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How to improve the invoicing and payment process for customers

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A lot of people think about customer care only in terms of the selection, buying and support process. As for the invoicing and payment process, well, that’s an afterthought. All that matters is getting the money, right?

Yet making the customer experience good as possible when it comes to dealing with invoices and payments is really important.

Your customers will be happy and more likely to use your business again if they can settle their bill quickly and easily. More importantly, you might find you get paid more quickly.

This will have obvious benefits for your cash flow, too.

Add to this the fact that the payment processes of small businesses are often full of little, almost invisible, inefficiencies that eat up time.

In fact, generating invoices takes up 14.2% of the average company’s admin time, according to recent research by Sage.

Once you factor in the time taken to deliver those invoices, check they’ve been paid, and follow up on the 45% of invoices that aren’t paid within 30 days, that time adds up further still.

A customer experience to avoid

Suppose you went into a store. You take something from the shelf. But there’s a problem. There’s no price label. Well, OK, maybe that doesn’t matter. You can guess the price and it shouldn’t be too expensive.

But there’s then another problem. You can’t find the checkout.

You search up and down the aisles. After a few minutes, you find it buried at the back of the store in a dark corner. There’s nobody manning it. As you wait and tap your foot, a staff member shuffles over.

There’s then another problem. You want to pay using your debit card.

The staff member slowly shakes his head and points to a sign behind him that you hadn’t seen until now – cash only.

You dig around in your pockets before dashing out to the car and grab some loose coins. You’ve just enough. You get back inside, and hand over the money.

The staff member starts shuffling away.

“Hey, what about a receipt?” you ask. The staff member sighs, walks back, jabs at the cash register and hands one over.

Walking out, you decide you won’t be returning to that store again any time soon.

Is your business making life as hard as this for your customers when it comes to your invoicing and payment processes?

Here are some tips to help ensure both you and your customers are happy when it comes to dealing with invoicing and payments.

1. Offer your customers different payment methods

If your customers have to pay their invoices in a way that feels unnatural or unfamiliar to them, they might decide to sort it out later when they’ve got a quiet moment to work through the process.

Unfortunately, that moment may not occur as other pressing issues take priority – and the outcome is they forget all about your invoice.

By offering flexible payment options, the right software lets clients pay in the way that’s fastest, easiest, and most convenient for them.

That means faster payments, fewer forgotten invoices, and less time following up on missed payments.

Some providers will integrate your invoices directly with your payment system, so that customers can pay on credit or debit card direct from your invoice in a matter of clicks, instead of spending extra time digging out bank details.

Sage’s research shows that, while customers take an average of 35 days to make payments by cash, cheque, or bank transfer, ‘pay now’ buttons on invoices or phone payments reduce that to just 20 days.

That means more money in the bank for you, and less time making those awkward phone calls to chase payments.

2. Automate your invoice tracking process

By setting up a system that automatically alerts you when invoices are received and paid, you’ll know exactly which clients you need to chase and avoid wasting time combing through bank statements and comparing invoice numbers.

This also means that data on how, when and the amount customers pay you is automatically transferred and trackable within your accounting software.

You can even pre-empt which customers are likely to pay late and tailor their invoices accordingly. Software options such as Satago can conduct an initial risk assessment of each customer.

You can use that information to decide on a case-by-case basis how much credit you should offer, and then automatically chase late payments when they occur.

3. Create accurate invoices

There are few things more stressful and time consuming than debating the accuracy of your invoices with customers – or fixing errors in invoices that understandably arise from manual processing.

It upsets your customers. It upsets you.

It doesn’t make for good relationships and nobody enjoys wasting their valuable time on things like this.

To avoid it, look for a function that switches your customers over from estimate to invoice automatically in your accounting software.

If this isn’t possible, try copying and pasting details directly from the estimate to the invoice form.

Of course, the gold standard here would be for your field staff to convert the estimate to an invoice themselves, removing any additional work for your finance department.

This is why thinking ‘open and inclusive’ in your software choices is always best – if everybody is on the same platform then workflows such as this are a cinch to create, and everybody benefits.

Conclusion on the invoicing and payment process

There’s everything to gain and nothing to lose by considering the entire customer/client journey with your business – including making the invoicing and payment process as easy as possible.

And thanks to modern software, all this could take as little as just a few hours to put in place.

Manage your cash flow

Need help managing your cash flow? Read this guide for advice on how to ask for payments and 10 tips to stay on top of your business finances.

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