• United States

A few tips for getting accurate carrier bills

Jan 20, 20033 mins

One of the pleasures of writing a weekly column is the opportunity for useful dialogue with readers. One wrote recently regarding my New Years’ resolution column:

“You write: ‘Make accurate bills the carrier’s responsibility,’ but as a company with $600 million in revenue and 3,000-plus employees, the quantity of bills that come in is overwhelming. We have locations in many parts of the world, so we have bills from AT&T, BellSouth, Southwestern Bell, SBC Ameritech, MCI/WorldCom, British Telecom, SingTel, etc.

“My problem is we have a hard time telling what’s real. Recently we caught a bill for another company’s long-distance. Our accounts payable was paying it because it was addressed to us. I just happened to be in the accounts-payable area for a different reason and the bill was brought to my attention. I have a hard time getting the carriers to fix problems when we find them.

“Do you have suggestions on how to act on your New Year’s resolution?”

This is a common problem. Unfortunately, there’s no way of solving it completely, but here are some suggestions:

  • Your telecom contract contains language stating “payment due within 30 days of receipt of invoice,” or words to that effect. Next time you re-up, insert the word “accurate” before the word invoice – and have your lawyers provide the legal-eagle lingo that means “accurate is defined as addressed correctly, regarding circuits that actually exist, and services we actually used that performed within an acceptable window of our service-level agreements [SLA].” This won’t make the bills any more accurate, but it will give you a legal ground for the next few items.

  • Stipulate that your company will make payments of contested invoices to an escrow account. The carrier will be informed that the invoices are contested, and perhaps (if you’re feeling generous) of the reason why. Once payments have been made to that account, the funds will be made available to the carrier only after it demonstrates to your satisfaction that the bills are accurate.

  • Provide your accounts payable department with simple guidelines about when payments should be made to the escrow account. Checking against a list of known corporate addresses is one. Bills outside a certain historical range should be another (if your Hong Kong affiliate offices typically run at $1,000 per month but last month zoomed to $10,000 – that’s probably a clue.)

    Also tell your network managers and network operations center to report any massive deviations from the SLA to accounts payable. Make payments to the escrow account from that point on until the service provider has proven to your satisfaction that it’s fixed the SLA issue.

  • Simplify your billing as much as possible via centralized procurement. Unless there’s a good reason, regional offices and business units should not be purchasing telecom services themselves – you should be handling services through headquarters.