Have you ever had a feeling you just can’t quite shake that you might be missing something? Was it a job you had to do, a call, perhaps a tool you’ve misplaced…?
We’ve all been there. While the best-case scenario is that it’s only something small, it’s the unfortunate truth that sometimes being forgetful (or disorganised, as the case may actually be) can lead to costly mistakes, that can even severely damage your bottom-line.
For many field service businesses, this sort of problem is most likely to occur when it comes to invoicing errors to do with stock and parts. After all, an engineer may be so focused on getting the job done (which is great!), but it can be easy for them to forget to record all the items they’ve used (which is not so great), especially if they’ve been met with surprise problems along the way.
It’s not as uncommon as you might think, but that’s precisely the point...
If you’re not able to keep track of your costs and, in particular, the way in which you invoice customers for a job, you're more likely to lose money. Are you relying on paper trails? Do engineers have access to stock information? Who’s responsible for invoicing? If you don't have clear answers to these questions, or know the processes you have in place aren't the best, you'll want to read on.
In this article, we’ll consider these queries and think about what mistakes you might be making when it comes to invoicing and payment tracking in your field service business.
- Avoid delivering a poor customer experience
- Start keeping track of your essential information
- Make sure you integrate with your accounting software
1. Avoid delivering a poor customer experience
That’s the overall goal, isn’t it? After all, invoicing isn’t something you want to get wrong.
While it’s not impossible for you to follow-up with a customer and amend an invoice, or later inform them that you forgot to charge them for a specific part, I’m sure you’d agree it’s a situation you’d rather avoid. That’s especially true if the customer has already paid as well.
Imagine the scenario:
Your engineer is dealing with an emergency repair job, but it turns out to be more complex than first expected. Both the customer and your engineer want it to be done-and-dusted as soon as possible, not faff around.
While the initial quote mentioned the specific parts the engineer had expected were necessary to fix a busted boiler, they ended up using additional parts that they knew (fortunately) were in the back of their van. Yes, the engineer managed to fix the problem on time, but they forgot to note down the extra parts in the rush to get everything sorted and stick to their schedule.
After returning to the office later that day, the engineer forgot to add them to the invoice or inform another member of staff to add them to the bill, which (of course) leads to an inaccurate invoice being sent out. They then remember a few days later, and have to chase it up.
That’s a lot of steps and certainly not the best way to handle the process, and for the individual customer journey, that’s also not an ideal experience either. At the very least, once the customer receives an invoice, they expect it to be accurate. This means that the last thing they want to hear is that they actually owe you more money, all because someone forgot to add £20 worth of extra piping to the list.
You might sometimes think that it’s better to avoid the problem—you’ve likely still made money from the job after all—or perhaps you’re more interested in keeping that customer happy and avoiding confrontation. However, can you really afford to be writing-off expenses? It’s certainly not wise, especially as it’s easy for this to become a frequent problem.
Alongside an unpleasant customer experience, it results in you losing money, and can negatively impact your reputation as well. You might hope that the customer will understand that someone made an honest mistake, but how likely is it to happen all the time?
Learn more: 10 Ways to Avoid Late Payments
Besides, you don’t want to waste their time, or appear incompetent either, so it makes sense to establish a solution that helps everyone keep track with a digital tool that makes tracking and sharing information easy. From there, it's easier to ensure you get paid, and also keeps customers happy. In short: efficiency will lead you to more win-win scenarios.
2. Start keeping track of your essential information
To solve your invoicing problems, you need to think about a few things when it comes to how you regulate your processes:
- How do your engineers and staff keep track of your customer information or stock data?
- Are they relying on paper job-sheets and lists?
- Do they have access to data off-site?
There are many ways to track your data, but the best solution is to have an all-in-one database that lets you see information clearly, access it easily, and apply it practically, and that’s whether your staff are working back in the office, or are live on-site with a customer.
If you think about all the information you need for completing an invoice, I’m sure you’d agree it makes sense to make it as accessible as possible so that whoever might be responsible can have as straightforward and pain-free experience as possible.
With the right CRM, you can manage invoices and payment tracking with ease. The right software should allow anyone with the right permissions (which is up to you) to create lists and generate accurate invoices at a super-fast, but also super-accurate rate. This means that you don’t have to rely on hand-written paper sheets, inaccurate data, mistakes, or forgetful memories.
It makes a lot of sense to upgrade to a digital invoicing solution, not only for speed but because it can enable engineers to complete jobs and improve the customer experience at the same time. How great would it be to finish a service and put together an invoice on the spot, that the customer could even complete then-and-there, via a payment portal? If that sounds good to you, you might also want to consider another way it can benefit you too...
3. Integrate with your accounting software
Time is of the essence when it comes to handling payments and it’s true that accounting—like many other services—has gone digital. While many field service businesses might still be doing things the traditional way (though many have moved on too), the companies and services that you partner with to support your business, have moved on.
You might’ve seen our conversation with Clear House Accountants, but their Director, Jibran Qureshi, spoke in detail about the need for businesses to go digital. It is the 21st Century, after all, and if you’re not up-to-speed, you will fall behind. When I spoke with Jibran, he said the biggest issue is working with large companies who simply haven’t taken the steps to roll with the times:,
“The biggest problem we see is that the traditional way of doing things is so ingrained with them, that processes haven’t changed and haven't grown with the company.” This makes fixing issues, especially as an accounting firm who uses a lot of technology, even more of a slog to work through and “untangle everything that's being entangled.”
“If you go back 15 years,” Jibran went on to say, “accounting was largely done on a piece of paper, so we had all these ledger books-” the value that came from that, while useful, was simplistic, “-but if you look at accounting now, 15 years ahead, things have changed! It's projections and forecasting and a lot of analytics. You can look at numbers, modular analysis, ratios, and percentages, and you can use that data to assess, in real-time, how your business is performing.”
Being able to invoice at speed is just one benefit of going digital with your data, but being able to extrapolate and apply that data you’ve obtained and put it to practical use is another. It can dramatically improve your decision making and help you build a more secure bottom-line.
If you’re not able to sync your data up and enable your accountant or accounting software to access your data, you’ll be wasting time and resources with administration tasks, and restricting yourself (and your customers) from enjoying a smoother experience.
This, of course, can have a knock-on effect to other aspects of your business too: whether it’s paying for more stock, paying staff on-time, or simply keeping your data clean, it’s not good practice to keep your payment data and invoicing separate.
You may have a diligent engineer who makes note of every part and tracks jobs down to the minute, but not everyone is so lucky (or so efficient), and it’s true that honest mistakes can still happen as well.
However, this is where integrations become essential and, thanks to simple tools and features, you can make sure that whatever CRM system or software you use, syncs up to your accounting package of choice. Whether that be Sage Accounting, Xero, or someone else, with it in place you can remove the self-imposed restrictions you had and reap the benefits of digital innovation.
If you choose not to streamline the way you handle tracking, payments, and invoices, you’ll be holding back your business and costing yourself more in the long run and it won’t be long before you really start to feel the damage. Need a kick-start your invoicing? Take a look at our advice and download the templates we've prepared to help you out!