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Increase the Likelihood of Accurate Telcom Billing by Improving Your Order Process

Communications technology billing for fixed- line services can be complex and frequently results in billing errors.  If not caught these errors can cost your organization thousands of dollars over the life of the service.  We have recently helped a client to put these procedures in place using the quote and procurement module of a hosted technology expense management system, but they can be set up as manual procedures as well. What goes wrong with the billing often starts with an order process that is not well-organized and therefore does not easily enable you to validate billing accuracy, so take these steps to decrease the likelihood of error with every order you place: 

  1. Consider the type of order.  Orders for new services are different that upgrades and different yet again from disconnects. 
  2. Different types of services may require different order procedures. Consult with your service provider as different companies have different order placement procedures. Do not let this become an informal – ‘oh just send me an email or call me’ type of process.  They may want you to place disconnect orders on their web portals, for example. 
  3. For new services, you may wish to obtain a quote from multiple service providers for the same service.  Pricing differences may depend upon which service provider they are using to complete local access if it is different than the company you are buying the service from.  If you do this and then select a specific quote, make sure that the quote is now turned into a countersigned order form, specifying a complete description of the service, an order number and the pricing agreed upon.   
  4. If you have a master agreement with the service provider, make sure it is referenced on your order.  Do not agree to terms and conditions on the service provider website that may change over time, unbeknownst to you. 
  5. Specify the exact service address and the correct billing address, as these addresses may be different. 
  6. Unless your organization requires paperless billing, we’d suggest getting paper billing in the beginning as it can be easier to look at and confirm the billing details.   
  7. If you want the service you are ordering to appear on a specific billing account with the service provider, specify the exact account number and add this to the order form.  Otherwise, each new order may generate a separate new account which can be an administrative nightmare as unrecognized bills show up in your finance department.  Emphatically resist having different components of the same service appear on different accounts, which does happen and makes validation more cumbersome. 
  8. Ask to see a sample of what will appear on the invoice, which may indicate how easy or hard it will be to validate accuracy of the billing when it first comes in. 
  9. Most services have associated taxes and surcharges.  It is difficult, but not impossible, to get estimates for these in advance. In some cases, they can add 25% or more to the cost of what you are buying. 
  10. Do not wait until an order is completed to advise the people in your organization who pay the bills about it.  Let them know what is coming, how much it will be, on what account it will appear and provide internal cost allocation/budget detail if needed.  
  11. Even for the simplest order, request that your service provider offer a ‘first bill review’ to demonstrate billing accuracy.  We request a screenshot showing the service and the correct amount be provided and store this for future reference. 
  12. Just because a billing amount is correct at the outset does not mean that something may not go wrong with the billing in the future, so ongoing monitoring is advisable.  This can be done manually or with some automation if you use a technology expense management system.   
  13. Taking these steps prevents billing errors in a number of ways.  Letting the service provider see that you are tracking this and providing them with all the detail they need (whether they ask for it or not) goes a long way towards the order being placed and billed accurately.  Knowing that you will be checking at the end also tends to avoid sometime careless data entry mistakes or at least to have them noticed and corrected.  Correlating an order to a contract where rates or discounts may be documented also tends to make the service provider more alert.  One of the most common billing errors is for billing to continue after the service is disconnected, so validation is particularly important for that.  Another common billing error is for rates not to be updated when a new contract is put in place. 
  14. If you are purchasing multiple services at the same time, such as with a multi-location network, the rates may be provided to you on an Excel spreadsheet, rather than in a contract.  If this is the case, make sure the spreadsheet is referenced and included as part of the contract.  

To make this work in your organization, we suggest getting the following people together, including those who maintain the relationship with each service provider, those who negotiate and/or manage the service provider contracts, those who order and manage the services, and those who approve of or pay the bills. Go through the checklist together and see how you can improve on your process. 

Jane is writing on behalf of the SCTC, a premier professional organization for independent consultants. Our consultant members are leaders in the industry, able to provide best of breed professional services in a wide array of technologies. Every consultant member commits annually to a strict Code of Ethics, ensuring they work for the client benefit only and do not receive financial compensation from vendors and service providers.