Cox Communications Inc. customers in San Diego and Orange County, Calif.,
Omaha and New England, will soon have more choices -- in billing options.
The cable operator will experiment in those systems by allowing customers to
customize the way their bills will arrive. They can place their telephony,
high-speed data and video transactions on one bill. Or, they can choose two
services to be billed together and one service on a separate mailing.
Traditionalists can stick with separate bills for each product.
The single bill will be promoted initially to new bundled services
customers, executives said, then marketed to existing customers. Local executives
will determine when to stage out the offer to current package customers.
Consumers who take the one-bill option may choose whether they want the bill to arrive
on the first or the 15th of the month.
Cox is the first major MSO to roll out single billing on a large scale basis.
Joe Rooney, vice president of marketing, said that is because his company is on
only one billing platform, provided by Convergys Corp., and because Cox has the
broadest cable telephony deployment. Convergys created a standard billing format
for all products that eases the effort to offer choice.
Multiple consumer surveys by outside companies ranked simplified billing as a
top reason driving consumer decisions on bundled products. Cox own research
found that 70 percent of consumers polled wanted a bundled bill. Squeezing into
second in the poll was discounted prices: 69 percent of consumers said they
respond to a bargain, Rooney said.
To ensure that single billing works, capturing all the applicable charges,
Cox tested single billing to about 200 employee homes beginning last December.
Now the company is ready to deploy to its bundled services customer base which,
by the end of the first quarter, numbered 750,000 households. That includes
250,000 telephony customers. Cox intends to offer the single billing option to
all seven markets selling telephony by the end of this year.
Cox will include the single billing offer in its advertising in those
markets, but it won't be the lead message.
Executives said single billing is only 'a little more challenging' than
conventional offerings. The payments will go to the same lockbox. Some
transation time is added for customer service reps as when they collapse current
multiple bills at the request of current customers, said Randy O'Neal, director
of bundling and packaging. Partial payments remain problematic, but 'federal and
state regulators help us there,' quipped Rooney. Laws direct that many state and
federal telephony fees be the first tithes paid out of a partial payment.
A single bill has the potential to be quite high each month, but executives
said they don't intend to change the way they rate customers' ability to pay.
Now, customers' credit is checked as they sign up for products. As they convert
to the single bill, the company will allow the consumer to make the decision
that they can afford that one payment each month. Cox has the ability to cap the
number of pay-per-view movies bought each month, and block pricey 900 number
calls, but executives were not sure if transaction tracking had the capability
to warn, mid-cycle, if an individual's bill is excessive.
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