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How to get customers to pay your invoices ahead of others

13/07/2022

When it comes to credit control, there are a huge number of tactics you can employ to encourage customers to pay your invoices on time. Sometimes, however, your processes just need to be better than your customers’ other suppliers.

Take the current cost pressures that are affecting businesses across the UK. From soaring inflation and energy bills to rising interest rates, the result is that cash flows are being squeezed from every angle and many companies are finding themselves having to prioritise which invoices to pay first.

Unfortunately, it’s not always going to come down to which invoices are due first. Whether your invoice is at the top of the queue or at the bottom will instead come down to a wide range of factors – many of which are outside of your control, such as the amount you’re owed, how vital your services are to them and who else your customer owes money to.

Yet it can also come down to factors that are in your control. For some customers it will be as simple as who’s shouting the loudest, who they have a good relationship with and don’t want to upset, how easy it is to pay you, and even who they’re most afraid of not paying.

In this article, we take a look at these in more detail to demonstrate how, with the right processes in place, you can encourage your customers to prioritise your invoices above others.

1. Maintain regular dialogue

This may well be the most important thing you can do. At the very least you should be getting in touch with your customer as soon as an invoice due date passes without receiving payment, which should help you to understand why it hasn’t been paid (it could have been a genuine mistake which they’ll rectify immediately or a dispute that needs addressing) and demonstrates the importance of that payment to your business – as well as your low tolerance for late payment.

However, it is also important to be in contact with your customer before the invoice is due. Consider, for instance, making a courtesy call after sending the invoice to confirm receipt, the invoice due date and that there are no disputes. And make another call a few days before it’s due to check that payment will be made on time, whilst confirming your payment details and reminding your customer of your T&Cs.

Whilst these calls will help you to identify and resolve any potential issues early on, it also serves to show the customer that you have efficient credit control practices in place so they know you’ll be on top of them should they fail to pay you on time. This could be all that’s required to bump your invoice up above some of the others they’re trying to juggle!

2. Don’t be afraid to take or threaten further action

Some businesses are wary of making what may be deemed as harsh demands to customers out of fear of damaging relationships or losing repeat business in the future. Yet simply including in your T&Cs that you reserve the right to instruct a debt collection agency, take legal proceedings or charge statutory late payment interest and compensation in the event your invoice isn’t paid on time makes it clear that not paying your company’s invoices will have consequences.

In many cases, merely stating all of this acts as a deterrent and can lead to a company’s invoices being prioritised over others.

Should your customer fail to pay on time or you get the impression they’re making excuses to get out of doing so, it’s useful to remind them of this as, again, it could be the nudge they require.

If that doesn’t have the desired effect, don’t be afraid to follow through. Simply instructing a debt collection agency can itself be all that’s required to encourage payment, and in many cases the agency would seek to recover the interest and compensation you’re legally entitled to charge in addition to the invoice balance.

3. Make it easy to pay you

It’s amazing how many invoices we see which lack information on how customers can actually pay. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer for a moment – if you receive an invoice lacking fundamental information such as this, would you take the time to request that information or put it to one side for the time being?

By ensuring your accepted payment methods and bank details are displayed prominently, it makes the life of the customer much more straightforward. More than this, though, ensure suitable payment methods are offered. Where possible, don’t rely on cheques, for instance, which take time to clear and are more prone to excuses for non-payment, and instead request a bank transfer or payment via a portal.

It’s also important your invoices contain all the information your customers require, such as purchase order numbers, a detailed (and accurate) description of the goods or services supplied, and SWIFT or IBAN numbers for international customers.

Consider, too, any nudge tactics you could apply to your invoices – something a bit different that might make your invoice stand out above others. A good example we’ve seen in the past is handwritten post-it notes being stuck to the front, saying ‘thank you for your prompt payment’.

Finally, ensure your invoice is accurate. Any mistakes, however small, can lead to delays and other companies’ invoices moving ahead of yours in the queue.

Take a look at this resource for 10 tips on how to perfect your invoice template.

4. Work on your relationships

Never underestimate the importance of relationships in business and with your customers. If your relationship is purely transactional and with little personal interaction, you might find your invoice falling behind another supplier who gets on well with the person responsible for processing payments.

Whilst relationships don’t develop overnight, they can be well worth the investment. By making the courtesy calls mentioned above, this creates an opportunity to get to know your customer a little. Note down anything you can refer back to; for instance, if they say they’re going away for the weekend, ask them how it was the next time you speak to them. This shows you care about them and gives them the chance to open up a little and grow that relationship a bit further.

And when customers do pay on time, remember to say thank you. For very little effort it shows you value their prompt payment, which can also put a little credit in the bank should you raise another invoice to them in the future!

If you’re struggling to get your invoices to the top of the queue and your customers aren’t paying, we can help. An award-winning debt collection agency with over 20 years’ experience, we work on a success-only basis to recover unpaid invoices on behalf of businesses of all sizes. To discuss any invoices you’re concerned about, call 0800 9774848 or request a call back, or get an instant debt recovery quote here.

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