With data showing that transactional documents are increasingly being used as promotional tools, it’s a good time to revisit some basic marketing practices. Here are some insights straight from the OSG Creative Studio.
- Make your message strategic.
We’ve mentioned before how important it is to use data to create dynamic messages. When you have real insight into your customers’ needs and patterns, the endless marketing options become more tailored and, ultimately, more effective. Use a paper bill to push the switch to e-bill. Up-sell or cross-sell one of your services. Offer an enticing promotion. Just make it count.
- Then make it pop.
Size the message properly, incorporate color, and avoid information overload. Less is more.
- Don’t disrupt the flow.
No marketing should disrupt the clarity of the bill or invoice’s key elements. Make sure the framework is there, so the message doesn’t add confusion. You might even consider upgrading your entire invoice package with envelope messaging or an additional messaging page.
Effective communication is about more than a smartly worded subject line or a crackerjack social media strategy. It’s also about more than just talking. Relaying information to clients is the backbone of any successful business, whether it’s through an e-bill, a marketing campaign, or an envelope. Here are four ways to do that more effectively.
- Listen first.
Or if no one’s spoken for a while, ask a question. It’s amazing how long someone might deal with something being wrong before speaking up about it. Check in with the client. Check in with staff. You can’t fix anything before knowing it needs repair.
- Simplify a complex process.
When we create transactional documents for clients to send their customers, we’re focused on a.) making the client’s cash flow more streamlined, and b.) creating materials that are readable, engaging, and clear. We’ve talked before about the two questions a bill needs to answer right away. You can apply that principle to almost anything communications-related. What are the most essential things that need to be stated? What’s irrelevant? Break down an intricate process into bite-sized pieces of content.
- Focus on storytelling.
You hear this a lot now: “Tell your business’s story.” A story has many elements, but they need to be adding up to the bigger picture. Be consistent with your design aesthetic. Share relevant updates. Stay in touch. Tools like OSG’s Letter Composer make it easier to send information and improve customer service while keeping branding consistent.
- If necessary, change the conversation.
At OSG, we offer a breadth of communication solutions, because we recognize that there are nuances to every industry and lifecycles that happen within them. Whether it’s a Back to School campaign in the summer or a new billing statement format, we can find something that starts a new conversation with your customers and increases your revenue.
Even with our Dynamic Messaging, Envelope Messaging, and Lifecycle Marketing options, we recognize that the bill’s efficiency and clarity come before any other bells and whistles. Here are the two questions every bill should answer immediately.
- “How much do I owe?”
This is a case where the bottom line should be the top line, whether it’s a paper bill or an electronic bill. The number could never be too obvious. Loud and clear, front and center.
- “When is it due?”
The final call for payment is almost more important for you than it is for the customer. Don’t bury this somewhere on the bottom of the paper or screen.
Any other messaging, information, or design should support these two pieces of information, because the third question is the one we’ve all asked ourselves upon opening the mailbox or inbox:
- “Is all I ever do pay bills?”
Well, yes. That’s all any of us do. To take the edge off and strengthen customer retention, it’s a smart idea to include special offers, refer-a-friend inserts, or any other communication that reinforces the relationship and reminds the person why they do business with you in the first place. But first, answer those two questions.
Summer brings so much possibility: Long days by the pool, drives to the beach, and better looking invoices.
Now is an ideal time to update your invoice package, whether you use electronic billing services or print and mail. Ideally, the refresh would accomplish three things:
- Present a more polished, modern look for your company.
- Tighten up the organization of the invoice’s elements, and perhaps even incorporate some Dynamic Messaging.
- Improve customer response time. (Translation: Increase your cash flow.)
The OSG design team understands the balance between creativity and clarity when making this kind of change. Our Production Graphics Manager, Ashley Sherrow, put together a before and after prototype to demonstrate how just a few changes can completely transform your customer communication.
By incorporating color, improving image quality, and drawing the eye to neatly organized sections, your invoice can help streamline your branding and provide clarity for your customers simultaneously. It’s refreshing for everyone.
Interested in this for your business? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We should each have a flying car by now, right? If we were in the future people predicted years ago, we’d be zipping through the clouds to work. That idea is still alive and well, but as it turns out, the cars got into a different cloud first. They’re in our phones, roaming around inside of apps on their way to pick us up. Technology isn’t linear; it stretches and morphs on its way to the future. The same principle applies to billing technology.
The cry is always the same: “Paper is obsolete! Right?” The truth is, we’re not quite there yet. Electronic billing has been around since the ’90s, and for every paperless friend who scoffs at the idea that anyone would still receive an archaic hard copy, there are plenty more who still enjoy receiving paper bills in 2017, even if they ultimately pay online. (In fact, 21 million people change the way they pay their bills from one month to the next.*) What’s clear is that when it comes to transactional documents, there are many who want a mix of the past and the future, the paper and the cloud.
So, what’s next? When we developed the OSG Mobile App, we wanted to offer clients a tool that enhanced their billing and payment processes. Beyond the right-in-your-pocket ease it provides customers—many of whom use apps for a litany of other services anyway—the app also allows for interaction. It’s about functionality as much as it’s about convenience. Their customers don’t have to stare at static PDFs; there are functions that actually engage them. It also offers the client customization options that sets the company brand apart.
Most importantly, it leaves room for change. The app grows with the client, and with their customers. There’s no way to predict the future specifically, but leaving room for that growth is essential.
*Source: Eight Annual Billing Household Survey, Fiserv Inc., 2016
The words “bill” and “invoice” are often used interchangeably across industries and in conversation. Though not a major crime against the language (they’re swapped with such frequency, it’s unlikely a misunderstanding would occur), it’s worth noting the differences. The two are related, but they’re not twins.
Bill: What we most commonly refer to as a bill is a balance forward, business-to-customer document. It’s a request for payment with the expectation that the payment will be made by a specific date. If it’s a recurring bill, any missed payment will appear in the next bill. For example, if you don’t pay March’s bill, April’s bill will reflect the balance from March, what’s due in April and any penalty or interest that has accrued. A bill carries over, and it also makes a demand: Pay now.
Invoice: An invoice is an itemized list of goods or services with individual costs and a total sum, typically used in business-to-business transactions. An invoice can be sent before or after a payment, which is why it acts more as a record of a transaction rather than an immediate request for payment. (If the invoice is sent prior to payment, it will often say something like, “Pay within 30 days.”) An invoice is also a static document, meaning it doesn’t show the previous balance due or payment history.
Statement: That’s right, a bonus word. A statement is essentially a status document indicating where an account stands within a particular time frame–you’re all paid up, you owe x amount, etc. It’s not a request for payment, though the word is often used like it is.
And one last language note: Another reason these words are used interchangeably is a matter of tone. In short, getting an invoice or a statement sounds nicer than getting a bill.
There’s a reason major companies like UPS and DirectTV devote pages on their website to topics like “A Simple Guide to Understanding Your Bill” or “How to Read Your Bill.” They’re anticipating an all-too-common issue: Bills are hard to read.
In fact, the most common cause of late payments is that people have trouble reading their bills. Poor organization and confusing design can slow down a person’s quick scan to see what’s owed and when. It’s a strange phenomenon given that these organizational choices will also slow down a revenue stream for the company issuing the bill. And since paying bills isn’t an activity typically linked to pleasure in the first place, the easier clients make it for customers, the better. Because what’s a common reaction to stress and confusion? Avoidance.
Two Things to Consider:
- Composition is an essential element of a bill’s design.
Beyond logos and color scheme, the placement of a bill’s key components is crucial. The total amount due, the due date and the summary of charges need to be nicely organized and obvious. This isn’t the time for bold artistic expression. Keep it clean.
- Every element of the bill/invoice should also be working to that same end.
If you’re incorporating dynamic messaging into your billing (which we highly recommend!), use that marketing as an opportunity to get a customer’s attention. Make it eye-catching and smart, but don’t overwhelm the space and add an additional layer of confusion.