Billing is one of the most important aspects of any resale business. Having a haphazard billing process can damage cashflow and have a detrimental impact on customer satisfaction and staff morale. Yet a slick, efficient, and predictable billing process allows a business to concentrate on the key areas of sales pipeline and growth.
Sarah Keeling is Billing Services Manager at Inform Billing. Popular with customers, Sarah has been with the company for over six years and was promoted to her current role in May last year. She is now responsible for a growing team delivering customer set ups and training as well as the outsourced ‘bureau billing’ service that Inform Billing provides to around 100 of its customers. Sarah is just the right person to shed some light on this popular service and to give tips to make billing as stress-free as possible.
Inform Billing offers a popular bureau billing service – how does it work?
Lots of customers opt for Bureau Billing when resources are tight as it’s very flexible and removes the burden of the billing cycle. Customers are only responsible for data entry, leaving them free to concentrate on growing their business. We’re responsible for uploading the files, whether that’s from the customer sending the files, or us having access to them on the portal, or auto-collecting them through FTP. We recommend that we collect them direct to reduce the pressure as well as speeding up the process, but all customers are slightly different.
Once we have the files, we reconcile them, resolving any queries and generate the invoices. We run and review reports to benefit the reseller, before sending out the invoices and generating the account and direct debit exports.
If there are errors, or missing data, we advise our customers and provide direct links highlighting records that require information. All this is designed to ensure that our customer doesn’t miss any revenue opportunity.
If there are rental charges, these are normally exported separately. Some customers have standard pricing and to make it more streamlined they provide us with their price list, or say “just mark everything up by 30%, unless I tell you otherwise”. The platform is highly configurable, so there are any number of ways to achieve what the customer wants.
After ensuring all data is complete, we run several checks before generating the invoices and reviewing the reporting.
For instance, we’ll check for any records that are showing as losses. Losses can happen and, in many cases, they will be expected – perhaps there has been a drop-off or downtime on service, so the usual monthly charge will be waived. This will show as a significant loss, but one that we anticipate. If the report was sent to the customer, they may not recognise the reason immediately and could panic.
How else does this service benefit customers?
This is where our experience, and the benefits of our personalised service and support, is of greatest value. We identify and resolve issues before they reach the customer, saving them time and unnecessary concerns. If any issues require adjustment, we simply roll the invoices back and make the necessary amends, before re-running the corrected invoice(s).
Any investigations and adjustments that are necessary are included within the set charges agreed within the customer’s contract. This ensures the customer can predict their monthly expenditure on billing, which is key to budgeting and cashflow forecasting.
When is the best time to run the billing process?
The first two weeks of the month are by far the busiest, as the vast majority of customers want their bills out during this period. Keeping the process tight is key, as is keeping on top of any billing admin throughout the month, so its not overwhelming when it comes to preparing for the bill run.
What’s good practice for invoicing then?
Cashflow and predicting income are key, allowing a business to plan, based on the revenue they will receive each month. This includes staffing, (particularly seasonal or ad hoc), as well as ancillary costs such as marketing or sales.
At Inform Billing we always advise customers to plan their invoicing dates and stick to those as far as is possible. Keeping to these schedules is key to both cashflow forecasting and resource planning, especially for small to medium-sized businesses and those where margins are tight, due to a competitive environment.
How can you help, as a team, to ensure that customers get the best advice and service?
We’re very proactive. We know our customers and understand their ‘pain-points’ so we reaffirm good practice and ensure that we keep on top of any potential slippages in the timeliness of invoicing. If we are doing our job properly and ensuring that the customer is receiving the best advice and service, then we know this helps the ‘stickiness’ of customers. If they are getting good service and the costs stack up, why would they go elsewhere for their billing services?
Talking about top quality service, what issues do you encounter most frequently?
Many issues are highlighted by better reporting. In the past, customers haven’t had the breadth of reporting that we provide. We enable them to see which areas are making a loss and help them understand the reasons!
From your perspective, what’s the best thing about your job?
There are several. I love the uncertainty that every day brings, as no two days are the same. But I also like the relationship that I build with long-term customers. I have been dealing with some since I started, so over 6 years, which makes for a great and trusting relationship. And that goes for the whole team, we all love the relationships we build with our customers.
Our approach works for our customers, as they see the benefits of working with people who understand their accounts and they can rely on them to do the best for them. We’ve grown considerably in the time I have been here and are set to continue our growth.
How has the software changed?
We have continually developed our software over the years I’ve been here. All the changes have been made organically to improve the service we offer. It makes me proud, and I really enjoy the fact that we give our customers such a good service.
As the solution has been built from the ground up for the IT and Telecoms industry the team here have an unbeatable knowledge of specific telecoms billing. We have taken a conscious decision to undertake considerable training on telecoms issues and terminology, so that we can advise those responsible for billing within our customer’s businesses. Many those asked to look after billing are financial experts but not familiar with the terminology and pitfalls of IT and Telecoms billing.
If our contact works in accounts, they may not know what an ISDN is, or what line rental means. We receive many calls on these subjects, but it’s because they’ve had no exposure to the terminology or training in the technical areas. Customers are always extremely grateful to use our knowledge and experience to ensure their billing is as stress free as possible.
So, what sort of general advice would you give to clients?
The obvious one is to set an invoice date for each customer and stick to it. That way, the customer knows when to expect it and the client has a clear handle on when they will be paid, which helps with cashflow and planning.
In addition, we encourage customers to be organised and add data throughout the month to avoid a ‘scramble’ at the end of the month to add a backlog of data. We also suggest a standard set of charges, for calls and rentals, so that it’s streamlined and easy to manage. Of course, there will be times when the customer wants to do something different, like a large number of calls to the US or Saudi Arabia for instance, which can then be charged out as
special rates or bundles. The platform is extremely flexible so these types of variances can easily be accommodated.
As far as client bundles are concerned, we can set up the bundles for bureau customers (whilst also giving help to self-billing customers), by adding dropdowns to the platform to ensure ease of use and billing.
We also advise having an accounting package in place. Our platform integrates with all leading packages such as Xero, Sage and QuickBooks to ensure seamless billing and accounting processes are delivered.
So, you’re like an extra member of staff for your clients, without them having to add the expense of additional headcount?
Yes, that’s right. Some customers recognise from the outset that they don’t have the resource or experience to handle the billing side of their business in-house and come to us to support them. Equally some of our largest customers outsource to us in order to spread the risk and avoid relying on a single employee. They can agree a monthly fee and then access our knowledge and experience throughout the month to ensure timely, accurate and stress-free billing.