When is it too late to ask for invoice credits? A month later? Six months later? Two years? What if you didn’t even know that you were due such credits because you thought you had been billed accurately in the first place? In other words, can you ask for credit from a vendor because you’ve learned something new about how their invoice works? Okay, okay – leading questions… As you know, we are humbuggish when it comes to poor service design. We are especially irked by poor invoice design. In this post, we want to entertain the concept that it’s never too late to ask for a credit. Especially when it can be demonstrated that unclear invoice design masked the problem in the first place.

The first step, of course, is to conduct an audit. But not just a standard audit. In a standard audit, the invoice may look fine and everything might appear to be in order. That’s because you’re using simple tools. But a simple audit may do just that – simplify the details and miss the devil that’s in them. The type of audit you need to really ensure compliance does line level analysis with the domain of the vendor.

YOU CAN’T AUDIT WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE

Let’s use uniform rental services as an example. Do you know anything about the design of uniform rental services? How services are invoiced? What values are on and NOT on the invoice? Do you know how inventories should be structured, and fluctuate over time? You might know a little bit, but you don’t know the deeper service design features. And you shouldn’t – you’re busy enough running your own business. You don’t need domain expertise, you need access to domain expertise.

Without specific, line-level domain expertise, you can’t find errors and omissions that result in you overpaying. More importantly, unless you have the right tools and technology, finding trends and patterns that indicate larger errors is extremely difficult. We think this is an important distinction when it comes to an audit for two important reasons. First, a new technology allows you to revisit problems that have otherwise been too cumbersome to solve with old tools. Secondly, discovering new information in this way – no matter how much time has passed – should allow for recovery of overpayment. It’s never too late to right a wrong.

GIVE YOUR VENDOR A CHANCE TO DO THE RIGHT THING

When revisiting the past, the best approach is to be specific. Very specific. Excruciatingly specific. Every detected error or omission should be called out by invoice line, and its impact should be clearly articulated. It’s not sufficient to simply point out a sample of errors and extrapolate some generalized cost impact. What if your estimate is under the curve? What if your sample doesn’t represent the true error? At the end of the day – if the technology exists – why NOT explore every nook and cranny to understand if your invoices are truly accurate?

Once you understand the impact and you have a clear, demonstrable case – as in, you have documented each instance of a billing problem – then you have every right to discuss the issue with your vendor. Leverage your data to support your argument that – despite having missed these errors in the past – you’re aware of them now, and you want to have them corrected. Ask for credits. You should not have been billed in the first place. Ask for credits. Most importantly, give your vendor the benefit of the doubt. Mistakes do happen – so give them a chance to fix them.

MAKE AUDITS A GHOST OF THE PAST

Audits are a pain. You should really be checking compliance in real time. Every single time an invoice comes in, you should be sure it’s dead accurate by applying optimized decisions as a service. Make credits a thing of the past. Make audits a thing of the past. There’s a better way to process invoices and approvals. Your thoughts?