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Billing: A Necessary Evil or a Business Helper?

September 30, 2013 by Esmeralda Swartz, CMO

necessary evil- blog   Apparently, some people don’t like billing systems much. “Billing systems are boring, complicated and unhelpful.” We might need a billing system, those people say, but we don’t need to like it.

Yet people do actually like to get money for the services they sell. They think it’s important to be remunerated for the products and services they deliver to their customers. They welcome the revenue that flows in from a billing process that matches deliverables to customers and ensures that payments are received. And still, people don’t like billing systems.

People like to dream up imaginative pricing schemes to stimulate usage and increase profitability. They devise loyalty schemes, attractive and sophisticated discount plans, and subtle pricing structures, all to encourage service stickiness and growth. Still, billing systems are just not seen as that important, except, of course, to the few people who actually work in the billing department.

Everyone else seems to see billing as a necessary evil – an annoying overhead on top of the smart technology that actually delivers the services.

How else do we explain that in a new services company, decision-makers typically start considering billing needs too late in the process? Sometimes people wake up to the need for a billing system only after they’ve handled the higher priority tasks of selecting executive office chairs and choosing coffee machines for the break room.

The idea that people see billing as a necessary evil can also explain why it is that when innovators are working out the details of their exciting new technology-based services companies, somehow they conceive the services as being somewhat independent of monetization.

This could also explain the reluctance of product managers to include billing people in their service launch planning processes. Those billing headaches just spoil the fun.

Then there’s the embarrassment when the launch planning team realizes that the launch schedule can’t be achieved because everyone assumed that billing would be easy. Or the panic when it turns out that the old billing system can’t be used to make those new services a reality.

Without getting too psychological, how can we explain this reluctance to deal with and even embrace the necessity of billing? One possibility is that, for many, past experiences with billing systems have been rather unpleasant. New systems arrived late and over budget and did not deliver all the functionality promised. People may have grown up working with systems that could potentially do a lot, but needed teams of experienced gurus to implement any changes. Or, time and again, they found the billing system to be a big road block. They learned that billing systems merely send out bills, but otherwise don’t actually contribute much to a positive customer experience. People think that way because their experiences taught them that.

This can be a self-perpetuating cycle. The idea that billing is a necessary evil leads to the view that if it’s necessary to have any billing at all, it should be as simple and cheap as possible. When a billing system is added as a hasty afterthought and not expected to do more than consolidate numbers and send out bills, then it can appear sensible to buy the least expensive and simplest solution available. This leads to people buying inadequate systems and having negative experiences with those inadequate systems, which then confirms the notion that billing systems are a pain and more of a hindrance than a help. And so the cycle continues.

This needs to change. MetraTech was one of the first companies to design billing technology from the ground up to support and encourage creativity and innovation in products and services. Since then, other billing vendors have been moving in that direction too, although many have been encumbered by trying to adapt legacy systems designed for an earlier age.

Billing systems should give business users an array of tools and capabilities that make the development and launch of new services quicker, simpler and less risky. We have designed our platform to provide additional capabilities that liberate product teams to innovate in all the areas of price structures, discounting, loyalty, behavioral billing, and so on. The billing system becomes a supporter of new services and innovative ways of addressing the market—absolutely not a hindrance and definitely a help.

Billing is no longer a necessary evil. Billing remains, of course, necessary and will continue to be an essential function in any modern company. But far from being evil, billing can, in fact, be very good – good for service provider employees, good for customers, and good for service provider revenues and margins. We’re not asking everyone to love billing as we do. Just give your billing department kudos from time to time, and if you haven’t done so already, treat yourselves to a billing system that can be a business helper.



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