MPs CRITICISE OFTEL FOR FAILING TO EXPLAIN ALTERNATIVES TO BT
Andy Wilson, Sales and Marketing Director of Ryder Systems - one of the world's leading suppliers of bill management solutions - comments on the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts' recent report into "Helping consumers benefit from competition in telecommunications" and asks why the remit wasn't extended to cover business users.
"On 23rd March 2004, the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts published a report revealing that consumers are missing out on phone bill savings that could total tens of millions of pounds. The report, entitled Helping consumers benefit from competition in telecommunications, said that many fixed-line users could save more than £50 a year by moving to cheaper tariffs or suppliers. The report criticises Oftel for not doing enough to help consumers decipher the "nightmare" complexity of the fixed line market.
Whilst I welcome this report, it is a shame that its remit was limited only to the consumer market. As BT retains around 70% of the total telecommunications sector, a comparable report on helping UK businesses benefit from competition in telecommunications would also be appropriate - and I am sure it would reveal similar findings. Even so, there are some points made in this consumer-focused document that can transfer across to the business sector, and some important lessons that companies should take on board.
For example, the report highlights the fact that consumers may be confused about what they are paying at present. In my day-to-day work at Ryder Systems, I constantly speak to business users about their telecoms spend and it has become clear that this is also a considerable problem for them. Small to Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) frequently receive over 100 pages for their itemised telecoms bill every month, with large businesses often receiving 1000s of pages.
These bills are becoming increasingly complex every month. As new technologies such as 3G become ever more popular, the mobile phone bill is no longer a simple list of voice calls and tariff charges, but now includes information, entertainment and additional communication services such as news alerts, e-mail/Internet access and even football highlights. Deciphering exactly how much you are paying, and for what, is becoming a challenging task for almost every business.
The report goes on to specifically make the point that it is the bill itself that is falling short when it comes to providing consumers with the right information to identify the best deal. Many telephone bills do not provide enough information to allow customers to determine the best tariff and discount options. It is here that bill management really comes into its own, providing bill payers with the tools they need to quickly and easily understand their telephone use and spend. Telecommunications operators are increasingly seeing the benefit of providing visibility and understanding of their billing data. It helps build user trust in the telco brand and develops confidence in using other services. As a result, we are seeing telcos offer bill management as a value-added service to their customers - both business and consumer.
Whether you are a consumer or business user is, to some extent, irrelevant. Whoever you are, your ability to make informed choices depends on whether you can make meaningful comparisons between telecommunications companies and their services. At present, it appears that a great deal more could be done and it is my opinion that bill management solutions will play a key role in solving the problem."
Melanie Stephenson, Marketing Executive, Ryder Systems Ltd, Daisyfield Business Centre, Appleby Street, Blackburn, Lancashire. T: 01254 291 500 F: 01254 291 504
John Haynes, Livewire Public Relations, 32 Ewell Road, Surbiton, Surrey, KT6 6HX. T: 020 8339 7440 F: 020 8339 7441
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