Historically phone bills have been as bland as a tin of condensed soup but T-Mobile saw an opportunity to make its bills more valuable as a regular interface between its brand and its customers.
Phone bills have traditionally taken the form of a series of monochrome sheets of A4 paper containing row upon row of impenetrable figures with little or no explanation as to what the digits mean. But this doesn't mean there's not a value to breaking the mold, as T-Mobile found when it redesigned its bills in 2006.
British Telecom was the first to break the mould by redesigning its phone bill, and it caused ripples of excitement in the telecommunications and design fraternity. But it wasn’t until Vodafone revamped the bills of its mobile phone users in 2005 that people started to really get excited about the opportunities that this form of monthly communication could offer. The traditionally operational request for payment could also be seen as a regular opportunity to interact with customers.
One mobile phone operator that had got stuck in a rut with many others before it was T-Mobile. Customer’s ranked the company’s bill as last in the market due to its lack of clarity. Of equal concern was that customers calling to seek clarification of the bill were clogging up T-Mobile’s customer service centre. And there was increasing regulatory pressure to improve bill clarity.
The company naturally wanted to address these issues on two different fronts: firstly to ensure customer retention, and secondly but of equal importance, to reduce the number of full time employees required to man its customer service department.
So it called on its direct marketing agency Tullo Marshall Warren (TMW) and information design specialists Boag Associates to collaborate on a new improved bill. Boag was employed having built up a strong track record of revamping the bills of a number of high profile companies including Royal Mail, EDF Energy and British Gas.
‘We encourage clients to view their bills as something that the customer sees on a regular basis so it is important that the bill is a clear expression of the brand,’ explains Andrew Boag, director of Boag Associates. ‘The monthly bill is an opportunity to demonstrate and build a dialogue through language and words to express a firm’s brand values.’
A number of problems with the existing bills were immediately apparent to Boag. On the opening page of the bill the customer’s name and address were sited at the foot of the page and importantly there was no helpline or contact details. Page two had lots of under utilised space and on page three, where a summary of charges was printed, the bill completely missed a trick in that it failed to inform customers how they had used their monthly allowance and what usage was inside/outside their allowance.
Boag wasn’t phased by the magnitude of these issues - he knew that they could be easily resolved. But where he did have reservations was getting the technology infrastructure in place.
One of the first issues that Boag needed to overcome was the constrained data-graphing capability in T-Mobile’s document composition system Amdocs. He argued for changes to be made to the system to enable T-Mobile to add pi-charts. ‘We were able to consult with T-Mobile to such an extent that they wrote new functionality into Amdocs (check) so that we could produce pi-charts,’ explains Boag.
A series of further improvements were proposed by Boag, which were informed by research that T-Mobile had carried out, and these changes were then put to the test. ‘We used T-Mobile employees and family members to gauge opinion on what we’d done halfway through the project,’ explains Boag.
This user feedback was taken on board before the finished bills went live with a series of radical new enhancements. The most revolutionary addition was the innovative use of graphs to show allowance usage.
“While there are lots of examples of graphs being used on bills in countries across the world, they’re the first graphs used on one of the mainstream mobile phone bills in the UK - we’re just a bit slow to adopt over here,” explains Boag.
Other improvements focused on making the bill easier to understand and providing greater levels of transparency. An account summary was introduced on the first page, with credits and debits presented in a straightforward way and the month to which the bill relates highlighted by the use of large bold type to aid reference and filing. Last month’s and this month’s bill totals are also printed on page one to help customers track usage patterns and usage is also clearly divided into ‘within’ and ‘outside’ of allowance, which helps customers to see what they are being charged for outside of their price plan.
In addition the brand has been brought to life on the bill with the clear organisation of information demonstrating T-Mobile’s “honest and straightforward approach to its customers”.
This combination of new additions has clearly won over T-Mobile’s customers. Bill clarity satisfaction saw an increase in line with the objective of 10% within a 12-month period and a review conducted three months after the bill launch saw a reduction in propensity for customers to call customer services from 31% to 22%. This in turn allowed T-Mobile to redeploy 28 employees in its customer service team - it’s initial target was 18.
While these figures are good the improvements don’t stop there. Boag has a maintenance relationship with T-Mobile to continually add new products to the bill as they are being developed. As for the key question as to whether or not the design has had the impact on the industry that Vodafone’s bill had, Boag is quietly confident.
“When the Vodafone redesign came out it was seen as pretty good and set a new standard,” he explains. “I like to think that T-Mobile’s bill sets a new standard but bills are not something that you would expect people to get excited about. The measure of success to us is that we don’t get people saying that it’s awful.”
T-mobile representative Sophia Parviez reiterates Boag’s enthusiasm: “The new bills are very user friendly and customer centric and make it significantly easier for our customers. The use of graphs helps T-Mobile explain what would otherwise be a complex system for our customers to understand.”
Information design - what is it?
“Good information design is all about clarity and transparency - making information clear and easy to understand - but it’s not just a code that you can follow: you have to bear in mind the audience that you are writing for and the appropriateness for that audience,” explains Andrew Boag, Director of information design specialists Boag Associates.
“Some people think that information design is about graphs and visualising information in a graphical form and some people think that it is about language. Information design combines writing, graphic design and typography, illustration, user experience, and business consultancy, – bringing all of these skills together so that the end result is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Find out more about information design
New bill - front page
- The name and address is in the standard window envelope position as opposed to its previous placement at the foot of the page
- Helpline and email contact details are displayed prominently
- Customer/bill details are at the head of the page - previously they were in the centre of the page - making then easier to locate when calling in to the customer service team
- The month to which the bill relates is printed prominently thanks to the use of large bold type
- Last month’s bill total and payment is presented above the current bill’s details allowing easy and immediate comparison with the previous month’s
- Balance brought forward and this month’s charges follows in logical order
- T-Mobile’s brand is brought to life through brand inspired language, colour and imagery
New bill - final page
- Graphs provide a visual snapshot of how allowance has been used
- Fully itemised listings are sub-divided by within/outside allowances, which helps users claiming expenses for example
Customer reaction to new bills
“It’s great. Very clear, easy to understand. The increase in colour and a photo makes it very attractive to the eye. The use of a pie chart is great, expressing a customer’s usage. Improvements like this should be the start of many reforms.”
“Thank goodness! A mobile phone bill I can actually understand, it is so clear and easy to read. Well done, it was definitely needed and a huge improvement!”