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    3G bill management


    Andy Wilson, sales and marketing director, Ryder Systems, says that businesses are key to the success of 3G, and the key to getting businesses to adopt 3G services lies in providing flexible billing solutions.

    The most recent statistics show that despite being one of the strongest mobile markets in Europe, at the end of 2003 the UK had only 216,000 users of 3G — a figure far below predicted levels of usage when the service originally launched. At first glance it also appears that operators in some countries have already begun to doubt the value of the technology. In Norway recently, only one mobile operator made a bid for the two 3G licences that were up for grabs. These facts seem somewhat in contrast with the possibilities that 3G offers.

    Today, the majority of 3G handset owners are non-business users, despite there being little doubt that the potential for 3G use by the business community is huge. With live, person-to-person video links, cheap high-speed data links and enhanced direct-to-handset email facilities, 3G seems the ideal solution for mobile workers. With IDC predicting that 50% of the workforce in Western Europe will be mobile by 2007, this potential can only increase. However, coverage issues and a lack of application providers have hindered the take up of 3G in the business arena.

    Addressing misuse

    Another reason that has been cited by companies for avoiding the technology is the worry over the possibility of escalating costs and the potential for fraud and misuse, with employees tempted to download the latest film clips to their company mobiles. For 3G to make headway into the SME and corporate space, telcos need to address these perceived limitations. One way that confidence can be increased is by providing companies with clear details of how they will be charged for using the services. Offering a comprehensive bill management solution in conjunction with 3G is an effective way of overcoming one of the main reservations that many businesses have for adopting the technology.
    With the introduction of 2.5 and 3G, the mobile bill is no longer a simple list of voice calls and tariff charges, but now includes information, entertainment and additional communication services such as downloaded ring-tones, games, premium text services, video clips and even football highlights. As the information received via the bill becomes more complex, business customers are demanding that their Telcos provide them with the tools, via an appropriate bill management solution, to analyse the information accurately and process it within their internal accounting systems more effectively.

    Companies need to know who is spending what in order to keep a lid on both expenses and potential abuse. In Western Europe the mobile games market alone is set for a more than ten-fold increase, growing from EUR 0.2 billion in 2002 to EUR 3 billion in 2008. With java games costing £5-10 each, it is clear to see why Telecommunications Managers and Financial Controllers would like user friendly bill management tools that give them confidence that the costs incurred on the business’s 3G handsets are accountable. A good bill management solution will also provide the ability to display unbilled activities — transactions made between the last bill received and before the next bill is issued — which gives users a summary of their spend to date and the ability to optimise usage of tariffs. It also drives traffic to the telco’s website.
    f companies are supplied with first-rate bill management when they sign up to 3G, evaluation of their monthly spend can be made simple through tools that analyse bills, customise reports, forecast costs and facilitate month-on-month comparisons. These tools can pick out the key information that is required by the business to process the bill efficiently.

    Bill management software also helps businesses identify potential fraud by highlighting handsets that are downloading the latest music videos, for example, so that they can address this activity with employees, either through introducing controls or through recharging staff for personal use. A bill management solution can make it simple for a business to identify non-business calls and automate the recharging process: a feature that will prove essential with the introduction of 3G and one that can actually encourage broader use of the service. Many employees will not see the need for a second, personal mobile phone if their business phone offers the latest technology and they can make as many personal ‘calls’ as required as they will be recharged for them.

    Reward and retain

    Using bill management software, handset users log on to a password protected area of their telco’s website to view their latest bill statement or can view their bill data on CD. An overview of each individual’s phone activity including cost summary, call type and trend analysis will be displayed.

    Analytical tools enable the user to drill down into the data to uncover the reasons for changes in call costs or identify if a particular tariff or price plan is being used correctly. If a user receives 50 free video calls per month on their current tariff but are regularly making 80 video calls per month, this can be identified easily by either the Telco or customer and an upgrade to a higher tariff that includes 100 free video calls a month can be arranged. This benefits the customer and telco equally. The customer gets better value for money and the telco has a satisfied customer who has been upgraded to a higher standing charge each month. Telcos have, in recent years, used these additional bill management services to help reward and retain their mobile business clients with great success. In fact, the provision of these additional services have been such a success that at a recent seminar a spokesman from one of the largest telcos in the UK stated categorically that over 70% of their customer win-back in one sector was due to the provision of bill management solutions. The result was over £50 million worth of new revenue. With success in the telecommunications sector proven, offering additional bill management services with 3G could help remove any final reservations with the technology and have a similar, positive effect.

    The benefits of using bill management are not solely aimed at the business customer. Telcos and their content providers can also use the same analysis tools in order to evaluate customer usage patterns. Data provided by the solution can help inform product development teams of how the service is being utilised. At this early stage of 3G’s development, this data could be vital to the technology’s success. Armed with the same data, sales and customer service teams can manage a customer relationship more effectively by perhaps informing them of a different tariff or service that is perhaps more suited to their requirements, thus increasing potential revenues per customer.

    Reducing debtor days

    In addition, a bill management solution can help reduce costs for the telco. The average SME business frequently receives over 100 pages for their itemised telecoms bill every month, with large businesses often receiving 1000’s of pages. Electronic or online bill management cannot only help users understand the bill, but can reduce the use of paper by 90%. This reduction in waste is welcomed by many environmentally minded business customers and has a significant impact on postage and administration costs for the Telco.

    Providing the information in the format that the customer needs means that there are fewer queries generated from the bill. A simple management report that highlights trends and summarises usage and spend can be offered to individuals who do not require dynamic reporting. Telecommunications Managers can be given more detailed reports that allow for further analysis of data to produce reports and identify and allocate expenditure to departments. This reduces the need for customers to call customer services. One telco reported a 10% reduction in debtor days as a result of implementing bill management solutions as customers understood the bill easily and therefore paid promptly. With fewer queries to deal with, call centre staff are also freed to focus on customer retention or revenue generating activities.

    Another area where a telco can generate profit is through personalised, targeted marketing. The bill summary is often the most frequent form of contact with a customer and this contact can be exploited to create potential profit opportunities. Online bill management can be seamlessly integrated with a telco’s web portal. The monthly bill draws traffic to the website and is the ideal medium for introducing new products or services that can be targeted to an individual handset user’s call pattern – offering true one-to-one marketing. One telco we spoke to recently, reported a response rate of greater than 15% for targeted marketing messages delivered through their bill management solution.

    Identify usage changes

    Looking to the future, as 3G becomes more widely used by the business community, bill management solutions can help the telco identify changing patterns of usage that can often occur before a customer ‘churns’. If these trends are identified and acted upon, the necessary steps can be made to prevent the customer leaving, thus providing first class service and improving customer relationships. As the bill management solution enhances the customer’s experience of dealing with a particular telco they become less likely to switch supplier and opt to stay with the supplier that is meeting and anticipating their needs.

    3G can only really fulfil its potential when the business community begins to embrace the technology wholeheartedly, and this will only happen when they have confidence in how they will be charged for using the technology. 3G needs to be offered to businesses in tandem with bill management solutions that deliver the analysis that this community needs.

    As bill management solutions enhance the business community’s trust in 3G technology, SMEs and corporate companies will be more confident in embracing it to take advantage of the possibilities that it offers. Telcos will also reap the benefits from the vast amount of valuable customer information and cost savings that these solutions provide.