Whilst most bills are accurate and accepted by customers, some customers will want to query or contest the charges appearing on their bills. Aspects of charges that customers might dispute include:
The dispute lifecycle follows a consistent, sequential process of selecting charges from a bill to raise the dispute, investigating the selected charges to evaluate the dispute's merit, and then resolving the dispute's details based on the investigation's findings.
The 'dispute' acts as a grouping mechanism for the charges identified within one complaint. Multiple disputes may be raised by a customer, and a single bill may have multiple disputes raised against it over time. Larger bills are more likely to generate multiple disputes since within a single customer different people will investigate the many charges, and will find their individual complaints at different times.
Reseller customers will find some errors immediately based on their own validation, but will also need to wait on their own 'retail' customers to identify further charges for dispute based on each retail customer's perception of what is correct. Some disputes raised against the reseller will relate to the reseller's processing (e.g. retail price), whilst others will be based on reasons similar to the reseller themselves (e.g. international calls performed despite call-barring set in the network).
The selection of which charges are in dispute is an important first step because until this has been agreed the total scope of the dispute cannot be established. Once a boundary has been established, the biller can decide whether the financial value of the dispute merits a deep investigation, and who should perform the investigation. Consolidated bills containing the charges from multiple networks may have specialised dispute work groups.
Ideally, dispute resolutions are performed at the individual charge level allowing the biller to employ the broadest scope to apply different findings against each charge. Disputes can be resolved in one of four ways:
The first three resolutions apply to charges only after they have been levied. The last resolution applies to the customer's future activity on the biller's network, and can be combined with the first three to satisfy a customer's complaint.
A dispute's complexity relates directly to the size and complexity of the bill against which it is raised. Complexity is different to the financial value of the bill. The number of transactions per service, and the number of services per bill define the total number of charges available for dispute, and influence how difficult dispute processing will be.
A bill's complexity will vary based on the biller's industry. Bills with predominantly recurring charges (e.g. cable TV, ISPs) offer the simplest dispute environment, utilities with limited network use are more complicated (e.g. water and electricity utilities), whilst high-volume transaction businesses offer the most complex dispute environments (e.g. telephone companies).
Complex bills are harder to process at all stages of the dispute process:
Smaller (e.g. residential) bills are unlikely to have the complexity problems that 'size' creates. Large corporate, interconnect or wholesale (reseller) customers are almost certain to do so though. For example, a bill reflecting the calls from an outbound call centre can include thousands of calls per day to a wide range of destinations. A dispute might apply to calls made on a specific date (e.g. public holiday), a date range, to a call destination (e.g. country), using a technology (e.g. calls from a fixed line to mobile phones), a specific product (e.g. pay-per-view (PPV) on cable TV) and / or time of day (e.g. evening). The disputed calls could be described based on combinations of these criteria, and separate disputes might be raised against the one bill.
Smaller disputes may be raised manually in real-time by staff or customers. Larger disputes, especially those populated through the use of criteria-based selection, may required asynchronous or batch offline processing. Offline processing allows the biller's staff to continue to perform additional work, including additional dispute processing, without having to wait whilst the processing required to raise a 'large' dispute against a 'complex' bill is performed. The result of a criteria-based charge selection against a large bill can result in only a few disputed charges whilst still requiring substantial processing. Those few charges must still be 'found' amongst the many other charges on the bill.
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Previous: Using Bundling and Differential Pricing
» Processing Disputed Charges - Whilst most bills are accurate and accepted by customers, some customers will want to query or contest the charges appearing on their bills.
» Using Bundling and Differentiated Pricing - Using bundling and applying different pricing by market segments, billers can realise the most for their products and services.
» Business Practices Implemented Through Pricing - The price billers charge for their products can influence customer's consumption behaviour by increasing or decreasing their likelihood to purchase.
» Billing Pricing Models: Explaining Customer Impacts - Biller’s decisions about how they charge for their products and services result in pricing models that influence both a biller’s processing complexity and customers' behaviour.
» Billing Addresses - A billing application uses addresses in a wide variety of roles to describe the source locations of incoming transactions (from the network), details about the customers (and their representatives) who are billed, and the destinations to which the outputs from billing will be sent.
» Using Taxation Details Within Billing - Where governments tax the business domain being billed, the billing system will be a key calculation point since taxes are likely to be calculated on the finalised amounts after all rating / pricing has been performed, and after any discounts have been applied.
» Fraud Detection: Using Called Numbers To Find New Targets - Fraud occurs on phone networks, and when detected, it is closed down and stopped on the phone numbers on which it was detected. But how can the same bad actors / fraudsters be detected if they start up on new fraudulently obtained phone numbers, or have other existing phone numbers on the same network?
» Using Billing Notes and the Contact History - Billing applications make ‘contact’ with the biller’s customers each time a bill or reminder notice is sent, and whenever customers ring or email the biller’s staff with billing-related inquiries and requests. A billing note is one mechanism for capturing the key details of these customer / biller interactions. When a customer contacts the biller subsequently, the biller’s staff can review the customer’s prior contacts by looking at the notes that were recorded.
» How Does Payment Allocation Work? - Payment allocation is the association of credit amounts, such as new payments and adjustments, against a customer's outstanding debts (e.g. unpaid bills / invoices). There are different approaches for allocating credits against the customer's outstanding debt(s).
My introductory book, Billing for Business Networks, describes the end-to-end billing process using vendor-neutral explanations.
Stephen Jones is a consultant who has focused specifically on Billing and related processes for over twenty years. Recent work has included relating a major telco's billing with inbound call centre logs for Call Centre Analytics.
I contributed an essay on testing design assumptions in the O'Reilly book 97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know. This book was written in an 'open source' style with more than four dozen authors. The original essays of the axioms / koans / advice can be viewed on the project's wiki.