For anyone involved in the process of collecting invoices from customers, sending out emails about overdue payments is an everyday occurrence but it’s not something that should be quickly completed, crossed off the to-do list and forgotten. Being successful with invoice collection emails is much harder than you might think and there is a big difference between writing a collection email and writing a collection email that actually gets results. In order for an invoice collection email to be successful it has to overcome getting into the customer’s inbox, getting the customer to open the email, writing an email the customer will read and inspiring the customer to take action.
Step One: Get The Email Into Your Customer’s Inbox
You can’t expect a customer to pay if they haven’t even received the email. Contrary to what most people may think, this is one of the biggest problems that collections representatives have when sending collection letters via email. This is made evident by a survey conducted in August of 2014 by the National Associate of Credit Management (NACM) that found a large majority of office managers, collectors, etc. are doing nothing to avoid their customer’s “spam” or “junk” filters. The survey asked respondents “Do you or does your credit department take a proactive approach to ensure that important email communications aren’t caught/lost in customers’ spam folders/detectors?” the findings from the survey are below:
- 41% of respondents said “yes,” they have measures in place to ensure that important emails aren’t caught/lost in customers’ spam folders/detectors.
- 49% said “no,” they do not do anything to ensure that important emails aren’t caught/lost in customers’ spam folders/detectors.
- 10% answered “I don’t know.”
With statistics like the above the excuse “I never received the invoice” may not be an excuse after all. To make matters worse, growing numbers of email scams and cyber-attacks have spurred IT departments and internet security product companies to step-up their game when it comes to blocking unwanted emails. Due to this trend a collection email is far more likely to wind up in a spam or junk folder since, according to a recent NACM enews report, emails with the subject line including words such as “collections”, “credit”, “overdue”, etc. are more apt to send up red flags in an email system than other subject lines, especially if there is an attachment on the email (like an invoice).
So the bad news is that you may be sending all of your collection email attempts directly to the customer’s SPAM filter; seriously delaying payment and slowing cash flow. But the very, very good news is that this problem is easily fixed! Here are a few ideas to help you correct this issue and sail over this first collection email hurdle:
- Try to avoid using words that might trigger the spam/junk filters.
- Ask your customers to add the email address that will be sending invoices to their contact list.
- You could send a fax but this can be time consuming if you have a lot of invoices to deal with.
- Follow up with a phone call. If you send an email and hear nothing back from the customer in a day or two, try giving them a call to make sure it made it safely to their inbox. Even if the customer does not answer, leave a message asking them to check their spam/junk if they did not receive the email from you. If you do get the customer, it’s a great opportunity to ask them to pay over the phone or if there are any questions/concerns with the invoice keeping them from timely payment.
Step Two: Getting You Customer to Open It
A lot of times we find ourselves inundated with emails. If your customer has 20 emails to go through in the morning, you want to make sure yours stands out and is one they feel compelled to open. The subject line of the email is the first thing to catch your customer’s eye, so craft it carefully.
Collection Email Subject Line Best Practices
1. There are some words that can get caught up in a Spam or junk filter, such as “overdue”, “credit score”, or “collection” so it’s wise to avoid these and similar words in your subject line.
2. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes, what type of invoice line would engage you? Would you prefer something that is pushy and aggressive, or a friendly reminder?
3. Keep your subject line short, shoot for 50 characters or less so it does not get cut off. Short subject lines are especially important if emails are being checked on a mobile device as they tend to cut subject lines shorter than a computer or lap top.
4. Use clear subject lines, this is not a time to get creative or tricky. With the number of emails your customer likely gets in a day, they are only going to open the ones that clearly state what they are about. In fact, a case study conducted by AWeber Communications found that a clear subject line gets 541% more clicks than one that is clever. Inserting the invoice number in the subject line is a very good way to indicate the intent of the email. For example, “Follow up on invoice # 12345”
5. Personalizing the subject line is a proven way to increase open rates on your invoice collection email. You can personalize the invoice with the customer’s company name, your company’s name, or even with the word “you”.
Bad Subject Line Examples
- “Your invoice is overdue, pay today or your credit score will drop.” This would go straight to Spam and gives very little information about the invoice in question. Even if it clears the spam filter, your customer may delete it thinking it’s a scam.
- “Please submit payment for your overdue invoice immediately.” While this is much better than the first one, it may still wind up in Spam due to the verbiage and lacks detail.
Good Subject Line Examples
All three of these samples subject lines tell the customer right away what the email is about, play on the tendency for people to click personalized emails, stay away from spammy words, and includes detailed information.
- “Following up on your invoice #12345”
- “Following up on invoice #12345 for XYZ company”
- “Reminder- invoice #12345 for ABC company”
Paying such close attention to the subject line of your email may seem a bit trivial, but when it comes to collecting invoices faster, no rock should be left unturned.
Step Three: Getting the Point Across
It may not seem like a big deal what you write when you send a collection email, but it could mean the difference between a customer paying or not paying. Yes, you’ve gotten it in their inbox and at least they’ve opened it, but if they haven’t read the email then they won’t know to pay. Issues with getting customers to read the email all start with how wordy you have been and what type of tone you take.
1. Stick to the point
To make following the conversation easier for you and your customer, limit your email to one topic (or in this case, one invoice). That way there is no confusion and you can easily search your inbox/outbox to check up on conversations about an invoice. If another topic of conversation pops up, begin a new email chain with a subject line that reflects the new topic.
Looking for emails can be time consuming and you may not always be able to find what you’re looking for. You can make tracking, organizing, and finding customer conversations faster and easier by using A/R software that automatically stores incoming and outgoing emails for you. Learn more here.
2. Stay away from CAPS and be polite
No matter how frustrated you are, never use capital letters in a professional email. This can be easily interpreted to the customer as aggressive, like you’re yelling at them via email. Because collecting invoices is as much a customer service and sales task as it is an accounting function, keeping your cool is crucial to maintaining customer relationships and future business.
3. Don’t say more than you need to
Keeping your email concise and to the point is important to ensure the customer understands what you are saying and asking of them. In the case of a collection email, you want to convey to them that they are late on a payment, they need to pay you, and lay out instructions on how to send payment- everything beyond that is just filler in which your real message can get lost.
If a longer conversation or message must be sent, you may be better off picking up the phone.
4. Plan for possible responses
Think about the customer’s response or any questions that may arise after reading your email and include your answer in the email you send. This will help reduce the need for follow-up questions on the customer’s part and get you closer to payment. This is when an “if…then…” statement can come in quite handy. For example:
- “If you have already submitted payment, please disregard this email.”
- “If you have a question or concern about this invoice, please call me at 440-123-4567.”
- “If you’re unable to pay at this time, please contact me so we can work out a payment plan.”
5. Think about layout.
Just like this white paper is being split into sections with numbers, bullets, and paragraphs, use multiple paragraphs and bullet points in your email. This will help you clearly convey your message and keep the email short and easy to read. Use a simple and easy to read font, as well.
6. Review and edit
As mentioned earlier, it’s easy to get carried away and write too much, so don’t hit “send” before you’ve gone over the email and removed any unnecessary words and sentences. You also want to double check spelling, grammar, invoice information, and make sure there is nothing in the email that can be misinterpreted by the customer. When you look at your email ask yourself:
- Is the message clear?
- Could there be any misunderstandings?
- If I were the customer, would I read this email fully?
- Does the customer have what they need to complete the action I am asking them to take- meaning in your case invoice information, contact information, and instructions for payment.
These tips are not difficult to start implementing in your email writing. By simply rereading your emails before sending them, you can find places where you may have been too wordy, where the tone has become too harsh or find simple mistakes. All of these mistakes can lose your customer’s attention and you will find yourself waiting longer to get paid.
Step Four: Getting The Customer to Take Action
Actually getting the customer to pay is one of the greatest hurdles to overcome in collection emails. You can lead them down the right path but there is no way to force them to open their wallet and pay on the invoice. The only way to be successful is to follow the best practices and give them all the resources they need to make payment immediately.
If this is your first email to the customer about payment you don’t want to send them the same exact email you’re sending to another customer who is 90 days late on their invoice. If you are doing that then you are either being too harsh on your customer who is only a day late which can impact your relationship with them, or you are being too soft on your customer who is significantly past due and the message will likely continue to be ineffective in helping you get paid.
Choose your words strategically
There are some common-sense words to stay away from when writing a collection email, but there are many more every-day words that can be extremely powerful and may subconsciously inspire your customer to follow your instructions. Studies show that words such as “best”, “convenient”, “easy”, “fast”, “quickly”, “save,” and “time” are among some of the most persuasive words in the English language; so when you pair them together in a sentence, you may actually be able to trigger the desired behavior, such as submitting payment or calling you directly.
Here is a quick example of how to transform a sentence with these powerful words:
- Instead of: “I have attached your invoice to this message”
Try: “For your convenience, I have attached your invoice to this message.”
- Instead of: “Please call me to resolve this matter”
Try: “Please call me so we can quickly resolve this matter”
- Instead of: “Please send a check to the address below or submit payment online”
Try: “Please send a check to the address below, or, to save time, you can submit payment online”
Give the Customer What They Need
If you’re asking your customer to take action, make sure they have everything they need right at their fingertips to do so. For example:
- If you want them to go pay their bill online, provide a direct link to the invoice or to where they login to manage their account.
- If you want them to call you and submit credit card information over the phone, be sure you clearly give them your phone number and direct extension.
- If you are asking them to mail a check in then be sure you give them a correct mailing address and ask that they send the check to your attention. That way it won’t wind up on the wrong person’s desk or sitting in the mail room of your office.
You simply can’t expect customers to take the time out of their day to pay the invoice if they don’t have the tools necessary to do it quickly. You need to make paying invoices an easy and painless process for customers. By making sure that they are receiving your emails, that the email is easy to read and that they have the tools necessary to pay it, you can be sure that you will receive payment as quickly as possible.
Step Five: Finding the Time
No matter how perfectly you craft an email, sometimes customers simply forget to pay. They’ve received and opened your email, but haven’t had a chance to make a payment. If you haven’t sent out a reminder email, you are just as much at fault. You should always be reminding your customers to pay on a regular basis. Unfortunately, who has the time to do this?
Looking up the information on an invoice and customer, checking notes, finding contact information, drafting an email, and consistently following up on it until it’s paid is not hard when you’re talking about one customer or invoice. But when you consider the large number of invoices you’re tracking as well as the related information and documentation that goes along with them, things begin to get significantly more complicated. Assuming you have around 1,000 emails to send a month and it takes you around 5 minutes to send each email, that’s a total of 83 hours a month spent on sending emails. Finding the time becomes very difficult.
Considering the many other important tasks involved in collecting unpaid invoices, such as managing disputes and calling on late invoices, it’s no wonder most companies don’t start sending out emails until after the due date. Accounts receivable automation can play a huge role in changing that in your organization, here are just a few of the ways:
- An automation solution centralizing information so collectors no longer need to waste time looking through old emails and jumping in and out of various business systems to look up contacts, invoice details, and other information in order to write up an email. Everything they need to know will be in one screen.
- Automatically send emails to customers with copies of invoices and predefined templates for each phase of the collection process including new customer welcome letters, payment reminders, past due notices, collections emails, statements, and more. That way communications are always being sent and the message is always relevant to the situation.
- A system will automatically track all outbound and inbound email communication. This will not only help collectors quickly get up to speed on the status of an invoice and situation before contacting the customer, but provide vital information and documentation to quickly settle disputes and improve customer service.
In the end, it all comes down to time. With automation you no longer need to make time to send a collection email to customers, the system will do it for you while you’re taking care of your other more important tasks.
Delivering the right message at the right time is important, whether you’re using automation or not. Kicking old habits or putting aside emotion can drastically change the amount of time it takes to get a response from a customer. Email subject lines may seem trivial, but they can have an affect over whether your customer decides to open that email, or whether they even receive it at all. The format of the email itself is just as important, from its aesthetic appeal down to the words chosen in the body. Reviewing and editing can save you from making any dire mistakes. Finally, save yourself some much needed time. Giving your customer everything they need to fulfill your request is as simple as adding a phone number or website address.