Although it's widely accepted that doing business on the World Wide Web is essential to a company's success nowadays, it can be difficult to overcome years of thinking in terms of regional offices and face-to-face meetings. Even so, it only took a couple of e-mails for an executive in Florida to realize that it made eminent good business sense to engage the services of a company in California that represents another company in Michigan.
That's been a typical experience for Kenneth Spint, cofounder of Access Utilities and Telephony Services. Launched in 1995 as a broker of utility management cost-saving services, Access specializes in marketing telecommunications audits to medium to large national businesses and government entities. The company also offers utility and energy services targeted to a California base. Access is the exclusive representative for nationally recognized companies in each of these fields.
The simplicity and value of outsourcing an audit - the prospect of saving 10-30% on a company's telecommunication costs with no upfront fees and minimal staff time involvement, make going forward with one an easy decision. Since the audit process basically discovers errors in billing, locating the ongoing repetitive errors in telecom bills can halt a significant drain on a company's finances.
Spint suggests that every company should have an initial audit and that it should then be repeated every three or four years. He notes that while growing companies naturally tend to concentrate their efforts on continued growth, once that growth plateaus the focus turns to saving money. "That's where an audit can really pay off," Spint notes, "lowering the cost of doing business which in turn increases a company's bottom line and market value."
No Cost Inefficiencies Or Business Interruptions
The obvious benefit of having an outsourcing company handle periodic audits is that there's no need to support the service in the years in between. Plus, clients can remain focused on their core mission while the audit is taking place. (Spint cites his own company as a personal endorsement of outsourcing's benefits; as a provider of outsourcing marketing and sales for companies that outsource audits, Access is effectively an outsourcing outsourcer.)
Modern technology is what makes the whole process feasible. Most companies already have the information needed in an electronic format, so Access obtains the necessary records via fax or e-mail. All that's actually needed is a copy of the current month's bill and a Letter of Agency. The entire process occurs off-site so there's no need for a company to provide desk space to an auditor or have extra people underfoot. Access then contacts the carriers directly. It normally takes up to 60 days to receive the records from the utility vendors before the process of verifying the terms of the contract or tariff can begin.
Spint stresses that there's an art to the audit process and software alone cannot be relied upon to locate errors. Access, for instance, has an enormous database of errors made by previous companies with their respective carriers. "With the years of experience and the personal database that my company has, we're often successful in finding errors where other companies have not," Spint says. He is confident that if you give his company a complex enough bill of a certain size, they're sure to find some savings. At the very least, if no errors are found, the client has the satisfaction of knowing it's being billed properly.
Making Sure The Check Gets In The Mail
Besides finding errors, Access is prepared to defend them to the respective carriers. Banks and airlines, for instance, tend to require a lot of negotiation, constant conference calls and attorney involvement. Access handles the entire negotiation process, so all the client has to do is deposit the refund check.
Although Access does not actually conduct the audits, Spint is usually the only person a customer has to deal with. "If I'm talking to the president of a company I do it all the way to the end, then I ask for a letter of recommendation and call back again in three or four years," he says. "Generally people are looking for a solution and a contact, and don't care who performs the audit itself."
The key to any successful outsourcing relationship is delivering on promises, and Spint thinks the key to that is not to overpromise. Because his company's services are project-oriented and the fees are contingency-based, the agreements are easy to define. The companies Access markets handles what are known as "refund-only" audits, which look for errors on bills already paid. Access submits any errors found to the utility vendor, who in turn puts a check in the mail or credits the client's account. As a bonus, companies can use the audit findings to generate future savings.
In choosing an auditing service, Spint recommends first looking at a company's client list and testimonials from past relationships, second deciding if you like the voice on the other end of the phone, and third evaluating the agreement. Although Access handles only the larger contracts, Spint is happy to refer smaller companies to another auditing resource.
One Refund Leads To Another
Access has generated refunds for large companies such as Ford Motors and Chrysler, utilities such as San Diego Gas and Electric, city governments such as the City of San Diego and the State of Michigan, and about 50 school districts. Spint is particularly enthusiastic about doing more work for school districts, because although they may not be large telecom users, there is great refund potential. The same is true for healthcare and banking systems.
Access' original business plan was built around telecommunication and utility bill audits, and that remains the company's focus. However, in response to customer demand, the company has since added energy audits and sales. Spint notes that, "Once you've done a service for a client and have succeeded in saving them money, then they start getting the idea that the auditing process is something they should have gotten into sooner and ask you about all the other types of audits."
Access has recently ventured into energy sales, responding to a need in San Diego where electricity costs have more than tripled due to deregulation. Access represents one of six alternate energy providers licensed and registered with the State of California. After conducting an energy audit to determine a customer's needs, they develop a monthly contract which not only saves customers money over purchasing energy on the open market, but enables them to accurately budget their energy costs each month.
Spint remembers the days when you really had to be next door or walk in and do a dog and pony show, but notes that people are too busy for that today. "Every once in a while I get in my car, I get on an airplane and fly someplace, but generally that's not required. I love the technology."
Lessons From The Outsourcing Journal:
- Schedule an initial audit and have it repeated every three or four years.
- Ask prospective auditors for clients lists and testimonials.
- Maximize efficiency by working with an auditing service that works off-site.