What is metered billing? Here’s how this adaptable billing model works


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  1. Introduction
  2. What is metered billing?
  3. Metered billing components
  4. Which types of businesses use metered billing?
  5. How does metered billing work?
  6. Benefits of metered billing
  7. Metered billing best practices

Customers demand flexibility from businesses, especially regarding billing. Metered billing—a transparent billing approach that establishes a direct link between consumption and cost—is one solution that businesses use to address this challenge. It offers businesses a way to display tangible value while ensuring that customers are billed only for what they use. In this article, we’ll cover the details of metered billing, including how it works, how it’s used in different scenarios, and the best practices businesses should consider when implementing and managing their own metered billing system.

What’s in this article?

  • What is metered billing?
  • Metered billing components
  • Which types of businesses use metered billing?
  • How does metered billing work?
  • Benefits of metered billing
  • Metered billing best practices

What is metered billing?

Metered billing is a billing model in which businesses charge customers based on how much of a product or service they use. It’s the same principle that governs how most utilities are billed: you pay only for the amount of water or electricity you use. This billing approach is especially relevant for businesses that offer variable products or services, where one customer’s usage can vary greatly from another’s.

Metered billing components

Metered billing is structured around several components, and each plays a specific role in maintaining accuracy and fairness throughout the billing process. These components include:

  • Usage metric: This is the metric used to determine consumption. Examples include the number of API calls made, the hours a piece of equipment is rented, and the gigabytes of data stored or transferred.

  • Tracking and measurement systems: These systems record the consumption of services or products. Their precision is important, as even minor errors can lead to significant billing discrepancies. Typically, software or hardware solutions monitor usage in real time.

  • Billing cycle determination: This component defines how often customers are billed for their consumption. Businesses may choose different cycles, such as daily, weekly, or monthly, depending on the nature of the service and customer preferences.

  • Pricing scale or tier: The per-unit price might decrease as consumption increases, which incentivizes higher usage. For instance, the cost per gigabyte might decrease after the customer crosses a certain threshold.

  • Reporting tools: These tools provide customers with insights into their consumption, allowing them to monitor and manage their usage. A well-designed interface can help customers understand their billing and potentially adjust their consumption habits.

  • Alert systems: These systems help prevent bill shock by notifying customers when their consumption reaches predefined levels, giving them an opportunity to manage their usage and preparing them for the upcoming costs.

  • Billing adjustments: There might be situations when adjustments are necessary, perhaps because of system errors, customer disputes, or promotional offers. Having a process in place to handle these adjustments is necessary.

  • Customer support: Even with the most transparent and straightforward metered billing system, questions and issues will arise. A dedicated support team that understands the intricacies of the billing system can help resolve queries and maintain customer trust.

Understanding these components can help businesses implement a metered billing system that’s fair to the consumer and profitable for the business.

Which types of businesses use metered billing?

Businesses across a variety of sectors favor metered billing because of its adaptive and flexible nature. Here’s a rundown of the types of businesses that frequently adopt this billing model and the reasons they choose to use it:

  • Cloud service providers
    These businesses bill customers based on resources consumed, such as storage space or data transfer. Metered billing is a good choice here because it allows customers to pay only for what they use, which in turn offers scalability without heavy up-front costs.

  • Telecommunications
    Mobile and landline providers charge based on usage metrics such as call minutes, texts, or data consumed. By employing metered billing, businesses respect user variation, ensuring that lighter users don’t subsidize the costs of heavier users, and creating a fair billing environment.

  • Utilities
    Companies that provide resources such as electricity, gas, or water adopt metered billing because of the diverse consumption patterns of users. Charging based on use guarantees that billing matches consumption, leading to equitable charges for all users.

  • Subscription platforms with overages
    Some platforms might offer a base subscription and then apply charges for additional usage, such as bandwidth or storage. This approach ensures that users who need more resources contribute proportionally to their usage.

  • Rental services
    Businesses that offer rentals, such as machinery, tools, or spaces, often charge clients based on the duration or intensity of use. Metered billing makes transactions more transparent and ensures customers gain value from what they’re paying for.

  • Digital advertising platforms
    Such platforms might charge advertisers based on metrics like impressions or clicks. By employing a metered approach, advertisers can better manage their budgets, aligning costs more directly with campaign performance.

  • Software-as-a-service (SaaS)
    While many SaaS businesses have flat-rate subscriptions, some charge based on feature usage. This flexibility means that users who lean heavily on specific features bear the costs, leading to a more balanced service ecosystem.

  • Transportation services
    Ride-hailing apps use a form of metered billing in which charges correlate with distance and time. This approach gives riders a direct correlation between the service they receive and the price they pay.

The core reason why metered billing appeals to these businesses is adaptability. This model provides transparency because customers know they are charged based on consumption. Metered billing is also scalable, accommodating both light and heavy users within the same framework. This model can lead to higher revenue, especially from heavy users who might otherwise have been capped by a flat fee. And from a customer’s perspective, metered billing allows for better budget control, since they have the flexibility to adjust their consumption based on the costs they incur.

How does metered billing work?

Here’s a look at how metered billing works:

  • Usage tracking
    Metered billing requires the continuous monitoring of user consumption, whether it’s in the form of data usage, minutes on a call, or the number of API requests.

  • Billing cycle establishment
    Before charging users, businesses define a specific billing period (e.g., monthly or weekly), at the end of which users are billed. Businesses must communicate this clearly to customers up front.

  • Rate determination
    A rate card is set for the specific usage metrics, such as per gigabyte of data, per hour of service, or per thousand API calls. This rate card serves as the foundation for calculating the final bill.

  • Real-time data access
    Users often have access to a dashboard or portal where they can view their current usage in real-time. This feature keeps users informed and prevents unexpected charges.

  • Automatic calculations
    At the end of the billing cycle, systems calculate the total charges based on the tracked usage and the predetermined rates. This process minimizes errors and protects billing accuracy.

  • Invoicing
    Once the total amount is calculated, the system generates an invoice and sends it to the customer. This invoice breaks down the usage and associated costs, showing the customer how the final amount was determined.

  • Notifications
    Users typically receive notifications about their usage, especially if they are nearing a predefined limit or threshold. These notifications can be emails or in-app messages, and help prevent overages or in some cases, additional charges.

  • Flexibility in payment
    Because the billed amount can vary, businesses often provide multiple payment options to cater to different user preferences, such as credit cards, bank transfers, or digital wallets.

  • Dispute resolution
    If a user disputes a charge, businesses have mechanisms in place to address and resolve such concerns.

Benefits of metered billing

Metered billing differs from other pricing strategies because of its emphasis on transparency and adaptability. By anchoring costs directly to usage, businesses send a clear message to their users: you pay only for what you use. This direct correlation between consumption and cost removes the ambiguity often associated with flat-rate or tiered pricing models.

This transparency empowers customers. With the ability to monitor and control their consumption in real-time, users can make informed decisions and ensure they derive maximum value while minimizing waste. Users aren’t locked into paying for services they don’t use or penalized for spikes in demand.

Metered billing offers businesses predictability. While the revenue from each user may vary, the overall revenue stream becomes more predictable as businesses gain a clearer view of usage patterns over time. This knowledge helps businesses with financial planning, resource allocation, and decision-making.

The flexibility of metered billing can lead to better customer relationships. Customers appreciate the model’s fairness and autonomy, which in turn fosters loyalty. In a marketplace where customer acquisition costs are high, retention is extremely important.

Metered billing best practices

For businesses, metered billing requires strategic planning, a deep understanding of your customers’ needs, and the support of a robust infrastructure. Implementing this model can offer transparency to your customers while building loyalty and trust in your brand.

Here are some best practices to consider when adopting metered billing:

  • Set clear unit measurements: Decide what constitutes a “unit” of consumption. Whether it’s one hour of service, one gigabyte of data, or something else, it’s important to choose a distinct and simple unit.

  • Maintain transparency with customers: Make it easy for customers to see their current usage. Providing tools or dashboards where they can monitor their consumption helps them manage their costs effectively and builds trust.

  • Offer tiered rates for high-volume users: Consider providing discounted rates for users who consume a large volume. This can encourage more usage while rewarding your most active customers.

  • Regularly review and adjust pricing: Consumption patterns and business costs can change. It’s a good practice to periodically review your pricing to make sure it reflects current market conditions and covers your costs.

  • Implement alerts for abnormal usage: Set automatic notifications for users approaching their usual consumption limits or showing unusual spikes. This can prevent bill shocks for customers while alerting you to potential system issues or misuse.

  • Maintain a strong, reliable billing system: Invest in a billing system that can handle the complexity of metered billing, automatically track usage, generate bills, and deal with exceptions without manual intervention.

  • Provide clear documentation: Offer customers easy-to-understand guides and FAQs on how the new billing system works, how users are charged, and how they can monitor and control their usage.

  • Train customer support teams: Make sure your customer service representatives understand the ins and outs of metered billing so they can handle inquiries and resolve issues quickly.

  • Offer trial periods or capped billing: For new customers who are unfamiliar with their consumption habits, consider offering a trial period during which they can experience the service without the risk of unexpected costs. Alternatively, you could offer a capped billing system where charges won’t exceed a certain amount within a billing period.

The goal of metered billing is to offer your customers flexibility and fairness while maintaining a predictable revenue stream for your business. Implementing metered billing properly and adhering to best practices can create major benefits for both parties.

The content in this article is for general information and education purposes only and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Stripe does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, completeness, adequacy, or currency of the information in the article. You should seek the advice of a competent attorney or accountant licensed to practice in your jurisdiction for advice on your particular situation.

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