Part 3: Billing - The Achilles Heel of the VoIP Industry

Posted by Jason Tapolci on March 20, 2013 at 7:14 AM
Jason Tapolci

Vi Guy2In part 3 of this VoIP Innovations 3-part series, we are going to analyze a segment of BackOffice support where most providers fail. In the first two parts of this series, we learned that provisioning is a two-step process that involves offering quick and painless services, while also having a compelling marketing message and solid sales people. Provisioning is what can get your foot in the door but part 2 explained how “WOW” service support gets you invited in. So what’s the last piece to this puzzle? After trial and error, we’ve figured out that billing is that final step a company would need to get invited back into the customers’ home.

Customers leave a company for all types of reasons, but one of the most common results from billing issues. The abilities to invoice your customers accurately and on-time, are table stakes and it’s something you must do well in order to even start the game. Unfortunately, the telecommunications industry is very complicated when it comes to service billing and there are tons of different factors that go into it. You first need to have a scalable billing system that can bill millions of origination and termination minutes per month. You then need to focus on billing CDRs (call data records), MRCs (monthly recurring costs), and NRC’s (no-recurring costs), which can also be tricky. It doesn’t stop there because you also have to manage databases, scripts, processes, late payers, shutoffs, and disputes. This is where things start to get more complex and where most providers will fail. At VoIP Innovations, we’ve uncovered four elements that are necessary to focus on when building a solid billing platform for your company. They are processes, accuracy, reporting, and transparency.

The ability to build solid processes and bill accurately, is a must have when competing in the telecommunications market. There’s an old saying that claims, “routine will set you free." When talking about billing, we like to say “process will set you free”. If you really want to build a scalable business, the key is to have well defined processes and accountability while taking the time to develop and document these processes as well. This is another example of having to go slow in order to go fast, as we mentioned in Part 2 of this series.

At VoIP Innovations we have defined processes for just about every aspect of our billing system. These processes go anywhere from payments, credits, disputes, cancelations, to simply answering questions. Each process you have should be assigned to a single person (or group) so there is one party held accountable for managing that process. In our office, if we find out a process becomes broken or obsolete, we simply sit down, update the process, and retrain our staff.

Once you have a system set up to better manage billing processes, you have to take a look at the accuracy of your billing. As we mentioned earlier, there are millions of origination and termination minutes that need to be billed to customers each month. It’s easy for a company to say “we will bill you on time and accurately.” It’s a completely different ball game to actually follow through with that kind of promise. Companies who make this assumption right off the bat might as well promise that their services will work perfectly every time too.

Processes and accuracy are key to successful billing but what sets you apart from your competition is complete transparency and robust reporting and making your customers lives easier, not harder, will make them more loyal. Customer’s need instant access to key billing metrics such as service usage, CDRs, transactions, pricing, pre-paid balance, and monthly minimums, just to name a few. Providing this type of transparency allows your customers to have confidence in your billing abilities. A good example of account transparency can been seen in our VoIP innovations BackOffice billing dashboard. It is designed to provide real-time access to your accounts key performance billing indicators.

Billing Dashboard Click to enlarge

Robust reporting is an important billing differentiator because managing vendor costs on a daily basis is key to avoiding unwanted billing surprises. Most companies manage their vendor costs at the end of every month, which could prove to be a risky game. Due to too much volatility and too many surcharges, most companies can’t afford to lose track during the month. Choosing a provider with insightful reporting will enable you to manage your costs daily which reduces any end of month unwanted billing surprises. Recently we’ve created a “My DID Groups” function in our BackOffice that takes reporting to the next level by giving resellers the ability to organize DIDs into specific groups. Each group provides a wealth of cost and revenue information on all services associated with a particular DID. With this function, resellers can even view which groups are profitable and which groups are not, ultimately making their lives easier.

To summarize, billing is a key component to your overall service offerings. It can be your competitive advantage or it could be the reason you lose your customers, the choice is yours. Providing accurate billing is a table stake, so don’t brag that you will bill accurately and on-time because there can never be a guarantee for this. You must take time to develop and document processes because those are key to creating a scalable and repeatable billing structure. Lastly, adding creative and useful account transparency along with robust, easy to interpret reporting, will set you apart from your competition, giving you that unbeatable edge that any company would need to be on top.

Jason Tapolci is President of VoIP Innovations, an Inc. 5000 company. They specialize in providing the largest DID and termination VoIP footprints in North America. Their network includes over 500,000 DIDs in stock in over 8,500 rate centers in the US and Canada. Recently, VoIP Innovations expanded their footprint to include DIDs in over 60 countries and now offers A-Z termination. VoIP Innovations is owned by ABG Capital and is based in Pittsburgh, PA. To learn more about VoIP Innovations, visit their website at http://www.VoIPInnovations.com.

Tags: Entrepreneurship, Telecom

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