Are Your Invoices Helpful to Your Customers, Or a Pain?

After more than 20 years in finance and purchasing, I can tell you that there are hundreds of companies whose invoices leave something to be desired.

If you’re in accounting, you probably agree.

There are 10 basic things that should be on every invoice if you want to provide your customer, and their accounting department, a good experience.

Look at this list and see if there are areas where you can improve your invoices to provide an elevated experience for your customers.

1.   Invoice Date

It’s quite surprising how many businesses don’t put a date on their invoices.

I’ve seen some companies with the date in the file name or on their site when you’re viewing the bills. But when you print it, there’s no date on the actual invoice.

When you put a date on your invoice, it is helpful for your customer so they can accurately anticipate when their bills will be ready. It’s also helpful to their accounting department because invoices are sometimes filed by date, or the file name has the date in it.

If your invoice doesn’t have a date, they’re left to guess what it is and in the financial industry, no one wants to guess about things on an invoice.

2.   Invoice Number

Many small businesses don’t provide an actual invoice number on their invoices. It is extremely important you at least provide a date for your customer to properly file the invoices they’ve paid, but an invoice number is helpful.

Don’t make your customer search around to find an invoice number.

Utility companies are infamous for not providing an invoice number, those that do sometimes have it hidden on the second or third page and in a small font so it’s not easy to find. Do your customer a favor and put it on top of the first page in the same font.

This makes it easy to find the exact invoice they need during an audit. If there’s no invoice number your customer will have to find a way to record it that makes it easier to find.

3.   Account Number

If you assign an account number to your customer it should be clearly visible on the invoice, preferably at the top and on the remit section so they don’t have to write it out.

Some utility companies have numbers in excess of 10 characters, if you’re one of them, please make sure that the account number is printed on the remit section, so your customer doesn’t have to write it out.

Having an account number helps with tracking for your business and your customer’s. It also helps with processing payments and when your customer has a need to call you.

4.   Purchase Order Number

Having your customer’s purchase order number on the invoice can elevate the customer’s experience.

It makes it easier for your customer to process the payment faster.

If you don’t know the purchase order number, you can always ask at the time of purchase if they have a purchase order they would like you to reference on the invoices. This shows that you care about their business and want to provide them with excellent service.

5.   Payment Terms and Due Dates

You would be surprised how often I see invoices that don’t clearly state the vendor’s payment terms or even the date it’s due.

Many businesses choose to note that the invoice is due in 30 days but if there’s no invoice date printed on the invoice, how will they know what date that is?

Typically, larger companies offer payment terms such as Net 30 (due in 30 days) or Net 10/2 (due in 10 days for the 2% discount to apply). Make sure that you make it clear and visible for your customer to read.

Remember, they don’t know your invoices like you do, so if it’s their first time looking at your invoice, will they be able to easily find the important information they need to make their payment? Don’t make your invoice hard to read.

6.   Penalties if Late

We all know that mail is not as reliable as it once was, if your customer pays your invoice late, what are the consequences? Can they easily find what to expect?

To provide an elevated experience for your customer, make sure to state when the payment needs to be received to avoid a late fee or disconnection/cancellation of service.

Also, make sure you state what the late fee will be if it’s not received by that date, and/or what can happen with their service if that’s the case. It is always best to communicate up front with your customer so they can understand the importance of timely payments and  anticipate the outcome if they’re late.

The best way to avoid late payments is to make sure your customer has a way to download your invoice timely from your website. I am amazed how many very large utility companies don’t allow you to have access to your bill for a week after the bill date and then it’s due in less than 2 weeks thus guaranteeing a late payment.

Though this may bring in more money for your business through late fees it is not providing an elevated customer experience for your customers. If your system is unable to make the bill available within 48 hours of the bill date, make it easier for your customer by extending the due date.

7.   Dates of Service/Coverage

Invoices are a bill of sale/service for your business transactions conducted with your customer, and therefore they should clearly show what the charges are for and if it’s a service, what dates it covers.

Some smaller utility companies don’t have any dates of service on their invoices so your customer can’t see what they’re paying for. If your service is by the month put the 1st-31st on it, if you pro-rate make sure you list the dates.

Businesses should have accurate records when it comes to taxes and audits. Your company can help them make those times easier by clearly stating the dates of service on the invoices showing that there’s no overlap or lapse in coverage.

Clear descriptions provide your customer with an excellent customer experience.

8.   Sales Tax

We’ve all heard the saying that we can count on two things, death, and taxes.

When you’re creating your invoices, do you clearly show what the sales tax is?

If your business is responsible for billing your customer the sales tax, make sure that your invoices clearly say sales tax as opposed to just saying Local Tax. This helps your customer at year end for tax reporting.

Making it clear what is the state and local sales tax is a great way to elevate your customer’s accounting department’s experience.

9.   Total Amount Due

When you receive an invoice, typically the first thing you’re looking for is the due date, then the total amount due.

Please do your customer a favor and total the charges on your invoice. If your invoices have a lot of pages and charges your customer will appreciate that you provided an accurate total for them.

Some technology companies don’t bill in whole numbers, for example, you’re charged $0.0867797/kb of data. This leads to numbers that must be rounded and often don’t add up to the total amount due.

I’ve seen well-known businesses have invoices that are rounded, and the totals do not add up for the services or the taxes being charged. This is very frustrating for your customers when it comes to processing your invoice for payment.

Make it easier and clear what you’re charging your customer by rounding the totals on your invoices and making sure that the totals (for each section and as a whole) add up correctly.

Your customers will appreciate how easy it is to read and timely process your invoices.

10.  Remit Address

Businesses need to get paid to survive so why do so many businesses forget to put their remit address on their invoices?

Usually, small businesses are guilty of this, but I have seen a few larger businesses do this too.

Many times, I found myself going back to the original welcome bill that had the payment information on it to find the remit address for the next billing. Every invoice should have the remit to address on it.

If you’re going to change the remit address, you can provide an elevated service to your customer by letting them know in advance, so they’ll be aware that a change is coming. And make them aware on the first few bills after the change as a courtesy.

This not only ensures that your customer sends them to the correct address, but that you’ll receive the payment in a timely way so your business can pay its expenses as well.

Perfect Invoice

When you get down to it, there’s no perfect invoice, but your business should provide a clear, accurate invoice to your customers.

At the very least, you should make sure your invoices have an invoice date, the account number, amount due, due date, and the remit address on them.

If you’re a small business and you want to set yourself apart from the big guys, take the time to make sure your invoices have as many of these 10 things as you can.

Your customer will notice the care your business took to provide an elevated customer experience and likely tell others about their experience.

 

Michele Elliott

Michele Elliott

Michele Elliott – Michele Copywriter
CX Advocate & Strategic Copywriter helping small businesses and entrepreneurs to build a loyal customer base. Newsletters, blogs, and UX/CX reviews are my specialties. Stay updated on new content with my newsletter by signing up here.