Billing and Customer Care

Billing and custom care systems convert the transfer of bits and bytes of digital information within the network into the money that will be received by the service provider. To accomplish this, billing and customer care systems provide account activation and tracking, service feature selection, selection of billing rates for specific calls, invoice creation, payment entry and management of communication with the customer.

Billing and customer care systems are the link between end users and the telecommunications network equipment. Telecommunications service providers manage networks, setup the networks to allow customers to transfer information (provisioning), and bill end users for their use of the system. Customers who need telecommunication services select carriers by evaluating service and equipment costs, reviewing the reliability of the network, and comparing how specific services (features) match their communication needs. Because most network operations have access to systems with the same technology, the billing and customer care system is one of the key methods used to differentiate one service provider from another.

There are many different types of services to be supplied and billed. These include traditional voice, short messaging, fax, data communications, and information services. Billing systems process the usage of network equipment that is used during the call (events) into a single call detail billing record. The billing process involves receiving billing records from the system and other networks, determining the billing rates associated with the billing records, calculating the cost for each billing record, gathering these records periodically to produce invoices, sending invoices to the customer, and recording payments received from the customer.

Customer care systems, also known as provisioning systems, provide customer service representatives (CSRs) with information that assists and standardizes communication with the customer.

Billing system and customer care system costs are substantial. In addition to the initial acquisition cost of computers and software, operational costs are very high. Of the service provider’s staff, 20%-30% are employed to provide billing and customer care support.

There are many billing standards that have been developed for telecommunications networks. Billing standards are also converging because the services offered by different types of network operators (e.g., cable television compared to local telephone companies) are beginning to overlap.

Real time billing allows service operators to collect billing information at the same moment that services are being consumed. This type of billing allows the service provider to measure and respond to usage trends more rapidly and provides extra services such as prepaid phone cards and improved customer service.

Generally proprietary systems are developed in order to integrate the company’s current back-office and customer service systems in those situations where customer off the shelf (COTS) billing and service packages do not fit the company’s needs.

Future trends and challenges for billing systems include new types of services to bill for; telephone number portability that complicates account identification numbers and increased customer self care to reduce the burden (and cost) of billing systems. Self-based customer care services allow customers to access and maintain their own account information.

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