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Calling Card Management the Cyber Way

Posted: 04/1999

Calling Card Management the Cyber Way
By Jennifer Knapp

Postpaid calling card
providers have begun using online capabilities to streamline business functions such as
product management, customer service and billing, while realizing increased profit margins
at the same time.

Through cybermanagement, carriers, their resale customers and end users now are able to
view and manipulate account information online. In addition, cybercare has opened the door
to improved customer service, allowing providers to answer service questions promptly
while helping prevent fraud.

Cybermanagement

Rochester, N.Y.-based Frontier Corp.’s Internet bill payment and presentment (IBPP)
product, uCommand, which is free to Frontier end-user customers, offers a comprehensive
view of an online calling card module’s enhanced management capabilities.

The account overview segment in uCommand shows which calling card products are on an
account, lists personal identification numbers (PINs) for those accounts and allows
customers to add, change or delete PINs in real time. uCommand’s invoice management
references billing information, call detail records (CDRs), bill history for 12 months
prior, balance information and payment status. Usage history and call volume statistics
can be requested in graph or chart form as well.

Some calling card providers are finding web-based
management goes hand-in-hand with accounts using credit card payment.

The program’s administration segment allows users to change account passwords and
modify account user lists. This function is especially useful to Frontier’s business
customers, who use calling cards more often than residential users, explains Jodi Custer,
manager of resale channel for Frontier. A business customer may have several users on one
calling card account, so a designated individual can act as a manager to the account,
manipulating access through the administrative functions of uCommand.

Account managers also can download information from an online account into financial
applications for in-house administrative functions.

Calling card wholesalers also offer Internet-based administrative capabilities for
their calling card reseller customers (see story, click here).
Frontier, for example, offers resellers an online module, called Remote Data Access (RDA),
under its uCommand umbrella.

"The RDA system is an onsite management system for our carrier customers, where
they can take care of their own calling card database," says Deb Cady, manager of
wholesale channel at Frontier. "[Frontier’s] wholesale customers can go into RDA and
add, change or delete a calling card, and actually execute the maintenance on that card,
which is sent directly to Frontier through its system."

Frontier’s wholesale calling card customers are not able, however, to offer access to
the uCommand platform for their end users. It would be the reseller’s responsibility to
provide its own IBPP system to its calling card customers, Cady explains. This
responsibility can be filled through billing service bureaus, which now are offering IBPP
support.

Cyberbilling

State Communications Inc., a Greenville, S.C.-based integrated communications provider
that launched its online billing program Feb. 5, chose to outsource the presentment and
payment functions of its IBPP system to Novazen, Boulder, Colo., a developer of software
products for Internet-based billing and customer communication, while the bill rating and
processing portion is proprietary to the carrier.

Saville, a Burlington, Mass.-based billing service bureau, teamed up in 1998 with
BlueGill Technologies Inc., Ann Arbor, Mich., to integrate IBPP into its service bureau
product portfolio.

"As far as the actual online bill portion is concerned, Saville’s service bureau
would clearly be the billing engine that would fold all the billing information into an
online module," says Richard Aroian, vice president of marketing and strategic
alliances for Saville. BlueGill provides the application software that allows a company to
take billing information out of applications such as Saville’s convergent billing platform
(CBP).

Some calling card providers are finding web-based management goes hand-in-hand with
accounts using credit card payment.

GTC Telecom, a Costa Mesa, Calif.-based carrier that is preparing for a mid-year launch
of its online calling card program, says credit card payment instigated the company’s
decision to implement IBPP. "Normally, carriers send call details to a bill, but if
you are hitting customers’ credit cards, then you are not going to put the call detail
information on the credit card bill," explains Mark Fleming, executive vice president
of GTC. "So, it is necessary to inform customers about their calling details. If we
were not going down the credit card line, then it wouldn’t be as urgent, but I think it
definitely is one of those features you have to have with credit card billing."

This paradigm also lowers billing costs.

"If we can have customers pay their bills by credit card and view their bills
online, our cash flow is better," says Shay Houser, CEO at State Communications. In
addition, the costs associated with printing and mailing bills are completely eliminated.

Putting credit card and personal account information online, however, poses a
significant security threat that carriers must take the time to address.

"Security will be an inhibitor from the network operators’ perspective to really
rolling out these systems quickly," explains Aroian. "But with diligence, it is
possible, and security issues can be addressed."

Security concerns with online account management hit both the end user and network
operator sides. End users would be concerned about how much personal account information
they want available about them on the web, Aroian explains. Network operators, on the
other hand, are concerned about placing valuable end-user statistics online that a
competitor likely would enjoy accessing.

There are internal security processes that can be established to combat security
breaches, Aroian adds. These include firewalls–hardware and software that limits the
exposure of a internal network to an outsider–intrusion protection applications and
24-hour network monitoring. Security functions also can be outsourced to companies such as
GTE Internet Solutions, Irving, Texas, or Fairfax, Va.-based UUNET, the Internet service
provider (ISP) and Internet communications solutions division of MCI WorldCom Inc.

Cybercare

Frontier’s uCommand platform not only acts as a management tool for customers and
resellers, but the carrier also utilizes uCommand’s marketing potential by making product
and services information available on the account for interested users.

Customers with questions about products or account details can e-mail the carrier’s
service center, to which Frontier promises to respond within 24 hours, says Steve Moore,
product analyst for Frontier.

State Communications’ online program offers customer service capabilities that allow
traveling calling card users to inquire about bill discrepancies by e-mail 24 hours a day
from anywhere in the world.

"Customers can reference their bill right on the website and send an e-mail to a
customer services representative, who has the exact same image of the bill online at
[State Communications’] shop," Houser says. In addition to being a powerful customer
service tool, this function also acts as a fraud management tool.

"With calling cards, you are using them when away from the office where you are
out and about in the public, which raises concerns about fraud," says Scott Nelson,
vice president of marketing at Provo, Utah-based Big Planet Inc., an Internet-based
network marketing company that currently is establishing its online bill presentment
program for a wide array of communications products. "Our goal is to put up a
detailed summary [of an account] so people can analyze their account and ensure that calls
are correct," he explains. If a customer does discover fraudulent activity on a
calling card account, an inquiry can be e-mailed to customer service, so the problem is
addressed before further fraud can occur.

Jennifer Knapp is news editor for PHONE+ magazine.


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