Today's VoIP (define - news -alerts) market is enjoying levels of success that we haven't seen since the latter 1990's. VoIP's resurgence has made it one of the fastest growing sectors of the technology landscape, and through the marketing efforts of companies like Vonage and Packet8, it's fair to say that VoIP is hitting the mainstream.
Among the more unsung areas surrounding this technology is VoIP billing. Largely a behind the scenes practice, VoIP billing is assuming an increasingly important role as providers move away from offering all-you-can-eat bundles of minutes, to billing per transaction and billing for a plethora of new services that are being offered. And, as further advances and adoption of this technology come to fruition we will see heretofore untold new services and applications, with the concomitant need to bill for them.
I posed several questions to our friends at Convergys, a global provider of customer care, human resources, and billing services, and the subject matter experts there obliged me with some very thoughtful and insightful comments regarding the state of the market, the challenges companies and providers face when considering their billing needs, and the differences between traditional billing versus IP billing. The responses offer some good advice for providers and enterprises looking at this segment of the market.
What is the market opportunity for VoIP billing?
Voice over IP is a very active topic of conversation we have with our clients and our active deployments continue to show strong subscriber growth. Early market interest showed success from VoIP-only players.
This was accelerated over the past 18 months as cable providers moved in to provide VoIP as a key strategic element of their product offerings enabling them to solidify relationships and expand walletshare with existing customers. With the aggressive rollout and success of VoIP by cable providers, the RBOC market has begun to move into the space as well.
Whether leveraged together with traditional communication service offerings in a bundle or anchoring a platform for launching new, innovative IP-based solutions, VoIP has become a foundational service in the increasingly competitive communications market.
What are some of the challenges that need to be overcome?
Don't underestimate the complex telephone regulatory issues. It is nothing like the video and data markets. Get educated quickly and set a strategy to stay on top of pending changes.
Invest in enhanced customer service tools that assist the CSRs in answering the new voice service related support questions, as well as the added complexity associated with expanding bundles.
Introduce a robust self-care offering that enables the end users to self manage their account from the initial order to ongoing changes and account maintenance.
Eliminate all potential barriers for consumers to switch to your VoIP offering. For example, make the telephone number porting as automated and painless as possible.
Focus on creating product differentiation in your voice offering, not just price. Specifically, look at ways to converge all the products in your bundle. This could include integrations such as caller ID on the television.
Realize that customers don't care what technology is delivering the voice service. Focus on providing reliable service with the features and functions that customers want.
Recognize that a single bill is a key element for bundling voice with legacy offering and new services. Consumers are increasingly demanding a single bill.
VoIP is a key element of bundling, therefore it is imperative to keep the following in mind:
Any errors in pricing, billing, customer care, and the like, will have a negative long-term effect on the success of a provider's voice offering and overall ability to expand its menu of converged service bundles.
Today, as many operators introduce new service bundles, they patch new processes and systems into their existing operational architecture, often relying heavily on manual intervention to accomplish convergence.
This approach causes rework, drives up operating costs, and delays time-to-market, for a number of reasons:
a. Disparate processes often cannot be automated, increasing the need for manual intervention, increasing time required to provision services, and the likelihood of error.
b. Disparate systems interfaces lead to order fallout and mediation errors, accounting for up to 65% of an operator's revenue leakage problem, itself conservatively estimated at anywhere from 5% to 11% of total potential operator revenue in studies conducted by the world's leading telecom consulting companies.
c. Multiple back-end systems require multiple front-end systems it is not uncommon for a customer service representative to have more than 20 applications installed on their desktop, using 10-15 of them at any one time driving the need for more highly trained, highly skilled CSRs subject to a higher rate of staff turnover.
d. Multiple BSS systems raise risk, with more vendor relationships to manage, more points of failure, and longer down time, in an era where maintenance costs are high and associated labor costs are escalating.
What should these decision makers ask for when considering a new billing solution?
They should use the introduction of IP services as a catalyst to upgrade their BSS and OSS to convergent platforms that can support the rapid introduction of new services through configuration not customization. They should not wait until their legacy environments can no longer handle the scalability, reliability, billing, rating, and service management requirements. They should look for a modular system that allows a pain-free evolution for the BSS environment towards a convergent, real-time environment at their own pace with minimal risk. IT
Greg Galitzine is editorial director of Internet Telephony magazine and the newly launched IMS Magazine.