Iphone, AT&T, and the 60page invoice!

value checkI have been looking for a great example to demonstrate how chronic Telecom invoicing has become from large Telecom companies. If you have ever had to deal with AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint on a wholesale basis you know the degree at which the typical invoice is either to complicated to understand or riddled with errors. You would also know that there are many companies that do nothing but audit Telecom invoices of which they work solely on commission and do very well.

It is amazing that there is a whole industry that thrives on the errors large Telecom companies make on invoices to their customers and yet the average consumer is more comfortable keeping slightly higher cost Telecom services with AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint than going with smaller nimble companies (when the option exists) that audit their customer invoices and use better billing practices.

I refer to a story in the NY Times – AT&T’s Overstuffed iphone Bills Annoy Customers. The story goes on to refer to the notoriously large invoices AT&T sent out to customers of Apple’s iphone. Someone in AT&T billing thought it would be great to itemize every data transaction. I am sure you want to know every date stamp of every data bit you sent while using your iphone so that you can audit the 60+ double sided pages with your records. Ms. Ezarik, was so impressed by the level of detail she posted this video.
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This error from AT&T only resulted in large invoices to the customer, but one must think of the cost to AT&T to produce and mail out these invoices along with the customer impression left. How can quality control let invoices be mailed to more then a few hundred thousand people? With one invoice costing up to $7 in postage along with printing, packaging, and paper, this seems to be a very expensive error internally for AT&T. One must wonder, if they can’t audit their own internal systems to save themselves money and control customer retention, what makes you think your invoice is correct and properly audited?

To understand why these companies have such horrible billing systems you have to look at how they were formed. Most of the significant growth came from acquiring smaller companies. Along with each acquisition came new billing systems, different customer rate plans, and different data collection methods. To integrate all these systems is impossible, they have done a good job patching systems together, but the systems are still prone to many errors.

So what should you do?

-Audit your phone bill like you audit you credit card bill. If you see errors, strange fees, or sudden increases dispute them.

-Always choose a rate plan that is clear what the costs are for each service you may use. You don’t want to choose a plan that does not have international rates posted anywhere and then come to find out that a call to the UK costs $5 per minute.

-Watch out for rate plans that can change by posts to a web-site.

-Anytime you change plans, check to see that your changes made it in the system.

-If you do find errors and dispute them and the Telecom company denies or refuses to help, file a complaint with your local public utilities company.

Good news is that AT&T will stop the large invoices by the end of September, but the damage has been done. Perhaps another good thing will come of this. Apple is a company focused on delivering quality and simplicity to their customers. With an error like this and AT&T as the sole carrier to the iphone, perhaps Apple will pressure AT&T to improve their billing systems.

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