Billing Explanations: Hints and Tips

Ombudsman Services | Last updated Jul 14, 2021

Helping your customers to understand their bills is a valuable service that can result in: growing trust, improving customer experience and reducing their need to contact you repeatedly. We explored this subject in the June Sector Liaison Panel and have summarised the many valuable contributions below.

General principles

• Some customers find understanding their bills particularly challenging. Where billing has become complicated or there have been errors, further explanation is often needed.

• Demonstrating care for the customer by providing responses that are written in accessible language with enough detail to bring understanding will help to build trust.

• Responses should answer the complaint by covering the customers concerns as a priority. A response is not about focusing on what you think is important, or the actions you have taken.

• When you demonstrate personal ownership in the communication, customers feel cared for, listened to and understood.

Language

• Many customers find understanding their bills challenging. Walking a customer through what has happened with careful explanation as to why will bring clarity and understanding.

• Wherever possible explanations should be in plain English without being highly technical or using industry jargon. Where jargon is necessary, make sure it’s clearly explained.

• A response should apologise for the issues that have occurred throughout, demonstrating empathy and an understanding of the impact on your customer.

• Common industry concepts such as back billing and metric/imperial meters will be unfamiliar to the majority of customers. Customer friendly templates which explain minimum industry standards or calculations should be tailored to the individual customer and complaint.

Format and presentation

• Customers absorb information in different ways and it is important to communicate in their preferred way. Some will prefer a telephone discussion where they have opportunity to ask questions and gain understanding, others will prefer a written summary.

• Where there is a lot of complex billing information, providing that in writing ahead of a phone call often works well as it enables customers to review the information prior to discussing it.

• Using headings and paragraphs to break up the detail and separate out issues works well in written communications.

• When sharing figures consider what will be useful to the customer and how best to present the information for ease of understanding. Using tables can be a helpful approach, particularly where explaining a sequence of bills such as consumption history and average usage.

Methods to consider

• Billing issues which result in numerous cancellations and re-bills can be a source of great confusion. Providing a detailed statement of account, which you explain to the customer supersedes all previous bills, can help to bring clarity. It should include start/end readings for billing periods, tariff, VAT and payments received.

• Many customers assume that a catch up bill is the result of higher than average usage, but this is rarely the case. Explaining to the customer why they have been charged the amount they have and contextualising it using recognised industry sources of such as Ofgem’s average consumer usage data can help to bring understanding.

• Where relevant to the complaint include additional information which may be useful to the customer.

We hope that these hints and tips prove useful and that this insight enables your business to reduce complaints arising in this area in the future.