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Billing Disputes: Communication Key to Prevention, Resolution

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Post Billing Disputes: Communication Key to Prevention, Resolution   Sat Aug 13, 2011 12:46 pm

Money's tough to come by these days. And that has businesses and consumers both doing their best to be sure they give and get what's owed and fair. Ironically, it's that drive for fairness that leads to thousands of billing disputes each year-billing disputes that take valuable time away from your core business and threaten your business' hard-earned reputation.

To avoid billing disputes, it helps to understand why they happen in the first place. Billing disputes most often arise from (1) delayed billing, (2) invoices that exceed estimates, (3) billing errors and (4) dissatisfaction with goods or services provided.

Understanding these reasons is half the battle in preventing billing disputes. Clearly, if you do some work for a customer and then wait six months to bill him or her, that allows too much time to forget the level and extent of the services you provided. And if you charge more than you said you would without any explanation or written agreement, you're setting yourself up for trouble.

In all events, the best way to prevent billing disputes is through good communication. Do it continuously and do it in writing.

* State in writing what each party is providing. The customer obviously will be providing payment. The business, too, needs to indicate what specific goods or services it is providing, along with any warranties.

* In addition to stating your rate for goods or services in writing, you need also to disclose, in writing, any additional costs that may appear on the final bill, such as taxes or shipping.

* Invoices at regular, agreed-upon intervals is actually a form of communication in itself. If you have a project that takes several months to complete, it's a lot easier for most customers to pay monthly amounts along the way rather than getting hit with the entire amount at the end. Regular invoices also keep customers abreast of how the charges are accruing.

* If changes are made along the way to what either party is providing the other, be sure to put it in writing and be sure both parties have a copy of the agreed-upon changes.

If despite your best efforts a billing dispute occurs, communication is still the key. Don't avoid it. Instead, address it proactively. Talk with your customer right away and be sure to listen so you understand exactly what his or her concerns are. Then you can explain the details and how costs were assessed. If the customer still disputes the amount, you can gently refer to what you have in writing. If the issue remains, explore discounts, payment options and other ways to accommodate the client or customer.

Remember the end goal is satisfying your customer. Otherwise, you lose not only that customer, but the others-current and prospective-that he or she will then tell. Working instead to find a reasonable solution will keep the customer happy and your reputation intact.
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