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Don’t Be Blindsided by Billing Terminology
In an earlier No Jitter article, SCTC reviewed the three pillars of effective communications expense management: bills, contracts, and inventories. Here, we focus on the bills, which sound simple to collect, but decoding them in a manageable way isn’t straightforward. Here are ten confusing things to know about the monthly bills you receive from your communications service providers. Most apply to both fixed and mobile communications services.
- Acronyms ‘r’ Us – Different service providers use different – yet similar - terminology for the same services. Understanding your providers’ definition is necessary, to know what you’re paying for. It’s also important to know the meaning of any abbreviations used. If you buy the same services from more than one provider, understand the terminology used by each. The packaging of service components can vary as well. (One provider may separate everything, and another will bundle components together.)
- I Don’t See This On My Contract – Terminology on the invoices doesn’t always match up with terminology on the contracts. Also, some services have components governed by multiple contracts. Still, other components may not be listed on your contract at all, but rather the pricing was separately quoted to you, and a signed order may serve as still another form of commitment. Tracking which document governs which rate is the only way to confirm the accuracy of your billing.
- Here, There, and Everywhere – Many services you buy come with multiple components, and these often are not on the same bill. Instead, they can be found under two or more different account numbers. That is problematic not only when validating the accuracy of billing, but when you disconnect service, the components on another account numbers may remain.
- Talk Fast. You’re on Long Distance – Dial tone lines (also known at POTS – plain old telephone service) are still abundant in many large organizations. When you disconnect a dial tone line with the provider, you may still get a bill for that line from a separate company who provided the long-distance service for that same line. So, before disconnecting a dial tone line, check who provides the long-distance service and cancel it with both service providers. This will avoid confusion and potential future billing errors.
- They’ve Got Us Coming and Going – Some service providers bill one month in advance and others a month in arrears. Within the same service provider, this practice may differ depending upon the type of service being offered. Also, as services become added and deleted or rates change, there is a fair amount of ‘pro-rating’ on communications bills, which takes extra focus to ensure there is no overlapping of dates for the same services.
- I Know We Paid That Bill – Communications service providers often apply your payments to the wrong account number if you have multiple accounts with them. To reduce the likelihood of this, make sure that whoever pays your bills specifies not only the invoice number they are paying, but the account number. If your accounting department doesn’t keep track of this, it can be confusing to reconcile after the fact. Misapplied payments can also result in substantial late payment fees.
- “But You’ve Been Overbilling Us for Two Years!” – Most service providers have a time limit within which you must submit discovered billing errors. Otherwise, you can’t request a refund if you’ve been billed incorrectly. That is particularly important when making changes such as adding, removing, or changing services or when a new contract goes into effect. A typical time limit is six months.
- “At Least You’re Using the Money Wisely!” – Pay attention to the long list of taxes and surcharges on your communications service invoices, as they can be substantial. The Universal Service Fund surcharge increased last year to almost 25% of the cost of many of your services. If your organization is tax-exempt, make sure that your tax exemption certificates are on file with each of your service providers and that the taxes from which you’re exempt haven’t been charged. Some surcharges aren’t mandated by the government and are negotiable.
- Information Please – Your monthly bill, particularly from traditional local telephone companies, may have a single line item that says, “Current Monthly Charges.” It’s important to periodically request the considerable detail that likely makes up this item and to ensure that each of the charges is valid. This detail is sometimes referred to as a “Customer Service Record,” although different service providers may use different terms. If you have online access to your invoices through your service provider’s portal, you may be able to request this detail there. Don’t be surprised if you are paying for directory listings that you no longer need. After all, when is the last time you called directory assistance or referred to a paper telephone directory?
- “Whatever Happened to _____?” – You should always stay up to date on your communications service provider’s name as it can change fairly regularly as mergers and acquisitions take place. Alert your accounting department or whoever pays the bills of the change. Often, despite a change, the bill may bear the previous name or names, which can sometimes go on for years.
"SCTC Perspective" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.
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