Among people familiar with the Telecom industry, it is commonly believed that many phone bills contain errors. These errors usually favor the provider. Moreover, many mid to large sized businesses have services that are not being used.
Even if you agree with the above statement, the complexity of self-auditing the phone bill may seem a daunting task. In this article we look at some simple tools and techniques you can use to conduct a pre-audit of your telecom environment to see if there is a large discrepancy between what you think you owe versus what the phone company is billing you. At that point, you can decide if having a consultant or technician conduct formal audit is in your best interest.
Because the “telecom environment” can be so vast and multi-faceted (Land lines, Internet, Cellular), the scope of this article will focus on land-line services. Internet and cellular need to be covered, but we’ll do that in another article.
Where to Start
One easy place to start with a pre-audit is to do a quick comparison of the number of phone lines on the phone bill against the number of phone lines you can actually observe in your office. Since the extinction of dial-up modems, most traditional phone lines (also called POTS or Plain Old Telephone Service) fall into one of the following three purposes:
- The Phone System – Any business large enough to have three or more inbound telephone lines usually has a business phone system (also called a PBX or KSU). If the lines appear on every phone such as “Line 1, Line 2, Line 3, etc., then you can push each line button individually and identify them by calling your cell phone from that line. This will display the caller ID of the individual line. If calling a cellphone is not an option, you can dial 1-800-444-4444 to have the number played back for you by an automated system.
- The Fax Machine – Even though this machine should have exited the earth with the dinosaurs, the concept of sending paper through the air is still in wide use. Most people know their fax numbers so identification isn’t really an issue. However, be aware that some executives or divisions manage to get their own fax machines and separate numbers. This is especially true for businesses with 100 or more people in one location.
- Alarm – Depending on the local regulations of your area, the alarm lines are sometime shared with the phone system. Or, sometimes they are “dedicated”. The term dedicated means there is a phone line that is only for the device (in this case the alarm) and not shared with anything else. Identifying alarms lines can be tricky if they are not labeled. Often your alarm company should know what phone numbers are connected to your alarm system. So, a quick call to them might help you get the information.
Did we get Everything?
Now that you believe you have accounted for the phone lines on the phone system, the fax(es), and the alarm, are there still more lines appearing on the phone bill that you can’t locate? If so, try calling the phone numbers in question. Be sure to let it ring at least 13 times. The reason is that some devices are programmed to wait as long as 12 rings before picking up the line. See what, or who, answers these unknown numbers. It is possible you may have devices with modems on your location of which you are not aware. Some examples are copiers, energy management systems, or remote access modems for network equipment.
Time for a Real Telecom Audit
If at the end you’re still coming up with lines on the phone bill that cannot be accounted for, it may be time for a telecom services audit. Even though an audit will cost you, here’s an example of why this can make good business sense. If you have even one phone line coming into your business that is not being used, that can be $35-$55 per month in wasted expense. Over a year, that can be $400-$700. That’s quite a hefty annual expense for just one phone line.
In that light, spending a couple hundred dollars to get your phone lines audited is a great return on investment.
Who You Should Call
There are two obvious choices for whom to call for a formal telecom audit. The first is a consultant who is experienced in this process. They typically charge for their services in one of two manners. The first option is by paying an hourly or project fee. The other is on contingency. The contingency method uses a percentage of the money they save you by identifying un-needed lines or services.
The second option is to call your existing phone vendor (NOT the phone company). Your phone vendor is the person or company that maintains your phone system or inside wiring. They usually don’t work on contingency. However, their hourly rate for auditing your phone lines is probably going to be less than the consultant’s hourly rate (i.e. $90/hr vs. $150/hr).
Personally, we prefer the technician for the job because they are more adept at getting in to the wiring to hunt down phone lines that go to nowhere. And, over the long haul they are cheaper and more versatile than the consultants.