Have you been getting a lot of calls from confused customers about the invoices you sent them? It might be time to redesign your bills.
I think billing/invoicing is certainly an area of business that could use some modernization. I don’t know about you, but I get a few bills that look like they were chiseled out in the Stone Age. Thankfully, we are experts in accounts receivable and want to share some tips and tricks with you to make your company’s bills more effective. Would you rather outsource the redesign to professionals? We’ll discuss that option as well.
Is your bill easy to understand?
Bills can suffer from multiple problems. Sometimes, the format doesn’t do well in the mail. For example, small postcards often get damaged and lost in the USPS automated machinery. Other times, invoices are confusing because of poor design or writing, or they are peppered with codes, acronyms, and abbreviations that only the company understands. I’ve even seen a couple of cases where no one took the time to make sure all the physical aspects of a bill worked. Such as a payment slip that didn’t fit correctly in the return envelope. Yikes.
Professional-looking invoices signal that your company is a pro
Your invoices reflect your business. We spend a lot of time worrying about our company’s letterhead or business cards, but the design of our invoices? Not so much. Yet, they reflect the professionalism of your company and its staff just as your stationery does.
When bills are hard to read, difficult to understand, unattractive, or cluttered, they are a poor reflection. Badly designed invoices also affect the bottom line; if a bill is confusing, people are not as likely to pay on time. If you’re lucky, they’ll call your office to ask questions, but don’t count on it.
One clear sign that you need to redesign your bills
If you get an influx of calls from customers a few days after your bills are mailed, that’s a sign that your invoice has problems. A good way to get a grasp of the issue is to monitor customer service calls for a month or two. Ask customer service staff to keep track of the questions they get from customers about invoices. Common problems include the use of terms or wording that the public does not understand or a design that buries important information like how much is owed, what the bill is for, when payment is due and how to contact the company for more information.
An effective invoice is clear and easy to use
I’ve overseen the redesign of invoices for more than 100 companies, and I want to point out a couple of things. A good invoice doesn’t need to be pretty or fancy. It must be clear, easy to understand, and simple to use. When we undertake a redesign, we take a comprehensive approach and go beyond choosing an easy-to-read typeface and making elements like the amount due and date due stand out–although those are important improvements to be sure. But we look deeper because there are many ways, we can help you send an excellent bill.
5 reasons to redesign your bills
When you redesign your bills, there are several ways it will improve your business. For example,
- A well-designed bill or invoice not only looks good but also works better. An effective design makes it clear to customers how much they owe and when. It also explains what they are paying for.
- Clearly showing the amount of payment due and the date payment is due improves collection.
- A redesign saves money over time because your office becomes more efficient. Your staff spends less time answering customers’ questions about bills. On average, when we redesign invoices, customers see customer calls concerning invoices drop by half.
- If your current bill is formatted inefficiently, like a postcard, a redesign can shift it to a standard business-size envelope, which has better delivery rates. You’ll no longer have to resend invoices that weren’t received.
- A well-designed invoice can become a billboard or a no-cost ad. Redesigns usually free up white space on your bill, which can be used to give your customers messages about services, market new features, or encourage more of them to pay online or set up automated billing accounts.
Companies drag their feet when it comes to invoice redesign
When was the last time you looked critically at the bill you send to customers? We find that almost all the companies we meet with are unhappy with one or more aspects of their bill, but they all tell us the same thing when we ask why they haven’t fixed what bothered them – they don’t feel like they have time to take on what seems like an overwhelming project.
Accounts receivable experts can help
To have an effective billing system, you must have knowledge of accounting, graphic design, communication, mailing regulations, printing, and technology. When your primary business is say, supplying electrical power to 20,000 rural customers, or providing health care to a region’s residents, those areas may not be your areas of expertise.
For that reason, a bill makeover is probably a logical time to bring in outside expertise. You’ll need one company that does a lot of different things well–accounts receivable, mailing, printing, design, and IT primarily. A qualified accounts receivable partner will look at your current bill objectively. They will then show you ways it can be improved, look at what your competitors are doing, and work with you to make changes.
At Bluegrass, we’ve worked with dozens of businesses. A lot of them are utilities and health care clients, but almost every business has bills and invoices to send, and we can help.
3 simple steps for effective invoice redesign
When you choose an accounts receivable partner, you want to make sure that you will be involved throughout the bill redesign process. We take several steps when we work with a client on a bill redesign.
- A thorough study of your current invoice. A good partner will ask for a sample of the bill you now send and will look it over carefully. In our case, reviews involve a team of staff from sales, graphic design, marketing, and information technology.
- Accounts receivable experts will meet your team and ask lots of questions about your billing process. After we thoroughly review your invoice, our team will sit down with yours, which will usually include someone from management, accounting, IT, and often marketing, too. It is critical that those areas are at the table because we will have questions that go beyond the design of your bill. We’ll want to hear about the billing process in total–how often you invoice, the different payment options you use, who handles payments, questions customers ask most often, and aspects of your bill that you don’t like or don’t think work well, features you would like to add to your bill– think of it as a wish list for when you redesign your bills. Because we have done a lot of this work, we’ll bring samples of bills from similar companies and ask your staff to study them and tell us what they like or dislike. We’ll also want to talk to IT about the kind of data available in case you want to offer up some additional information on the new bill. For example, a lot of utility companies like to provide their customers with usage charts.
- Based on research and discussions, a new invoice is designed. Based on that conversation and the information we gather, we’ll come up with a design (or possibly several) for the client to review. We will make tweaks as needed and then, the bill is ready to go. After we send them out, and we see how they work, additional tweaks might be needed. These updates can easily be made in the bill design because we print on demand.
Most common changes in invoice design
A lot of bills share this problem–they bury the most important information. When you redesign your bills, you should put a lot of effort into making these 5 elements stand out:
- The reason for the invoice. A clear list of services and/or products received.
- The total amount of charges. Everyone wants to know how much they owe.
- The due date. Bills without one don’t get paid as quickly.
- Whom to call. Providing multiple ways to contact your company is essential to good customer service.
- Ways to pay. If you offer payment options, let customers know what they are.
These elements can be designed to stand out. Using a contrasting ink color, like a bright red or blue, or putting it in a larger, bolder type can help customers find the most important information quickly. Some companies use a visual cue, like circles around the amount due and due date.
The redesign should look at the entire billing process, not just the piece of paper
When we talk to clients about their invoices, we bring up possible changes that go beyond the bill’s appearance. Here are some of the things we’ll always discuss.
Billing cycle. How many do you have; do you need more?
Imagine this. Your utility has one billing cycle for 25,000 customers. That means all those bills share the same due date. Such a billing cycle means an intense period of work, especially if payments come to your office instead of a bank lockbox.
When you redesign your bills, you may decide to rework your billing cycle. Most often, they split one large billing period into two or three billing cycles per month so that payments are more of a flow than a flood. Of course, it depends on the number of bills sent, but in the example above, splitting the billing into two monthly cycles would effectively spread out the work and make things less hectic. If the number of bills sent is small though, one billing cycle is often not a problem. And sometimes, because of the way staffing and budgeting is set up within an organization, sticking with a single billing cycle is best.
Promoting online billing options
When you redesign your bills, it can be a good time to add new payment options. Although digital payments are popular, some organizations, especially small utilities, haven’t moved much in that direction. But when bills are changed, it is a chance to add new information about different methods of payment. You just have to be ready, technology-wise, to accept such payments.
Eliminate needless return envelopes for online payers
If you accept online payments, we can set up our system so that return envelopes are not placed in the bills for those customers that use online payment. That way, you don’t waste money on needless envelopes. We work with your IT staff to get the information we need to set up such a system.
Cross promo messaging: other services
When you redesign your bill, it often creates new, vacant space on an invoice and this real estate can be used in a number of ways. Messages can change from month to month, depending on your needs. Here are a few ideas:
Safety messages. Many utilities need to remind customers about safety issues. For example, electric companies must constantly remind homeowners to call before they plant trees, plow gardens, or dig other holes in their yards.
New services or products. Most businesses change over time and add new services or products. A blurb on a bill is a good way to make customers aware of changes. It won’t tell them everything, but it can send them to your website or provide a phone number for more information.
Seasonal messages. Depending on the time of year–around Christmas and New Year’s for example, office hours might be modified. Space on a bill can be used to remind customers of shortened hours or office closings.
Your printed invoices aren’t going away so make sure they work
Sometimes, I wonder if companies aren’t concerned about their printed invoices because they think printed bills are going away. That seems doubtful, given about a quarter of the population would rather have a paper bill for security reasons, especially for areas where privacy is critical like finance and health care. Another interesting stat: One in three people who tried electronic-only bills have gone back to paper delivery. So, an effort to redesign your bills would not be in vain.
The most important thing to remember though is that no matter how you send your bill, it must be easy to understand and read. And that’s where a partner like Bluegrass can be valuable. Give us a call and we’ll help you decide if you need to redesign your bills.
Interested in how Bluegrass can help?
See what we can do.
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