February 13, 2020
In the last few years, a number of writers have pointed out that as automation and computerization have increased, human engagement has decreased. There’s less conversation and fewer written personal messages.
As communication becomes rather depersonalized, our words matter even more, especially when they run counter to what people are used to reading and hearing.
When you read more than 100,000 words a day — that’s the average for Americans — the same old messages and wording, “Have a nice day!” or “Thank you for your business!” are nice, but don’t make much of a lasting impression. Stuffy or dull business language like “Please remit payment in 30 days” is even more forgettable.
Invoices that include messages that are clear but personable–more like a casual conversation with a friend–can be a welcome break. As writer Chris Hazell wrote in an article for Point Loma University, “our words provide the basis for human connection.” It can be one way to preserve a human element in a world where screens do most of our talking.
A few small tweaks to the wording on an invoice can sometimes result in a message that makes a business stand apart. Take a look at how you are coming across to your customers in your invoices. Are you communicating the desired image, the personality that is being projected through your advertising and marketing? It might be good to give your invoices a review and talk to staff or communications experts about ways to warm up your words. Businesses spend millions, even billions, on developing marketing messaging that are memorable in some way–whether through its friendliness, sincerity or even its humor — but few do the same as they write the messages relayed in their invoices.
Here are a few messages to review:
Express an attitude of gratitude
Words that express genuine gratitude can make an invoice much more than the dreaded “Pay me now” message. Perhaps remind a customer of their importance to your company. “Thank you for your loyalty. Because of customers like you, we’ve been in business 40 years, and we hope to be around many more!” Or, if your software program allows, you could be more specific by making them realize you know how long your relationship with them has lasted: “We’re so happy you’ve been our customer for 25 years.” The message can be simple, but a bit beyond a simple “Thank you.” For example, “Thank you for your payment. We are happy to have you as our customer!”
Studies have shown that thanking customers for their business on an invoice can improve payment rates by more than 5 percent.
Make due dates clear and definitive
Does anyone look forward to bills? Not really. And we feel especially aggravated by invoices and bills that are unclear. One way to show that you care about customers is to write clear messages. Chances are you already make the payment due standout on invoices by printing it in a bright color that contrasts with the rest of the invoice. Wording about deadlines is important too. Old-school wording like “payment due within 30 days of receipt,” is likely to lead to late payments. Who remembers when they get a particular bill? Better to include a specific date, in the same contrasting color as the amount due.
Promote discounts, point out penalties
Encouraging customers to pay early or on time prevents follow-up invoices, emails and phone calls. Some companies offer small discounts for early payments (although it’s not typical for utilities and other regular services); most tack on a penalty for late payments. In addition to including the additional payment required if a payment is late, a company might want to include a message about its concern for customers who have trouble paying their bills on time. An electric company might say, “We understand that when it gets cold and you turn your thermostat up, your bills may end up being more than you were expecting. Please call us if you are having difficulty making your payment on time and we will work with you.”
It’s also important to remind customers in a nice way that they’ll have to pay more if they pay late. Rather than simply saying, “Late payments will incur a 5 percent penalty, you might say instead, “Thanks for paying on time. As a reminder, we do charge a penalty for late payments. We’re sure you’d rather use that money for more fun things!”
Send traffic to a website
There’s typically room to spare on an invoice, and companies use it for varied purposes–utilities often print a graph to show the ups and downs of usage or promote their budget plan payment so that customers can better handle the ups and downs of utility bills. These spaces can be a good way to promote resources available on a website, whether it is a video showing best practices for reporting a gas leak, an infographic showing the impact small energy-saving measures can make in monthly bills or an article about the dangers power lines pose. In addition to sending more traffic to a website, these resources also demonstrate your company is concerned about its customers, can help them solve a potential pain point and is an industry leader that is willing to share its knowledge.
One more message to pass along
We all like to know that our feedback and suggestions are welcomed and valued. Do you ask your customers for theirs? An invoice might be a good time to encourage interaction. “We like to hear from you and value your ideas and suggestions. Send us a message online or give us a call. Tell us what we’re doing right, what we could do better. Suggest a new service we might offer you and our other loyal and valued customers.
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