BT Retail, a division of the BT Group in the United Kingdom and one of the country’s largest communication service providers to residential and business markets, has chosen Convergys Geneva billing and Siebel eCommunications software as part of a three-year program to rationalize billing and customer care infrastructure, as well as to improve customer service.
Many carriers and telecom service providers struggle with how to integrate CRM and advanced billing applications. Along with a mishmash of infrastructure — some of which could be 30 years old — they must deal with disparate systems, applications and databases that tend to be organized along product lines, rather than with customer needs in mind. The BT Group experienced its fair share of problems undertaking this daunting task.
“The incumbent operators have to deal with a significant legacy heritage,” explained Stephen Newton, president of Convergys EMEA. “Finding a billing solution that can be introduced quickly alongside existing platforms and also provide operators with a strategic long-term solution represents a significant challenge.”
A number of other BT divisions have been using Convergys’ Geneva since 1999, and BT Retail already is using the software to bill all of its newer services, including Internet telephony and access. Geneva recently was introduced to handle billing of BT’s new mobile service for small- and medium-size businesses as well, which means customers are able to receive both fixed and mobile charges on a single bill. That improvement addresses one of the biggest complaints individuals and businesses have about telecom providers.
The Geneva software also is used to bill for Openzone, the company’s public wireless LAN (local area network) product. And finally, Geneva has been integrated with BT’s consolidated billing platform and with the company’s main fraud-detection system.
Telecom has been a laggard in adopting CRM initiatives, which in large part has to do with the complexity and endless variations of the industry’s product lines. For example, a Forrester Research report tells of one carrier that has customer and product information spread among more than 200 systems. Another has more than 30,000 feature identifiers and universal service order codes.
For the most part, advanced billing functionality has become synonymous with good customer care, or CRM, in this particular sector. Indeed, for most customers, the bill or invoice is the main contact they have with their carrier.
The integration of customer care with billing “is particularly important in telecommunications and utilities, where customer questions often revolve around the status of an order or a bill,” Giga Information Group vice president Erin Kinikin told CRM Buyer Magazine.
Push into CRM
For billing providers like Convergys, such dynamics provide a good pathway to expand their service offerings.
“Billing is a great back door to selling CRM, at least in the telecommunications industry,” Yankee Group analyst David Hawley told CRM Buyer. For example, he said, Convergys’ contract with Charter Communications, signed earlier this year, not only allows it to grab some 4 percent of the market share in the cable operator billing sector, but also “opens the door for Convergys to sell more advanced CRM.”
Kinikin said that billing vendors “have had a difficult time breaking into CRM directly,” opting instead to do it via the acquisition and partnership route. Examples include Amdocs, which purchased Clarify. Convergys, for its part, has made inroads into this market via its partnership with Siebel.