Recently, we had some work done on our home heating system by a very friendly local businessperson. He came to our house, took care of the work with a smile and some good advice, and gave us some great pointers for improving our energy efficiency on our own.
What struck me most about our interaction with him, though, was how he handled mailing us the bill.
Instead of just looking at the bill as a way for him to collect his money, he instead treated the bill as a way to reach out to us personally and cultivate future business opportunities.
In the envelope was three copies of the bill. Two of the copies had forms attached to them to mail to our energy company for rebates to be applied to our energy bill. He had already filled out most of the form for us, leaving us with little more to do than to stick them in the mail to get some free cash on our next home energy bill.
In addition to that, he also included a short note that went over the things he mentioned during the home visit. He included his regular prices for all of these services. Then, he went a step farther.
He included a coupon that expired three months in the future. It basically guaranteed 25% off any of the services he provided if we had paid our previous bill before using the coupon.
This billing effort took quite a bit of additional effort for him - perhaps half an hour's worth of work. However, it achieved three very powerful objectives for him.
First, it greatly improved the word-of-mouth referrals and recommendations we'll give him. The extra touch of including the forms for our energy company equated to him spending extra time to put money in our pocket. That's a great way to make our last contact with him one of excellence.
Second, it encouraged us to purchase a follow-up product. With the options laid out before us so clearly, it was easy for us to have a discussion about those options and, along with the positive reputation he'd already established, to strongly consider using his business for that service.
Finally, it hastened our bill payment. Because of the time-sensitive nature of the coupon - and the contingency of getting our bill paid - we got our payment in the mail very quickly regardless of whether we actually ended up using the coupon. The simple presence of the coupon pushed us to hurry our payment and literally get it in the mail the next day.
All it took was a bit of forethought and a bit of time when he sent us the bill to bring out all of these benefits for his business.
The next time you have to send out a bill or a collection letter to a customer, don't view it as merely a task that has to be done to push the customer into paying you. Instead, look at it also as an opportunity to improve their perspective on you and your business as well as a chance to pick up on some follow-up business.
Include some advice and additional information about their purchase in the bill. Include a coupon for future services or products that's valid upon payment of their bill. If you can, aid the customer in opportunities for rebates or other money-saving opportunities by helping them with the required forms. Include a personal note that focuses on their actual situation, not just a tired form letter.
Such touches don't take a great deal of time and they work tremendously well for converting a billing chore into a marketing opportunity. Just ask our furnace repairman - he'll be back in our house soon, enjoying more business.