By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
Regardless of platform, paradigm, or perspective, one common need of every teleservice company is to quickly, accurately, and effectively bill their clients for services rendered. Though, off-the-shelf packages abound, these general business offerings are realistic solutions only for smaller operations that have a limited number of invoices to process. For anything larger, the data-entry requirements become time-consuming and fraught with error, while the generic feature structure of standard programs tends to frustrate those wanting to tailor the software to meet their specific needs.
The purpose of this article is to compare and contrast the billing systems that are used, recommended, and commended by teleservice businesses. These are robust systems, designed specifically for the specialized needs of outsourcing call centers. The programs have been designed by industry players who know what is needed, why it is important, and how it needs to be done. As such, their work is tailored to what is practical, relevant, and useful for their customers.
These systems also have the added benefit of being able to interface to or accept files from many industry messaging and enhanced services platforms. This eliminates data-entry errors – because there is no data-entry; it also greatly speeds up the billing process.
As you review the information provided herein, there will, no doubt, be characteristics and features that will predispose you to one program over the other. This is an important place to start, but once you get your list narrowed down, it is important to talk with other users of the program and to get a demo so you can experience it first hand. When each of these programs was developed, certain initial design decisions needed to be made. (This is an inherent reality in any product ever produced.) As product development progresses, a certain list of benefits emerge because of these early engineering choices; some limitations will also be the unfortunate side effect. Sometimes this helps to mold a software package that fits your business procedures nicely, whereas rendering others cumbersome. While this does not make one system inherently better than another, the point is that before you buy any billing system, make sure that it will dovetail nicely into your current business procedures and processes.
Five billing systems fit these criteria and will be profiled. They are Alston Tascom’s Evolution billing system, Amtelco’s Infinity Billing Link, TASbiller developed by Randy Ripke, and Professional Teledata’s TBS.
The Evolution billing systemfrom Alston Tascom was released in 2001. A powerful and unique feature of the Evolution billing system is the ability to upload all billing information into one of the most popular small business accounting packages, QuickBooks Pro. Tascom billing data can also be formatted for popular spreadsheets and databases, as well as for other accounting packages. For many contact centers, this gives the ability to track and control both income and expenses in the same accounting package, eliminating the need to pay costly service and support fees to other third-party accounting program vendors.
The Tascom Evolution billing system has a user-friendly interface that allows billing patterns, or templates, to be setup for individual client accounts, as well as groups of similar client accounts. Once a billing pattern has been created, clients are simply assigned to that pattern and a billing output file can immediately be created. Existing billing pattern templates can be edited and renamed to customize the billing when new features are added or changed for any group of clients.
The top features of the billing system include:
- Specify various system defaults for each billing category
- Billing for each category can be enabled or disabled for individual clients or groups.
- A basic fee can be charged for each service and include a specified number of minutes, calls, or events in that base amount.
- A minimum charge can be assessed for each billing cycle.
- One or two-step rounding options.
- Multiple tax rates.
- Long distance fees can be applied to any outbound call; different rates can be applied.
- Recurring and one-time charges can be assessed to each client or group of clients.
- Each billing category can be assigned to a specified income account. Income accounts can be imported from an external accounting package, such as QuickBooks Pro or created manually.
- Upload billing details into QuickBooks Pro and other popular accounting programs.
For more information on Tascom Evolution Billing System, visit www.alstontascom.com or call 866-2-TASCOM (866-282-7266).
Infinity Billing Link from Amtelco is flexible, reliable, and convenient, supplying the tools needed to accurately and completely bill each client. Billing Link is a Windows application designed specifically for Amtelco’s Infinity and Report Generator systems. Additional capabilities are provided through interfaces with Infinity’s CaptureLink, Network Archiver, UltraComm, and Directory Importer, plus WinFax and credit card authorization programs ICVerify and American Express Payment Link. As such, it is an all-encompassing billing platform for Infinity system users.
Billing Link is easy to useand gives users complete control of all billing options, allowing for customization of each client’s charges. This simplifies the process of setting up and making changes to any billing component.
Joe Miller, of Checkpoint Communications Company, is a solid supporter of Infinity Billing Link. “Using Billing Link brought our answering service and paging billing systems up to the twenty-first century,” Joe stated. His previous billing package was both “expensive and tedious” requiring “hundreds of man-hours per month on billing issues. We are down to eight now,” he added. “Before utilizing Billing Link, we needed a ten-day blackout period to prepare, audit, and produce our answering service and paging bills. One person does it now on the last afternoon of the month.” Joe indicated that he has never made a single purchase that has given such a tremendous improvement for his business as he experienced with Billing Link. Checkpoint Communications has used Billing Link for two years. They even use it to maintain their pager inventory.
The top features of Amtelco’s Infinity Billing Link are:
- Individual client recurring and usage charges for any combination of Infinity account statistics.
- Contact management and pager inventory databases.
- One hundred tax, transaction, and revenue codes.
- Set up multiple companies or data sets.
- Flexible invoice layout for plain paper, pre-printed form, and multi-page invoices.
- Single user or multi-user at no additional charge.
- All data immediately accessible, no restoring data from archive.
- Dozens of standard reports and unlimited customized reports.
- Automatically charge for long distance.
- Automated interface with multiple credit card authorization programs.
For more information, contact Amtelco at 800-356-9148 or Billinglink@amtelco.com.
TASbiller was designed and written to be easy to use and industry specific. It has full Windows support including Windows XP. TASbiller provides for twenty automatic posting accounts and five sales tax categories per customer with master and subaccount handling. A popular feature of TASbiller is the ability to change customer rates in “what-if” scenarios and then watching profitability numbers immediately re-calculate. TASbiller allows users to charge based on any data field, or any combination of data fields, which are imported from a telemessaging system. Its reports can be printed, viewed before printing, or saved to a file. TASbiller also has a built-in data backup and restore feature.
“Randy Ripkey [the developer of TASbiller] has designed the ultimate billing program for the TAS industry,” stated Karen Hicks of Answer Plus, Inc. in Las Vegas. “Not only is it easy and efficient to use, but the reports and information it provides are invaluable for tracking costs and profit. I cannot imagine how we got by without it!”
“The learning curve was small and we received excellent support during and after installation,” added Kurt Duncan. “We used to spend eight hours preparing billing and then another two to three hours stuffing envelops. Since using TASbiller, we now spend less than an hour gathering data and no time stuffing bills by using the statement export option to TASbill.com.” [See side bar, Bill Mailing Service, for more information about TASbill.com.]
TASbiller’s top features include:
- No expensive training required.
- Unique profitability analysis of individual accounts or groups of accounts.
- Interfaces with TASbill.com for automated invoice printing.
- Print, fax, email, or save invoices to a Word document.
- Easily and quickly re-print any invoice at any time.
- No limits on the number of accounts or storage of historical information.
- Manages pager and voice mail inventories.
- Five sales tax categories per customer.
- Twenty-eight day or monthly billing cycles.
For more information or to receive a free demo CD please call 321-951-2273.
TBS is sold by Professional Teledata. Professional Teledata has a long history of working with hundreds of call centers throughout North America. This history goes back nearly two decades, starting with their popular and venerable BCS series of billing programs. TBS is their next generation product, which built upon the success and history of BCS. Notably, TBS was not designed by a single call center owner, but by software professionals intimately familiar with the needs of teleservice companies and call centers. The result is a product with tremendous power and flexibility.
TBS version 2.1 has been enhanced to simplify and streamline daily office chores. Properly used and operated it has the potential to improve cash flow, simplify new account setup chores, reduce monthly paper costs, and enhance the usability of business financials. Holly Bensman of Corporate Message Services, in Savannah, GA concurs, “We find [TBS] to be a great billing product and a powerful management tool,” she stated. It is “able to perform instant evaluations from a single account to our entire business activity!”
Secrephone’s Suzanne McLaughlin is likewise enthusiastic, “TBS allows us better reporting capabilities, the ability to see all aspects of each customer at a glance, and the ability to track all of our resources (pagers and DID) by client. TBS gives us flexible billing options, better tools to evaluate profitability, and the ability to print plain paper invoices.”
Optional TBS Plus adds the power of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) with an expanded contact manager. This allows prospects and clients to be tracked through the sales cycle and subsequent customer service efforts. Since it is integrated with billing, all contact and billing information is readily available from a single program. TBS Plus also allows for custom “sign-on templates” to replace manual paper checklists. Various “sign-on” tasks can be then assigned to different people or departments.
The main features of TBS include:
- Instant access to historical invoices, payments, and usage statistics.
- Historical per-customer profitability data.
- Sophisticated and extremely flexible interfaces to all types of call center equipment.
- Supports multiple offices, multiple billing cycles, annual, semi-annual, and quarterly billing.
- Comprehensive tax calculations and reporting.
- Rich set of standard reports included, with capabilities for user created custom reports.
- Invoices may be printed, faxed, emailed, or exported to printing service bureaus.
- Built-in contact manager and available new account administration functions provide a true “Customer Relations Management” facility.
- Built-in interface to Microsoft Word for form letters.
- Interfaces to ICVerify and PCCharge for automatic credit card billing, to the ACH network for automatic customer bank account debiting, and to bank lockbox files.
For more information about TBS, contact Professional Teledata at 800-344-9944 or www.professionalteledata.com.
Billing Software Comparison Chart
|Billing software name||Evolution Billing System||Infinity Billing Link||TASbiller||TBS|
|Started selling billing systems in||2001||1998||1980||1983|
|Number sold||Over 10||100 +||30 +||100 +|
|Operating systems||Windows NT/2000 and Internet Explorer||Windows 95 or above||Any Windows PC||Windows 98, 2000, NT, XP|
|Hardware||User provided||User provided||User provided||User provided or vendor provided|
|Stand-alone or network-based||Network-based||Both||Both||Both|
|Electronic transfer available from:||Tascom Evolution System||Amtelco’s Infinity||“All” systems||“All” systems|
|Entry-level price||System dependent||$4,995||$1,995||$3,495|
|Service contract available?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Service contact required?||No||No||No||Yes|
|Annual support costs||System dependent||$900||$200||$900|
|Support hours||7 x 24||8 – 5 (CST)|
M – F
|24 x 7||24 x7|
|Is it user installed?||Yes (vendor installation available)||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|How is training done?||Web-enabled or phone training||Via phone and PCAnywhere|
|Via phone||Via phone; Optional classes available|
Bill Mailing Service
Tired of buying stationery, folding, inserting, licking, sticking, and stamping monthly bills? Had enough of fixing printers, buying expensive toner, and running to the post office for postage? TASbill.com has a solution. They can upload your billing files, from any billing program, for immediate processing and delivery to the post office. The cost per invoice, depending on total monthly volume, starts at about fifty cents; this includes postage. There are additional charges for back printing, color ink, and special color paper.
An option is to have TASbill.com print a bar code of account data on the remittance slips. This allows clients to remit payments to a bank lock box and save a day or more in receivables, avoiding the need for the teleservice company to open hundreds of return envelopes, log payments, stamp the backs of checks, and fill out the bank deposit slip. The bank emails users a daily report of payments received, which may be posted into an accounts receivables program.
A recent addition to TASbill.com is the ability to email bills instead of mailing them. When emailing bills, users generally receive funds into their bank accounts in days instead of weeks. In addition to faster receivables, clients may click on links in the email to view other services of which they may have been unaware. It is easier to sell an additional service to an existing customer than to find a new customer.
Users of TASbill.com say it makes sense to outsource any task that may be performed faster, less expensively, or with less hassles. TASbill.com indicates that no teleservices customer has left the service in four years due to poor performance. In fact, most users wish they had signed up sooner.
For further information call Chris or April at 877-636-7620.
[From Connection Magazine – Sept/Oct 2002]