Here's a common complaint we hear: "I never get an accurate WAN bill from my carrier". If you’re groaning in recognition, you won’t be alone. Billing is one of the most prevalent and divisive complaints we hear about carriers
How many ways can you get a bill wrong?
We did a quick poll in the office and came up with a number of common problems, do let us know if you come up with others!
So, without further ado, read on to find out how to reduce costly errors on your WAN bill...
- The circuit inventory is wrong: ceased circuits still appearing and new ones appearing twice!
- Underlying prices are wrongly recorded.
- Discounts are not applied correctly.
- Circuits are billed before they are installed.
- Circuits are billed with the wrong start date.
- Service credits have not been applied (e.g. Following an SLA breach).
- Billing issues are addressed manually by fixing the bill but not the root cause, so the next bill is incorrect with the same errors.
- Billing queries are not resolved quickly, and drag on for months if not years.
- Parts of multi-part bills (eg the telephone line for a DSL circuit) are sent to different addresses. This then leads to non-payment, a surprise termination of the line and a break in service!
- Ceases are not actioned quickly because they’re not seen as an important order.
And the big one:
- The onus is on the customer to prove the bill is incorrect.
So, how do things go wrong?
A common problem is that the carrier has multiple systems for ordering, provisioning, engineering and billing. Most of these are standalone or have limited integration. They are often out dated and in need of replacement. Some of us here worked at a carrier with a billing system that was over 15 years old and had survived several attempts to replace it with a modern system. Information had to be input manually from paper records so it is no surprise that their bills were consistently wrong.
Sometimes the process is poorly designed. Perhaps it’s old, poorly written, written by someone who didn’t really understand the product, written for different, less complex products. Sometimes the process is poorly executed. Perhaps the sales specialist got something wrong and nobody stepped in to correct things.
To lose one circuit may be regarded as a misfortune…
Billing anomalies can arise when your carrier is not actually all that sure how many circuits you have, nor how many changes you’ve made to your network. This may surprise you if you haven’t experienced change control. We know of one service where change request records weren’t routinely added into the inventory, leading eventually to a massive operation to reconstruct the inventory and requests to customers to confirm what they had. We once heard from a carrier who couldn’t find all their contracts, let alone all their circuits.
Too big to care
This may seem unlikely, but in large organisations you can find that the individuals care but the collective can’t quite create the end result they’d like. Big companies tend to make people highly functionalised, looking after a small part of a bigger process. They tend to be far-removed from each other (often in different countries), and from the customer. They can be running old processes and lack the empowerment to step out of them. This makes it hard to see the bigger picture, hard to fix underlying issues or generally to be responsive. “Computer Says No”.
How can you reduce the errors and reduce the impact of those errors?
You might not stop the hassle, but you can do a lot to get on the front foot, not to mention to avoid over-paying. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Always check bills as they come in. Check pricing against your contract.
Check discount levels due to you.
Compare the current bill with the previous one to check for variations.
Go back over past bills. Look out for circuits that have been ceased but are still billing.
Make a list of SLAs, Service Level Guarantees and payments and make a point of checking whether any payments are due to you.
If you are unsure about a charge, highlight it immediately and ask them to put the bill on hold until the issue is rectified.
If your carrier says “No, we’ve checked it and it’s right”, don’t assume that they’ve checked it and it’s right. Bobby in Billing might have looked it up on the same system that got it wrong and simply taken comfort that it was still saying the same thing. If you’re still not happy, make some noise and ask for proof.
Ask your carrier to send you a copy of your contracts and your inventory. They should know this but they might not. They’ll be hard pressed to justify an erroneous bill if they can’t even confirm what you have from them.
If your bill is wrong by more than 5%, don’t accept a proposal that you pay the bill now and they’ll issue a credit note against the next bill. Otherwise you’ll be left to reconcile it next month when it’s no longer fresh in your mind, the credit note might not arrive on time, and the problem will probably arise again leaving you with a further credit note the following month.
Insist on them giving you a credit note before you pay. That way you can pay the net amount now and be all square ready for next month’s fun. We have heard of customers who didn’t pay for years because a carrier couldn’t get the bill right.
Create a database of your inventory.Make sure you include all of your voice and data circuits, cellular SIMs, hardware, management services etc.
Link each circuit to sites, staff, cost centres, and to service start and end dates. This will make it much easier to check your bill.
Maintain your own change-control list – for example, circuits added, changed or ceased, and the dates they were actioned.
While you’re doing all this, you might feel you should do a more general check that you couldn’t get better prices from your carrier – or perhaps from the open market.
Circuit prices regularly fall, so if you’ve had your network for some time then you may get better prices from a new network. Ask for new circuit prices as a litmus test.
Check back to see whether older circuits could perhaps be cheaper following the 21CN migration that was conducted by BT recently. Were the 21CN cost reductions all passed on to you? Again, ask for new prices as a litmus test.
Do you still need that expensive MPLS network? Perhaps many of your apps are web delivered. Perhaps some sites are adequately served by internet circuits, in which case a hybrid network may be more appropriate for you.
Perhaps it’s worth setting up a network cost review. We’ve seen reductions in annual rental between 15 and 40% from such exercises.
- Perhaps it's worth taking an IT Managed Service that will manage your carrier for you... Find out how we transformed our business in our quest to be the best managed network provider.