Customers hear from you regularly. Right?
As you dwell on how often you actually connect with a customer (once a week? once every few months? never?) I want to remind you of one simple fact. Your customers, if they are truly customers, pay you regularly. They probably receive an invoice of some sort, even if it’s a monthly automatic withdrawal from their account. Even if they have never received a paper bill in the mail from you, this transaction is still communicating every month or every purchase or transaction.
What’s that like in a B2B relationship?
Based on what I see with organizations large and small, it’s a soulless transaction that’s not great for anyone. Sure, your company gets paid. That’s great. But can you make it more than that? Yes you can. And you should.
Invoicing a customer is an important touchpoint in the customer journey. However, it’s often painful, confusing or just plain cumbersome. Why not view this step in the journey as an opportunity to show your customer you care about them as much as their money?
1. Say thank you. For real.
How many bills have you paid as a customer that have the lukewarm “Thank you for your business” statement on the bottom of the invoice? Doesn’t exactly give you the warm fuzzies, does it? Especially if it’s month after month…since eternity. That statement is generally meaningless because it’s overused and often quite obviously part of a template.
Change it up!
At our company, we do our best to say something personal to our clients in that little sliver of real estate. We mention projects completed or upcoming, or a snippet of our relationship, like sports team rivalries or climate comparisons with clients. And we always say thank you about something specific. While we know the invoice itself is processed by an accounts department we don’t know, the personal touch is seen by the ones we do. And if we end up speaking with someone in that unknown accounts department, it’s a nice way to proactively warm up that new relationship, too.
We’ve heard more than one all-business accounting professional laugh at our “Go Cubs!” comments or our “Thank you for your business…but seriously thank you for those delicious scones at the meeting.” If we haven’t yet built that kind of personal relationship with a client, we still do our best to comment on something that is unique about the relationship we have with them. We’ve even quoted a client back to themselves by finding a tweet about gratitude the company had posted.
Businesses are just a bunch of people. People like to feel seen and heard. Why not use the invoice as a way to do that?
Most invoices include language about what will happen if they don’t pay on time. It is punitive and petty. Sure, it’s a necessary part of the experience, but if that’s the only language on the invoice, then what is that saying to your customers?
2. Let them know you appreciate it when they are prompt.
Another problematic customer experience issue with invoicing is how we tend to ignore it when it works well. If customers pay on time, we barely bat an eye. Our focus is on the ones who are laggards. We start communicating regularly with them. We gently remind them that our payment was due 30 days ago. Then we focus so much of our energy there that we forget to actually say “thanks” to those who are doing exactly what we’ve asked.
When the money shows up, make it a point to say “Thanks!” to anyone involved. Tell your client how much you appreciate it. Reply to the Accounts Payable stranger and say “Wow! You guys are great. I really appreciate it.” (Trust me. This can make someone’s day. These folks deal with issues all day.)
When you really think about this, it’s sort of amazing, isn’t it? Can you imagine if someone handed you a stack of cash, and you just nodded and then walked away, only to show up and hand them another bill? That’s what a lot of these monthly or annual transactions look like. And for those that are automatic, why not set up some automatic ways to say thank you? The “your payment has been processed” communication is not exactly how your mother taught you to write a thank you note.
3. Review your next invoice with a critical eye.
Many customer feedback comments include “billing” as a source of frustration, irritation or confusion. I’ve seen way too many business leaders shrug at these comments. They say things like “our customers get confused and our billing department makes mistakes.”
This is not ok, and it’s not something to shrug about. This is the chip…chip…chipping away at the foundation of a good customer relationship. Business-to-business proposals are buffed and shined and explained to get a sale. And then the invoice is a nightmare of sloppy or confusing language. What sort of bait and switch is that? Don’t let your customers see your invoices as a pain point or a source of consternation with your company.
Look at the invoice and ask yourself:
- Does this look like we care?
- Do we say thank you in a meaningful way?
- Is the only language about punishment for not paying according to our terms?
- What if someone has a question or is confused? Is there a way to get help?
Customers need to pay and we need to bill them. It’s time to embrace this as an important part of the customer journey. What will you do to improve this part of your customer experience?