Discover how online payment
acceptance can help your business
take a more customer-centric
approach to receivables.
With infinite amounts of time and money, you could easily perfect every aspect of your business. But, in the real world, running a business is about prioritization — figuring out where your investments will really pay off.
Faced with limited resources, businesses often emphasize customer service over collecting funds on time. But in reality, these issues go hand in hand. Making a payment is actually one of the most common and impactful ways your customers interact with your business.
In the past, only the largest companies could afford to tailor their payment-acceptance strategies to the needs of individual customers. But today, small and midsize companies can offer the same convenient options large corporations have employed for years.
From email invoicing to online payment pages to recurring and installment plans, there are more ways than ever to help customers save time and money. And by letting customers pay online, you can give them more control over their finances and enhance the overall customer experience in the process.
Better Serve Your Customers
Research shows consumers’ payment preferences and needs are quickly shifting toward Internet-based options that give them the freedom to self-serve by using credit cards, eChecks or creating an online profile where they can manage their account on their own time. Still, less than half of small businesses provide customers with that choice. (1)
When businesses don’t offer customers the right payment options, it can quickly lead to an increase in past due invoices, says Anita Campbell, CEO of Small Business Trends. A customer who is short on cash would prefer to pay their invoice with a credit card to avoid delinquency. If they aren’t given that option, they will need to delay their payment until they have the cash on-hand.
"If a business is not offering multiple payment options, especially a
credit card option,” says Campbell, "they’re potentially losing out on
that payment and perhaps now a customer who might look elsewhere
for that product as a result.”
Offering electronic payment options is just another way to surprise
and delight your customers. Even if they aren’t directly asking for electronic invoicing and recurring payment plans, customers will
likely appreciate — and take advantage of — new payment options.
After all, by 2014, 63 million American households are projected to
use online bill payment. (2)
Offering flexible payment options can also help customers make larger purchases. For example, offering an automated installment plan that lets customers choose the frequency and timing of payments makes it easier for them to afford higher-ticket items.
What’s more, an easy-to-use small business invoicing product helps you manage more receivables for a larger customer base, allowing you to take on more customers with ease.
Improve Consistency and Communication
"You go into business not because you’re passionate about billing,” says David Shapiro, senior vice president, Western Union, "but because you’re passionate about the business.”
However, it’s easy to spend the bulk of your time on areas that may have nothing to do with your passion, like balancing the books or administrative tasks. Making it easy for customers to submit payments on their own or set up recurring payments, cuts down on the time you and your staff devote to payment collections. And simple, accessible reporting tools make it easy to see customers’ payment status at a glance — saving time and reducing the likelihood of human error.
Without automated processes, businesses can get into the habit of invoicing late or even forgetting to invoice occasionally. In fact, 43 percent of businesses get behind on invoicing at least once every few months.(1)
Setting up recurring payments or invoicing reminders can eliminate
the stress on both parties. "Consumers want prompt, accurate
[invoicing],” says Campbell. "Many [invoicing] products stop up gaps
so things can’t fall through.”
The right receivables product can also improve your recordkeeping abilities. An online customer database not only tracks payments, but also helps you keep track of the little details that form the foundation of your relationship with customers.
If you run a landscaping business, for example, you could store
details about customers’ ordering preferences in your database for easy recall. And by segmenting customers in your database — let’s
say by individuals and businesses — you can target sales, specials
or other promotions via email.
Your database provides access to reports wherever and whenever
you need them. It also eliminates the risk of paper records being lost
or damaged while making it easy to print records for bookkeeping, if that’s your preference.
Find the Right Fit
Even if your primary goal is to enhance customer service, the right payment-acceptance product should save you time and make your life easier, too. That’s why it’s important to evaluate the needs of your business and comparison shop before settling on the best option. As you conduct your research, keep customer service at the forefront and consider the following questions:
• Is the system easy to use?
• Does it provide a variety of payment-acceptance tools, including email invoices and web payment pages?
• Does it offer recurring and/or installment plans that let customers tailor their payment plans?
• Does it offer reporting that makes it easy to measure your receivables’ performance?
• Does it give you the ability to record specific details about individual customers?
• Does it have robust online tools and a product support team you can talk to if questions come up?
Make a Seamless Transition
Once you have found the small business invoicing and payment- acceptance product that suits your business’s unique needs, follow these steps:
1. Explore the tools and features. The payment-acceptance product you choose should be easy to understand and navigate, so dive in and start getting to know the tools at your fingertips.
2. Talk to your customers. Let them know about the exciting
changes you’re making for their convenience and ask for their email
addresses. Explain that the new system will give them more payment and account management options, create more consistent
billing practices and have a positive impact on the environment.
3. Create and maintain a customer database. Transferring records to an online format in the beginning will save you time later. Set your preferences and offer customers the option to make automated recurring payments where appropriate.
4. Stay on top of your receivables — and your customers. Take stock of your payment system on a regular basis — monthly at a minimum. Use and export the customized reports from your invoicing product to assist in accounting and any marketing campaigns you may be running. In essence, take advantage of all the product’s tools to gain more insight into your business.
And as you continue to evaluate and refine your approach, you’ll enhance the customer experience by making the invoicing process more predictable, and the payment process easier and more flexible. "With these tools, you can understand your trends and the needs of your customers,” Shapiro says. "And you can start to strategically plan your business instead of letting your business happen to you.”
1 The Western Union® Payments Small Business Barometer, January 2012, conducted by Celent, a division of the Oliver Wyman Group
2 "US Electronic Bill Payment and Presentment Forecast, 2009 to 2014,” Forrester