Why taking a design-led approach is the best way to create better billing experiences
With all the controversies surrounding inaccurate bills and bill shock, the need to overhaul billing communications is increasingly well understood among organizations. However, this isn’t just a technical issue, getting the design of a bill right makes the bill easier to understand, more attractive to read and results in real business benefits.
Billing communications have been the traditional bearers of unwanted tidings, the dull spreadsheet detailing consumption ending in a demand for cash, but the days of biller neglect of this powerful channel are ending. Organizations are starting to notice that attractively presented, clear and personalized bills enable users to understand their consumption better, result in fewer call center interactions and create greater customer satisfaction as well as providing a regular means for organizations to communicate with customers.
The design of the bill is the customer’s window into their relationship with the biller. In the telecoms industry, this window contains a growing number of different data points as the services provided proliferate and more onetime transactions become part of the billing mix. In other sectors, such as utilities, digital transformation and industry changes are driving bill complexity. Electricity bills, for example, now feature information on electricity being provided to the grid from home-owners’ renewable energy generation alongside their consumption. This complexity is breeding the need for greater clarity in data presentation.
Complexity needs clarity
Greater depth of information delivered in a clear and attractive way is the self-evident function of effective design. However, good design cannot be an afterthought added retrospectively to billing communications. A billing communications platform needs to be constructed with presentation in mind. It’s not just about selecting pretty colors, although the science behind color choice is important.
“Being design-led means always thinking about how your design affects the end user, and putting them first,” explains Brendan O’Rourke, the design manager at Brite:Bill. “We don’t constrain design by force-fitting it to our technology, instead our technology works to support our customers’ chosen bill designs.”
The process of creating excellent design begins with gaining a better understanding of the customer organization’s needs which forms the foundation upon which design-led billing communications can be developed. “We follow a process of detailed scoping and analyzing with our customers. Here we work with different parts of the business including brand, IT, sales and legal so we gather a complete understanding of what the business wants to achieve from a bill design,” adds O’Rourke. “We then enter an iterative design phase where we consult on elements like bill aesthetics, language and the major billing pain points. Here we will always be an advocate for the end user, meaning all design discussions or debates should answer to ‘what information is most important for the end user?’ and ‘what’s the best way to communicate and display this?’.”
Analysis first, hardware later
Brite:Bill draws on many years experience of working with service providers and the team of designers are subject matter experts when it comes to information design and presentment. Brite:Bill typically will deploy its bill analysis technology to understand the operator’s existing bills and products, thereby ensuring that it is familiar with the data that is available to support a list of design scenarios.
“Our experience tells us what works and what doesn’t. Once we are familiar with the billing data that’s available, we draw on our past deployments and make recommendations on where we can enhance specific pieces of communication.” says O’Rourke. “We work towards an optimal bill design, then technology-wise we identify how we achieve this, for example, what extra data feeds are required.”
The design process moves through three distinct stages: first Brite:Bill undertakes aesthetic enhancement, then it focuses on presenting engaging customer data and then it addresses functional customer messaging. Only then does attention turn to the technical side of the deployment. “We believe good design should be invisible. We don’t expect plaudits for designing a bill, but if a user is frustrated in any way in trying to understand a piece of communication, then there are faults in the design that we need to fix,” explains O’Rourke.
The important aspect of the design-led approach is to focus first on design before technical and development teams become involved. “We’re not working in a technically constrained way,” confirms O’Rourke. “The focus of our work is to try and solve problems for the provider’s users and we wouldn’t want to be restricted by what we can and can’t use. We look ahead at what customers want and solve the technical challenges later.”
However, O’Rourke does acknowledge that the technical challenges are significant. “Obviously there are technical constraints but our mission is first to solve the customers’ billing communication problems,” he says. “A legacy system will output lots of mismatches in package descriptions on the bill, for example, causing confusion to the end user when they see a different package name to the plan they signed up for. This is a big issue. We work ahead to recategorise the way organisations’ billing information is displayed and to make sure each customer’s bill contains what they would expect to see.”
There are also business priorities that must be considered. “As well as system constraints, our design experts will work towards cost saving business goals,” explains O’Rourke. “For example, some operators only print using one colour so we draw on our experience to maximize the impact of single-color billing communications. Other operators’ priorities are to reduce the number of pages they print and send so we work to condense the vital information into a smaller amount of space.”
Being design-led means Brite:Bill is able to determine where improvements can be made, identify what organizations’ current bills are missing and make sure new bills provide a friendly, informative communications channel between provider and customer. That’s a striking contrast to the impersonal, hard to read, visually unappealing bills traditionally sent out by organizations.