic case of buying a new system whenever they launched a new product. It was, at the time, a reasonable thing to do as it saved large amounts of time and did not risk adversely affecting other systems and products. That said, Australian telcos have come out well in the pandemic, having offered financial relief to thousands of households and small businesses.
It is interesting, now that we are firmly in the subscription economy, that telcos have not done away with complex billing (some have, of course). The costs are far lower, the risks are lower and while rating must still happen, the benefits must outweigh the risks.
The fact that complex billing is still a ‘thing’ proves that billing systems are still very much at the heart of a telco’s competitive edge.
As such, investment will doubtless continue and stories of billing blunders will amuse us for years to come.