8 questions you should be asking every customer
One of the most important bits of advice we can give to businesses which offer credit terms to customers is to make sure you know who you’re selling to.
Without collecting some key information, not only does credit control become more time-consuming, you could be delivering your goods and services to someone with a history of paying late (or not at all), and it can then be very difficult to recover invoices in the event your customer fails to pay.
A great way to gather this information is an account opening form, for all new customers to complete before you fulfil their order and for repeat customers to review periodically.
As well as providing the information you need to do the necessary background checks, you can obtain the contact details for the person responsible for paying your invoice.
Account opening forms also provide a great opportunity to gain your customer’s formal acceptance of your Terms & Conditions, which is vital in the event they don’t pay.
But what information should you gather in an account opening form? Here are eight important questions you should ask every customer and why:
1. What is the business’s trading name?
Many businesses operate under a trading name for marketing purposes. It’s important not to get this confused with their registered name.
2. What is the full registered business name? (If different from above)
This is the business’s official name which they should use in all formal correspondence, paperwork and Companies House and HMRC submissions. This information is vital in the event the customer fails to pay and you need to take action either through a debt collection agency or the courts. It’s also what you’ll need to look them up on Companies House and for any credit checks, and is who the invoice should be made out to.
3. Is the business a sole trader, partnership or limited company?
It’s really important to know the legal status of the business as this determines what legal and personal responsibilities the company and its Directors have. If the business is a sole trader or partnership, it can be useful to ask for the Director’s contact information – phone number, email and home address.
4. What is the company’s registration number and address?
The company registration number and address will help to identify the business you are trading with, both for credit checks and in the event you need to trace them or take action in the event they fail to pay on time.
5. What is the business’s VAT number?
Checking to see if your customer’s VAT number is genuine allows you to verify that the business you think you are trading with is actually who they say they are.
6. Who placed the order?
Be sure to capture the name, address, email and a contact number for the person placing the order so that you can contact them easily if required. Additionally, for some customers, a Purchase Order number will be required for the resulting invoice to be signed off for payment. This is a good opportunity to understand whether this will be necessary for your customer and put the required checks in place internally to ensure Purchase Order numbers are referenced through the sales-to-invoice process.
7. Who should the invoice be addressed to?
It’s also important to get the contact details for the most relevant person to send the invoice to. Make sure you have an email as well as postal address for the contact, as email is a more efficient way to send invoices. And remember, getting these details wrong could cause delays in payment, so make sure you check them.
8. Who is responsible for accounts payable? (If different from above)
Especially in larger businesses, often the person you deal with won’t be the person in charge of paying you. So make sure you have the details for accounts payable so you can contact them directly if any issues in payment arise – a named contact, their phone number and email address.
Why are account opening forms so important?
As alluded to above, your account opening form could also ask for their acceptance of your Terms & Conditions of sale, which should outline your credit period, dispute process and policy in the event invoices aren’t paid on time. Your T&Cs should also reference your right to charge interest on overdue invoices. Recording their formal acceptance is so important in the event the customer fails to pay on time and a debt collection agency needs to be instructed or legal action taken. Read our 5 tips for effective Terms & Conditions of sale here.
Using the information gathered, it’s important to then get a credit report before accepting their order to discover the risk the customer will pose to your business. Should their credit score be low, you could choose to request full or partial payment up front, decline their order, or at the very least take extra caution when performing credit control. Here’s how to credit check a company.
This might seem like a lot of information to gather, or even a barrier to taking on a new customer. But it’s important to weigh this up against the risk of providing goods or services to someone who can’t afford to pay, has no intention to, or ends up ignoring your credit control correspondence both before and after the invoice becomes due.