Every business transaction is an opportunity for a professional and straightforward interaction. Yet, without sufficient understanding of your recipient, your transactions can also create opportunities for confusion and frustration. And when you’re sending invoices (which are crucial for managing cash flow), doing so with empathy can help your operations stay on track.
Empathy: The Often-Missing Invoice Ingredient
Invoices routinely contain payment instructions, intended to ensure proper and prompt settlement. They’re transactional and typically void of much emotion.
When processing your invoices, you may assume that every customer will understand all instructions and respond on time. However, when a customer appears unresponsive, you may feel confused and irritated — and respond in this way.
Instead, your best next move is to practice empathy. Sidestep critical assumptions, and learn more about your customer. Here are two ways you can resolve a challenge with empathy in your communications without provoking additional stress for your client or customer:
Step 1: Consider what roadblocks they may have.
When clients don’t pay on time, you may feel frustrated, since you’ve just dedicated yourself to supporting their needs. But when you communicate from this emotional place, you can easily finger point and make a stressful situation even worse.
Leading with empathy allows you to replace blame with understanding. With a little investigation, the reason for the late payment may become clear. Possibly, your valuable customer is experiencing any one of these challenges:
- They never saw the invoice.
- A new employee is unfamiliar with your payment terms.
- The electronic payment program you use may have a new and confusing format.
There are many possible reasons that the customer was unresponsive. Inquiring is the first step.
Step 2: Be careful about your tone of voice and word choice.
Your inquiry’s language and tone are crucial for assuring the customer that you’re interested in offering assistance, not blaming them for delays. By being careful with how you write your message and communicating with empathy, you can more easily encourage speedy action.
• Avoid negative framing.
Negative words and statements provoke our brains to release stress hormones. And if your readers feel stressed, they’ll be less likely to act — and may even avoid your message.
You can overcome this emotional trigger by trying to understand how they may feel receiving your message and use positive statements as you write. Rather than say negative things like, You didn’t pay on time! encourage them to respond by reminding them, We have multiple ways for you to pay your invoice.
• Offer support.
As I mentioned earlier, some roadblocks could have emerged that kept them from seeing or receiving your invoice. Rather than demand that they pay, offer instead to resolve a conflict if they happen to have one. By asking to help them and caring to understand their challenges — rather than focusing on the blame — you can help clients feel supported and valued.
By working to understand your customers in every interaction — and communicating with empathy — you can resolve transactions more quickly and easily. And you’ll probably deepen your client relationships in the process.