Why strong customer relationships hold the key to getting paid on time
Relationships are key in business, especially those with your customers.
Positive customer relations can contribute towards customer satisfaction which, in turn, can lead to repeat orders, as well as good reviews and endorsements that may prompt others to use your goods and services.
What’s perhaps overlooked, however, is that strong customer relationships can also lead to more punctual payments, and therefore a stronger cash flow. Generally speaking, the more your customers like you, the less likely it is they’ll want to pay your invoices late.
The challenge is that, often, the person placing and receiving the order is different to the person responsible for paying your invoice.
That’s why it’s important for credit control teams to build strong relationships with customers’ accounts payable teams wherever possible. Here are a few ways to do just that.
Be polite and professional
Politeness and professionalism should be at the heart of all communication in business, whether with a customer, supplier or employee, and this should be the cornerstone of any successful relationship with a customer’s accounts payable department.
Of course when invoices aren’t paid on time and relationships get frayed, this can become increasingly challenging, but it’s important to maintain a polite and professional approach at all times. Remember, whether you’re a credit controller or the business owner, you’re representing a business and an improper or aggressive tone can cause damage to the relationship and the company’s brand.
Try to be consistent, too, between how you approach different invoices owed by the same customer. Being too lenient with one invoice can set a precedent and lead that customer to think they can delay the payment of the next invoice as well.
Get to know your customers
Particularly for regular customers, you may find yourself in frequent contact with their accounts payable contacts and teams. So when the opportunity allows, ask them open questions about their evenings and weekends and see how they respond. If they open up and start talking about their families or hobbies, or mention things such as an upcoming holiday, make a note of it so that you can reference that conversation in the future.
This will not only demonstrate that you listen to them and care, it’s a good way to build a rapport – and good rapports can lead to prompter payments.
Maintain regular contact
It will be difficult to develop positive relationships with customers’ accounts teams if the only time you speak to them is when you’re chasing overdue invoices.
By contacting them at different times of the credit period, not only will you have more opportunities to work on building that relationship, it’s also great credit control practice.
For instance, putting a call in shortly after sending the invoice is incredibly valuable, giving you the chance to confirm receipt and ensure that everything is as they expected. You can also confirm when the invoice is due and your acceptable payment methods.
Offer multiple payment methods
Make it as easy as possible for your customers to pay you.
One way to achieve this is to offer multiple payment methods, giving your customer the choice depending on which is most convenient for them.
Just be sure to balance this against what’s suitable for your company. Try to avoid cheques, for instance, which take time to clear and can lead to late payment excuses.
Display the correct information
Make sure your invoices contain the correct information, as accounts teams don’t like to have to chase suppliers in order to pay them. More likely it will give them an excuse to hold onto payment.
Ensuring your payment details are correct is obvious, but also make sure the invoice is addressed to the right person, company and address. Utilise account opening forms to obtain this information and be sure to ask customers to review and update those forms periodically.
Also ensure the description of the goods or services provided is clear and thorough. Accounts teams don’t want to receive ambiguous invoices they need to verify either with you, the supplier, or internally, which again can lead to delays.
Get your tone right
One of the main characteristics of a successful credit controller is knowing when to apply the pressure in order to get paid.
There are times a more sympathetic and understanding approach is better, depending on the reasons cited for payment being delayed, whereas other situations need a more forceful tone.
By mastering this, you can enhance your relationship with the customer – both in demonstrating empathy when the late payment is a genuine mistake, for example, while a stronger tone can also be respected and productive.
Put formal processes in place
It’s great credit control practice to have various processes in place, from when to contact customers throughout the credit period to how to respond to different disputes and late payment excuses.
Formal processes can also be useful from a relationship-building aspect. For example, by having stock responses to sometimes difficult situations, much of the negative emotion can be taken out of the equation and more constructive conversations can take place. Likewise, being able to fall back on T&Cs and policies can be useful when chasing overdue payments, differentiating your actions with those being dictated by company policy.
This can help to preserve the relationship even when it’s at its most delicate.
However, it’s also good to be able to go ‘off-piste’ when the situation allows. For example, you could say “ordinarily I’d need to do this, but on this occasion I can accept this” as a way to show leniency in a bid to encourage payment.
It can be frustrating for all of us when emails and questions disappear into a black hole, or the recipient takes days to reply.
When your customers contact you with queries, disputes or replies, try to respond as quickly as you can. This can be more difficult when you need to escalate things internally, but your customer will always appreciate quick responses.
Say thank you
They say manners cost nothing. But saying ‘thank you’ when a customer pays their invoice can generate plenty.
Not only is it polite, it demonstrates to your customer how much you value their payment – especially when that payment is on time! – giving your customer extra incentive to pay your next invoice promptly too.
Do you have any more suggestions of ways to build a strong relationship with your customers’ accounts payable department? Share them in the comments below!