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The First Step To E-Care: EBPP


Successful telecommunications service providers understand that profitability is a delicate balance of managing costs and giving customers what they want. As Internet protocol (IP) services become increasingly popular, they are forcing service providers to analyze costs and determine what Internet-dependent customers expect from their customer care. Not surprisingly, these customers increasingly expect immediate, round-the-clock care with instant access to their account information.

 As a way to meet these customer expectations for immediate account access and 24-hour care while reducing costs, service providers are beginning to embrace electronic bill presentment and payment (EBPP). EBPP systems allow service providers to deliver customer billing information via the Internet. They also enable customers to pay bills electronically, access their account information and schedule automatic payments.

Moreover, deploying an EBPP system is the first step toward providing an e-business solution, a fully self-service-driven, Web-based customer care model that service providers will need to be competitive as customer expectations increase. E-care will provide faster, better customer care by offering a series of customer-centric features including: all of the components of today's EBPP applications; complete online support for searchable product catalogs; ordering and checking status of products and services; adding and updating account information; and problem initiation and resolution.

A Win-Win For Customers And Service Providers
Cost Savings
Service providers deploying EBPP applications can expect to save up to $8 billion in 2001, according to Killen & Associates, a California-based e-business research and consulting firm. Forrester Research estimates that every customer call that a call center handles costs about $25.

Paper-based billing costs as much as $2 per residential customer per month, and can be as high as hundreds of dollars for corporate customers. With some estimates for producing and processing electronic bills hovering at a mere 40 cents, service providers will have to deploy an effective EBPP solution to stay competitive. Otherwise, they will spend capital on paper-based billing while their competitors focus resources on product delivery and customer retention strategies.

Personalized And Convenient Billing
While EBPP empowers customers toward self-care, it also provides the ability for service providers to deliver a more personalized message to the customer. Based on the content of the electronic bill (such as geographic location, services purchased, total charges) a service provider can alter the look of the online bill and include targeted messages or advertising. This is a compelling driver for using this technology to enhance personalization of the customer interaction and to generate additional revenue for service providers.

While empowering customers with control over their account information is essential for widespread EBPP acceptance, EBPP systems provide other benefits that allow customers to:

  • Organize how they receive, store and pay bills, including automatic payment scheduling;
  • Extract billing data and load into Excel or Quicken to study usage patterns and track costs;
  • Validate payment with an electronic audit trail.

Service Models
Biller Direct
The biller direct model establishes electronic billing capabilities on a service provider's own Web site and provides customers with their billing information and bill payment capabilities directly from the site. This model strengthens service provider's relationships with customers and maintains control over its customer information. This model is simple to manage and provides strong branding opportunities. However, it could eventually face limited market acceptance because it forces customers to access multiple sites to pay their bills.

The consolidator model relies on a central consolidator site to present charges from multiple billers and provides customers with a single site for viewing and paying bills. This model has two subsets: thick and thin consolidation.

Thick Consolidator: In the thick consolidator model, service providers provide both summary and detailed customer billing information to the consolidator. By doing so, service providers give up control over an important, recurring customer interaction and surrender valuable detailed customer information. This model will also face challenges to market acceptance based on limited acceptance of definitive standards for posting billing details.

Thin Consolidator: Service providers using the thin consolidator model only provide consolidators with a customer's summary billing information. The thin model safeguards detailed customer data, but customers may experience inconsistent customer care because the consolidator's Web site may look different than the service provider's site. This model, which has seen preliminary adoption of standards for posting information, stands the best chance for widespread EBPP market acceptance.

Regardless of the model service providers choose, the key elements they should look for in an EBPP system are:

  • Data extraction and storage -- allows providers to extract data from billing records and store it for bill presentment;
  • Composition/content reformatting -- enables providers to generate personalized electronic bills that contain targeted marketing information;
  • Management and tracking -- allows service providers to track logon time, bill retrieval history and other information for targeted marketing;
  • CSR information integration -- provides CSRs with the most updated version of the electronic bill and the customer's most recent retrieval activity in case a customer calls with an inquiry;
  • Consolidator integration -- enables providers to deliver billing information to consolidators using defined standards.

Part Of The E-Care Strategy
In addition to delivering improved customer service and reducing costs, an EBPP system with these features enables service providers to become more competitive in the market because it has taken another step toward providing e-care, the Web-based approach to customer care that will boost customer satisfaction and reduce churn. Those service providers that can provide customers with this type of care that empowers them to take more control over their relationship with their telco or ISP will enjoy the most market success. An effective e-care strategy includes these capabilities:

  • EBPP;
  • Self care -- enables customers to perform on-demand customer care via the service provider's Web site for such actions as reviewing new product information, pursuing self diagnostics, reporting trouble and changing account details;
  • Self ordering -- allows customers to order new products through the service provider's Web site at their convenience;
  • Self provisioning -- allows service providers to automatically link a customer's order through the Web site to the backend systems which will complete the provisioning for the order;
  • Personalization -- enables service providers to deliver personalized marketing messages during a customer's transaction on the site to ensure a targeted selling experience;
  • Guided selling - allows service providers to use their Web sites to guide customers toward purchasing the right products that suit their needs.

To deliver this level of e-care, service providers will need a convergent customer care and billing system with an architecture that can support e-care functions. The architecture must have:

  • Extensible application programming interfaces (APIs) or EAI connectors that enable tight integration between the customer care and billing engine and a service provider's legacy or new customer relationship management (CRM) system;
  • Customer-centric workflow capabilities integrated with billing applications to facilitate a single view of a service provider's customers, products and network;
  • Real-time capabilities that will better handle Web-based applications in an e-care environment;
  • A rules-based engine that allows service providers to implement new marketing strategies based on information gleaned from customer interactions on the site faster than with a table-driven system.

Today's telecommunications customer has become increasingly Internet savvy, and consequently, more demanding about instant access to account information and flexible customer care options. To retain customers, service providers will need to deploy EBPP systems that give customers more timely access and increased control over billing information. At the same time, these systems will lay the groundwork for offering e-care that will reduce costs, empower customers and make service providers more competitive.

Randy Schultz  is a product manager of Third Party Applications at ADC Software Systems Division. ADC Telecommunications, Inc. is a global supplier of broadband, multiservice networks providing network equipment, software solutions and integration services for voice, video and data communications over telephone, cable television, Internet, broadcast, wireless and private networks.  For additional information, visit our Web site at www.adc.com.

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