Ma Bell Uses Fuzzy Math
by Ed Horrell

For years, I have read my phone bill like I read my utility bill. I don't get it. I see mumbo jumbo on my phone bill that is confusing gibberish. I simply pay it each month without daring to ask what I am paying for.

However, I have one business line. My bill is about three pages long for ONE LINE! I wonder what my bill would look like if I had, say, 1500 locations with eight or nine lines each. Yikes! How would a company of that size read these bills, much less be able to assume they were correct?

I began thinking about this last week and did some research. Here is what I found:

According to the highly respected Gartner1 organization eighty percent of business telephone bills are incorrect. You read that correctly ... eighty percent! Additionally, Gartner estimates that the average telephone bill is over billed by six to eight percent!

Let me add here that I am not implying that telephone companies "conspire" to cheat their customers. I don't think there is a way vendors can take advantage of confusing bills and industry acronyms. But the bottom line is that there are a lot of errors in these phone bills.

All of these errors led me to wonder if there is a company who is working to clarify the confusion for customers. Telephone companies tend to be large organizations with a great deal of resources. I believe it would take a pretty gutsy company to set up shop in a customer's business and tell the vendor that they are going to help their client find errors in their bills. I began searching to see if a company such as this existed.

I found it!

The solution is Memphis-based Asentinel at http://www.asentinel.com and this is what they do: they are advocates for Fortune 1000-sized businesses who are interested in discovering billing errors, correcting them, and in many cases getting refunds. I like what they do, but I love the passion with which they do it. I love it when the accountant with the horn-rimmed glasses steps into the executive suite and says "We need to talk about the books". That is what Asentinel does.

Founded by long-time telecom guru Dave Perdue, Asentinel develops and installs software that allows companies to centrally gather their telephone bills electronically and actually audits these bills for errors and inconsistency. Hearing the story of a company that had some telephone charges for lines that had been disconnected for eight years, it appears there is a niche for this service.

Asentinel also represents one of those few companies that I like to recognize who have a clear and concise "elevator story", a brief story that describes the focus on what they do. As Perdue says when asked about their story..."We want to provide the best tools for telecom expense management. If we focus on that every day, we can be the best."

According to many in the industry, Asentinel has achieved that goal. With a user list that reads like a "who's who" in business, it appears their customers agree as well.

I find this industry and Asentinel in particular, to be interesting due to the underwhelming number of businesses who are practicing expense management of their telephone costs. According to Perdue, the vast majority of large businesses have yet to take advantage of the enormous cost savings that are available through this type of technology.

I have to say that I don't get this ... I don't understand why any large company wouldn't be interested in finding and correcting these errors, much less automating the handling of all of these bills.

But as interesting as I find the Asentinel story and service, I find it just as interesting that there is an industry being created to correct the billing errors of a few, large companies! When you consider that the average telephone expense of a Fortune 1000 company is 113 million dollars, and assuming the estimate of 8% over billing is correct, you've got a 9 billion dollar problem for those businesses. This doesn't include the tens of thousands of businesses not in that group! Yikes!

While Asentinel elects to work with the larger companies, Perdue said that there are companies who will assist in monitoring and checking telephone bills for smaller companies who spend upwards of $50,000 or so a month. Gartner contends that the same error percentage holds true for the smaller companies as well as the larger ones.

I like this story for a lot of reasons. Through their values-driven culture, Asentinel is one of the leaders of the kindness revolution. Additionally, they are a great example of a company with a constancy of purpose ... a mission upon which they don't waiver their focus.

I challenge you to read your next corporate telephone bill with any comfort that you are getting what you paid for.

Then remember that there is a company watching out for you.

1 Gartner website is located at http://www.Gartner.com.


Join the "Kindness Revolution" created by Ed Horrell, a Memphis-based author and professional speaker and is the host of the syndicated radio show "Talk About Service." Learn more about his books, keynotes and radio show at http://www.edhorrell.com .

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Copyright 2007 by Ed Horrell. All rights reserved.

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