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Reviewing Carrier Bills: Don't Let Jargon Interfere With Your Audits


Someone managing expenses
Image: Thanumporn Thongkongkaew - Alamy Stock Photo
Whether it is Internet service or phone statements, you might be crossing your fingers each month, hoping that this month's bill doesn't have any confusing acronyms or worse — unexpected charges.
As a telecom manager, you should audit your bills regularly. Remember the notes you kept when you placed your orders? How you kept a copy of your email to your order-taker, right (or a screenshot and confirmation number in your portal)? This is where you begin to shine and provide measurable value to your enterprise. The new telco invoice should reflect the services you ordered, the pricing in your contract, and nothing more. But it’s not uncommon for additional services (services you did not request) to be added to your invoice; this is called cramming. It’s your responsibility to identify and correct these mistakes. You should ask questions if you do not fully understand everything on your bill.
Regardless, if you have all the pages of Newton’s Telco Dictionary memorized, you still might not understand all the abbreviations and acronyms on your telco’s invoice. That’s because the carriers tend to create their own language. Just as a layperson doesn’t understand most IT jargon, the average IT person doesn’t understand all the telecom lingo.
My point here is you should not feel intimidated or embarrassed to ask questions after you review your invoice. Unless you are 100% confident of everything on your invoice, pick up the phone and call them. You (or your company) are paying good money for services rendered. You should understand what you are getting for your money. Better yet, schedule some time with your carrier’s account team and ask them to bring a billing expert, so you can review invoices with them and ask questions directly. Additionally, make sure to request customer service records (CSRs) for each account.
A CSR is a detailed explanation of your services. It is extremely insightful as it provides details of the services on your account — that is, if you speak uniform service order code (USOC). USOC (pronounced “U-Sock”) are special codes that connect your records of the carriers’ services and equipment to their billing system. It’s likely you won’t understand them all, but you may understand some of it.
Many carriers provide only summary billing. These invoices provide a high-level overview of your bill. It does not necessarily reflect all of the phone numbers or services for which you are paying. The telco summarizes services and puts the basics on the bill. Side note: This practice was started to save paper, but summary billing continues today in electronic versions. This is one reason CSRs are helpful.
Some assumptions customers make include:
  • A CSR is always accurate: This is not always true. Believe it or not, you may find the CSR to be inaccurate; it happens. If you run into this, you will need to ask for a CSR review and include some information as to why you think there’s a mistake. Then, a corrections order will need to be placed, and eventually another copy requested.
  • The telco will tell me if they notice no traffic on my circuits: No: Many companies have backup circuits for failover and never use them. It’s not unusual for circuits not to carry traffic, and it’s not the carriers’ responsibility to provide usage reports to you.
  • Billing is all computerized; it can’t be wrong: Billing errors are very common, and the reasons vary.
  • Billing stops when service stops: Unfortunately, this is not always the case. There are times when billing will continue for a month or two — even three sometimes. Then, a dispute will be necessary to request a credit or refund. It usually takes a few months to receive this refund.
Here’s another heads up. If you are paying a telecom bill on a month-to-month rate or a bill that is not under contract, you might have a de-facto contract. Some carriers will draft terms and print them on the back of the invoice. It will state that, unless the customer contacts us and makes other arrangements, payment of this invoice will assume the terms are acceptable, and this new contract will become effective for the following x period (usually 12 months). So by paying this particular bill, you are locking yourself into a new contract which is, of course, favorable to the carrier.
If you manage a medium to large enterprise or even a smaller company with multiple locations, it is a good idea to audit your services and invoices periodically.
Astute and conscientious telecom managers prefer to review telecom bills themselves before sending them to accounts payable. If you don’t have the time or experience, consider third-party companies that specialize in this field. If you don’t feel like your spend is enough to justify this, an independent consultant might be the right fit. Their services are typically structured to be a win-win for both parties. They can see through the muck, peel back layers and make sense of a tangled and messy pile of cryptic invoices and CSRs. While some of us have moved our services into the cloud, many of us still have one leg in complicated landline services.