The news is reporting more and more cases of customers being incorrectly billed for utilities such as energy bills, insurance and phone contracts. Earlier this year British Gas was fined £9.5 million following IT failures that landed its customers with incorrect and late bills caused by ghosts in the organisation’s systems. Ghosts also struck mobile phone giant EE, which found itself with a fine of £2.7 million for overcharging over 40,000 customers in a widespread billing blunder. In both cases, each of these incorrect customer billing incidents however, could have been avoided, if only they had put measures in place to bust their ghosts.
Despite the risk of heavy fines, and the reputational damage inflicted on those publicly suffering from ghosts, many businesses aren’t acting to exorcise their own.
“Ghosts” themselves are relatively simple to define – inaccurate information or data, often customer information that is “hidden” in an IT system. However, pinpointing and exorcising such ghosts, and the issues they cause, is a different matter made increasingly difficult due to ambiguous root causes, with the added complication of legacy IT systems.
Finding the ‘marshmallow man’ hidden in IT systems
Any organisation using IT systems to bill and contact customers is immediately susceptible to ghosts, with some of the worst affected industries being utilities, telecoms, insurance and banking.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done to stop ghosts from rearing their ugly heads once they are there. Prevention is key. With no single underlying cause for ghosts – it could be as simple as a human typo, a business process that wasn’t followed, bad system upgrades or even a system failure – they’re impossible to predict and only become visible to businesses once it is too late.
For instance, in the banking industry, ghosts have been known to affect and increase interest rates without detection. While this may seem like a small issue, which can be easily fixed, it’s vital for organisations to understand the ramifications of unhappy customers and that these occurrences are avoidable. Any disruption in the customer journey will lead to disgruntled customers, each of which can cost a business anywhere up to £7,000. If a ghost causes an issue affecting every customer, businesses could be looking at potential bankruptcy before even facing regulatory fines.
This only makes it more urgent that organisations do everything in their power to stop ghosts from infiltrating and compromising their systems. While testing all IT systems is vital for the smooth running of an organisation, ghost-busting is a different matter and should be treated so. Quality assurance is key.
Who you gonna call?
Organisations must work with third-party quality partners to go above and beyond traditional software testing. The fact there is no test environment which will ever precisely replicate a live working environment, and different departments within an organisation adhere to specific and unique processes, make ghosts immune to testing methods.
While many variables are outside an organisation’s control, simple mistakes can be mitigated by employing capable third-party, real-life, ghostbusters – better known as quality assurance experts – to manage the entire lifecycle of IT systems responsible for billing and reporting. These ghostbusters will undertake regular internal testing and monitoring to prevent quality slipping down the list of priorities and track down the anomalies in a system which are causing issues. It is vital that quality is a priority for the entire business, at every level and by implementing an end-to-end continuous quality approach, organisations can be confident they won’t be brought to their knees through dwindling consumer trust or irreplaceable financial damage.
Shivani Patel is head of business analysis at SQS .