Is BT failing SMEs on billing? (Image Credit: Metin Ozer on Unsplash)For the dominant player in any market where it has a mix of consumer and business customers, its biggest challenge is customer service. Larger companies often get dedicated teams, and larger mid-sized companies may share contacts. But SMEs and consumers often get a very different level of support. The question is, is that support, especially for SMEs, good enough?

First, a disclaimer. This article deals with a set of incidents that affected Enterprise Times. At the time of writing, they have been rectified by BT. However, after talking with other small businesses, it became clear that they are not uncommon. Other businesses suffer some of the same problems and often struggle to get a solution.

Enterprise Times also talked about this article with the BT Press Office and received a formal response which we include below.

Moving a business is a complex affair

Moving location for a business used to be a nightmare. Not only does it need to inform all suppliers and customers of a change of address, but it also needs to handle the challenge of communications.

Move outside of a telephone exchange area, and telephone numbers must change. For a well-established business that is costly, requires expensive redirects and inevitably will still create problems for months if not longer.

A solution to the telephone problem is to move to a Voice over IP (VoIP) solution. BT offers two flavours of this, Cloud Voice Express and Cloud Voice. The former is suitable for redirecting a single number, and the latter is required if you have multiple numbers to redirect. It allows you to keep established telephone numbers so that customers can still contact you.

Getting the right level of broadband is equally challenging for small businesses. Do they install business-grade at all locations? Do key home workers get business or consumer-grade? How many locations do they want to pay for? Service level is more critical than many businesses recognise. Going with consumer-grade, especially for key company members, risks lengthy outages when things go wrong.

When Enterprise Times moved its main office location, it ran into a number of these problems despite using BT’s business mover team.

Getting a single billing solution

Small businesses taking different services from BT can expect a further problem. BT runs cloud voice, broadband and mobile through separate teams. It means dealing with multiple accounts teams, bills falling due at different times of the month and multiple support teams when something goes wrong. All this adds to the overhead of running a business.

BT does have a solution to this, and it is called BT OneBill. It consolidates all a customer’s bills into a single account. Problem solved – well, partly. First, the SME has to push hard to get a OneBill account. BT does not make this easy. It took over six months for Enterprise Times to get such an account. Even then, there were problems. BT created a new customer login, but despite repeated requests for access to download bills, BT didn’t send that out for over six months.

Once received, it highlighted several additional issues, such as billing errors on the account created by the move to OneBill. Broadband, for example, was double billed. It was only discovered when access to OneBill was finally granted and costs were questioned.

Who is responsible for detecting billing errors?

According to one BT Billing complaints team member, the responsibility lies with the customer to detect errors. BT does not take responsibility for detecting mistakes. Unless a customer complains, then nothing is done. In the case of Enterprise Times, it was not just the problem of no access to the OneBill system. Another issue was getting someone to provide the exact billing figure per service per month. That figure was only confirmed after the Office of the CEO handled the complaint.

Costs are supposed to be part of the initial contract. In the case of Enterprise Times, costs kept changing before the migration OneBill due to other issues and errors on the account. Over the contract period, there have been numerous credit notes provided by BT. These further complicate keeping an accurate track of the account.

Putting the onus on customers also means that just issuing a credit note for mistakes is not enough. SMEs should be willing to ask for compensation and be willing to push for it. SMEs should track the time and effort required to get a resolution, and that means costing out the time spent on a telephone call rather than doing other work. It is something many SMEs don’t do well enough.

It is not only SMEs that have this problem. Any organisation, large or small that opens and closes offices or changes services frequently can also struggle even with single billing solutions. Time is often lost picking up mistakes and chasing for refunds and compensation.

When Enterprise Times originally asked for compensation, it was offered just £25 for billing errors going back months. Eventually, a much higher figure was arrived at, with BT telling us they have no idea where the Billing Complaints Team got the £25 figure.

A wider problem than many realise

BT is not the only telco that has a problem with SMEs. According to UK government statistics, they make up over 97% of the businesses in the UK. That means they are the bulk of the business customers. The problem is, individually, they don’t spend vast sums. As a result, staffing support teams with enough adequately trained people is difficult. As Enterprise Times knows all too well, one call often becomes multiple calls with all the associated costs and irritation.

However, persistence is worth it. Enterprise Times did get a resolution to this latest set of problems. Importantly, it now knows exactly what it should be paying and can access its bills.

Talking to other SMEs at various trade shows and on online forums, the issues faced by Enterprise Times are not unique. Expecting customers to identify billing problems might seem reasonable to BT, but it isn’t paying those customers to check its competency. That means it ends up paying out compensation when customers do find problems. It is not a good business model, especially for a business already under fire for service levels.

Solving this problem, however, is not a trivial matter. With all the computing and technology at its fingertips, it might seem that BT could just let the computer fix it. If only it were that simple.

The disconnect between the different service teams and their billing systems is a major complication. The best thing BT can do is move all business customers to OneBill. Once it does that, it should also verify costs against customers’ contracts. That should identify some errors and allow them to be corrected. The system could identify more complex anomalies and then flag them for investigation.

What did BT say?

Enterprise Times talked to the BT Press Office about what had gone on and made it clear it would be writing this article. When asked for comment, it provided this:

”We’re really sorry for the issues experienced by the customer and the service received, which fell below our usual high standards. We’ve resolved the error on the account, provided a full credit and offered a goodwill gesture for the inconvenience caused.”

Enterprise Times: What does this mean?

SMEs must pay attention to all their bills, but that doesn’t mean they should be doing the supplier’s job. In this case, BT needs to look closely at its billing process and how it handles complaints. Telling customers it is up to them to sort things out and then offer derisory sums, sums other parts of BT say they don’t recognise, does nothing to improve its reputation.

As the cost of living crisis continues, SMEs, in particular, will have to look closely at costs. If BT doesn’t want to see them go elsewhere, it must work harder to retain them and make billing easier.


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