Marketing pundits may continue to debate whether consumers really want to put all their telecommunications services on a single bill, but that's not stopping at least one MSO from moving forward with a one-bill option.
Cox Communications Inc. plans to soon introduce a single-bill option for customers that subscribe to a bundle of telephone, cable and high-speed Internet services, director of bundling and packaging Randy O'Neal said last week. The company already bills for video and cable-modem services on a single statement.
In recent weeks, Cox began testing single bills for all three services among "friendly" homes of employees in four of the markets where it sells telephone service: Omaha, Neb.; Oklahoma City; Phoenix; and the Connecticut/Rhode Island cluster.
Other Cox telephony markets, including San Diego and Orange County, Calif., and Hampton Roads, Va., are scheduled to begin single-bill trials by the first quarter of next year.
The MSO is converting its billing systems to an ICOMS 4.5 software platform from Convergys Corp., which allows operators to provide single bills for cable and telephony services.
The billing software also supports flexible statement options for customers who want to pay their phone bill at the first of the month and their cable or high-speed bills on the 15th of the month, Cox vice president of marketing Joe Rooney said. Some subscribers would want a separate bill for high-speed Internet access so they can charge the expense to their employers, he added.
Cox is testing the single-bill process to make sure its features work as expected and to set up the back-office procedures that will support the new billing options.
"Our multiple-products customers are some of our most important customers, and we want to make sure we dot all the I's and cross all the T's," O'Neal said.
Providing a single-bill option "adds some complexity to the way you do business," O'Neal acknowledged. Every customer-care employee needs to be trained to handle the new billing options, and sales agents must learn how to offer single billing as an option when selling bundled service packages.
Down the road, single bills could cut costs for Cox by eliminating some multiple statements, O'Neal said.
"But that's not what's driving this," he said. "It's customer demand that's driving this."
Consolidating bills for multiple services on a single statement helps to simplify customers' lives, O'Neal said. Rooney agreed, and added that time-constrained people like the convenience of a single bill.
When asked about the danger of sticker shock, Rooney insisted that "Sticker shock is an urban myth," especially when it comes to the types of customers who buy a bundled package from a single telecommunications provider.
One of the challenges in moving to a single bill for phone and cable services is trying to combine regulated and unregulated services.
Regulations can dictate the types of late fees that apply to phone service, for example.
Rooney said that Cox has not seen big problems with late payments from customers who buy bundled services. But if the company does notice problems from customers struggling to pay larger, bundled bills, "we could probably proactively contact those customers with a flexible bill option," he said.
Subscribers would be encouraged to go back to multiple statements and to pay part of the bill on the first of the month, and part on the 15th.
"While there may be some operational hurdles to rolling this out, it's great news for our customers and great news for Cox in driving RGUs [revenue-generating units]," Rooney said.
Cox plans to communicate the new single-bill options through bill inserts and bill messages, as well as through customer service agents.
"It will be a key message in our umbrella marketing campaigns," Rooney added.
Single statements will allow Cox to more easily communicate the savings that customers can receive through a bundled package, O'Neal said.
Cox has revised its billing statements in anticipation of the single-bill option. "We put together a mock-up and put it in front of consumers earlier this year," O'Neal said.
Customers responded well to the summary page, he added.
"It's a much cleaner bill than we've had before." Following the summary page, charges for video, voice and data are broken out separately.
Over time, Cox plans to carry over the single-bill option to its direct debit and electronic billing payment plans, O'Neal said.