This article introduces some useful practices of managing the billing situation.
The best-case scenario is you have a trusted advisor or a well-established contact from your technology vendor. Having someone on the inside is the best you could hope for in times of need. This person should be able to understand your bill, spot the issue and get on the action to resolve it.
But what if you do not have such a luxury?
The right people for the right conversation
A billing conversation is not the most pleasant one. It can be quite tedious and requires attention to the most minute detail, checking dollars and cents, tally up totals, compare this month to last month that sort of thing.
You will need someone who is patient and attentive to handle the billing conversation. Ideally this person needs to be involved from early on so that he or she could understand the background and be able to trace items on your contract all the way through to the bill.
Expecting your IT manager or the procurement manager to do this is probably unrealistic. Instead the accountant or the office manager may be better suited for the job.
Understand the bill before signing
Instead of dealing with billing issues after-the-fact, you should prevent issues from happening in the first place, starting from the quotation or the proposal.
The list of billable items in these documents will eventually transcribe into the final contract. At this point, some important questions need to be clarified.
- For every item listed how exactly will it be billed?
- Will it show up with the same item name or will it be presented differently?
- If there are discounts or credits how will these be applied on the bill?
- How will the one-off and/or re-occuring charges be presented on the bill?
This exercise may be tedious, but it is important. If you uncover potential billing issues before signing, you still have a chance to reconsider your options. You can also use this lever to hold your vendor accountable for correct billing in the future.
Know the billing triggers
Understanding the billing triggers can set the right expectation for everyone involved. You want to know exactly when the billing starts so there is no confusion or arguments later.
With new technology roll-out, the trigger is usually the cut-over. It can be as simple as activating new licences for a Software-as-a-Service application, or it can be quite complex such as commissioning a new telecommunications network.
Sometimes there could be a trial or a proof-of-concept period, or there could be issues after cut-over which blocked you from using the new technology. You should always clarify how does billing apply (if it does apply) in these situations.
Know who to talk to in a dispute
If the sales person is also a great account manager then you are in luck!
More realistically the sales person typically hands over a billing question/dispute to the ‘billing team’. Well get to know this ‘billing team’ upfront. Is there a team manager? What is their contact details? Get to know your vendor’s billing person before any issues arise so when you need them you don’t waste any precious time.
By the way a call centre phone number is probably not a good contact.
Document the billing discussion
When things get nasty, evidence becomes critical, especially if it is some time down the track when everyone’s memories faded. So it is always a good practice to request for written responses to your billing questions.
It goes without saying that you need to keep all of the signed copies of quotes, proposals and contracts. Do keep in mind that some key elements of the deal may not be captured in these documents especially when it comes to verbal promises. Again, written evidence is important. The more evidence there is the easier it would be to resolve a billing dispute.
Get a consultant to help
Sometimes you will need an independent opinion on the situation to get back on track. Whether it is an upfront review to check for potential billing loopholes or to get you out of a dispute. Someone with a few tricks up their sleeves could easily save you lots of money and time. But do make sure you get the right consultant though, someone with the right set of skills and experiences matching the type of technology you are dealing with.
Billing is not a pretty conversation, but it is an important one. It pays to spend time to get into the detail and get it right beforehand. Afterall it is always easier to make things happen when you still have the leverage right?