“The Customer is King!”
“Our customer is at the centre of our business model.”
“We do not believe in customer satisfaction. We believe in customer delight.”
You must have heard one of these generic sayings before, or read one on a poster in some executive’s house, or in the annual letter to the investors. Many executives like to associate themselves with the team of customer-friendly business leaders. That being said, businesses lose as much as $62 billion annually because of poor customer service.
Many people believe that customer service is about sending that extra mail to get feedback or providing loyal customers with some additional discount. That is not even close to quality customer service. Quality customer service is when communication between a business and its consumers is such that the consumer feels completely satisfied with the value they have received from their purchase when compared to the price they paid. This means that every little aspect of communication between the business and the customer should have one core focus – to give the customer a positive perception of the value received.
The communication between a business and its customers starts with marketing channels, moves on to sales, and ends up as an invoice sent to the customer, closing the loop until next time. This makes invoices or bills a crucial aspect of the communication process. Yet, it is astonishing to see that despite the development of advanced business models, many businesses still use archaic invoicing and billing technologies.
Now, if you do not want the communication loop with your customers to remain archaic and ‘museum’ worthy, here are the steps you should take to improve your invoicing and billing processes:
1. Embrace technologies like automation and cloud computing.
Many smaller businesses still resort to using handwritten bills instead of electronic ones. To the proprietors of these businesses, it may seem like the cheaper short term, but it may have negative effects on the efficiency of the business long term. When online bills are used instead of handwritten ones, they increase efficiency in the business as a result of reduced costs in the long run.
Gradually with expansion, billing becomes more complex and time-consuming. That is where businesses can resort to end-to-end billing solutions. Many specialized technology providers in this area offer automated solutions for invoice generation, client intimation, and the billing process. The moment a product’s barcode is scanned, an invoice is generated and the intimation is sent to the necessary parties. The leaders in this field of integrated technologies, like PayPal and Zipbooks, not only help with automated invoice generation but also help provide one-click payment solutions to clients. So if the client is using an e-wallet or electronic payment system, the process on both ends, including invoice generation and payment, is expedited.
Cloud computing simply adds an extra layer of analysis to the entire billing process. Generally, invoices and bills are not considered a part of the communication process and, thus, are not analysed. So when the invoice data gets automatically stored in the cloud after being integrated with a generation to receipt solution provider, it can be a great starting point for studying purchase and payment behaviours in the future.
2. Maintain consistency
Consistency should be present in everything – the look of the bill, the format of the bill, and the carrying effect of the bill. The look and format of the bill deals with the typography, the branding, and the contact details provided; when they are uniform, they communicate to the customer that the business handles even the smallest of details with care. Finally, the carrying effect means the terms of payment and other conditions on the bill; they should be clearly written on each bill.
This consistency should be maintained from bill to bill, for each customer, throughout all business processes. Therefore, every single transaction will be traceable and backed by a uniform bill, which will make it easier to find relevant data and documents when needed.
3. Establish a timeline.
Most businesses have a standard rate at which account receivables are to be collected. But how does a business put special emphasis on key accounts? By providing them with a flexible timeline. To put it into perspective, a business should have a clear policy on the tenure of its account receivables laid out for its customers. These timeline policies should be explained in detail in the bills that customers receive. As a benchmark, 80% of accounts receivable should have a fixed timeline and the remaining 20% should have a flexible timeline. The latter should only be provided to key clients who have been with the business long enough to prove themselves reliable.
4. Treat your clients like humans and not just account numbers.
When a new business relationship is established, make sure that you have done your due diligence before setting up the payment terms, which may include lump sum payments or extended credit lines. Therefore, every client will have a unique relationship with the business that will be reflected in the payment terms, which are integrated into the automated billing system. Additionally, if a client misses a payment, you can start by sending a polite reminder. At the end of the day, clients are humans and they make mistakes, like accidentally missing a payment, just like everyone else.
5. Use an invoice as marketing collateral.
Billing is the final step in the entire communication process with the customer. A bill usually shows the service/product provided, along with the quantity, price, and taxes. So it can be used as marketing collateral as well. A bill, though nothing fancy, can still possess essential information. Additionally, a unique way to leverage the bill as marketing collateral is by putting social media buttons within it, if it’s an electronic bill. Or you can put the website address and social media handles on the physical bill.
This allows the bill to provide the necessary closure to the entire communication process with the customer.