Tales from the backend: more evidence that billing is getting worse

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There is a sentiment out there that says billing is boring. There is also a sentiment out there that says that when things go wrong, they become interesting again. So it is with billing.

Recently we saw a frankly shocking report that billing is in a terrible mess, with some operators having over 1,000 billing systems and making a complete porridge of consolidating them.

It is so tempting, then, to talk about the cockups.

There is an operator in Southeast Asia that no-one seems to know much about that stopped a major billing/IT/everything transformation when the bill got to about €900 million ($968 million). It was never going to work, so they basically just ditched it.

Or take British Gas. The boss of a small company was convinced that they were being overcharged for gas. The billing was erratic and made little sense. Eventually British Gas decided to install another meter to monitor the first meter to see what was going wrong. Then, of course, (you can see where this is going) that august company started sending out bills that were double what the company was expecting – because they were billing the usage from both meters.

After a short and – if you knew the boss of the small company – frankly one-sided argument, British Gas admitted they owed the company around £30,000.

A small company, a big bill, a lot of hassle. Not acceptable. And multiply that kind of incompetence by – well, let’s use British Gas’ billing system – say 80,000, and you have a pretty grubby situation.

And just because it is fun to “out” billing blunders among operators and gas companies, take banks.

Consistently inconsistent in their billing, the security processes of banks nowadays is a complete joke. A story from a few days ago will amuse and exhaust you in equal measure.

A very rich man was a customer with a very small bank that specialized in looking after very rich people. Sadly the bank was taken over, and gradually had to implement all that new, messy, fussy Know Your Customer stuff that annoys, well, everyone. Even though the very rich man’s personal banker knew him personally – they went out to lunch twice a year – he had to suffer the embarrassment of the KYC process.

One day he rang the now slightly larger and more institutionalized bank (before he had the personal banker’s direct line) and was asked – amongst other things – for the 11thcharacter of his password. He said his password did not have 11 characters. A short and heated conversation ensued at the end of which he said the bank should ring him back on the number they had on file. The bank person said that would not make much difference as he would still be asked for the 11th character of his password.

He went down the road to another small bank and moved everything to them. Everything.

Across the board, it seems that the processes that we were beginning to think might be getting better are still deeply, deeply flawed.

And while it is amusing to tell the tales, every time we do, that great asset – trust – is seeping away.

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