Billing for the sale of physical goods is usually a straightforward process, but with virtual services, it can get complicated. And for organizations with nonstandard requirements, the billing software traditionally included in ERP systems might not be up to the task.
The team at Generac, a Waukesha, Wis.-based manufacturer of generators, was in need of specialty billing software when it rolled out a new mobile monitoring program in March called Mobile Link. Mobile Link customers can attach a cellular monitoring device to their backup generator and receive email or text message notifications of status changes or potential problems through the website StandbyStatus.com.
While setup time on the customer side is quick -- approximately 15 minutes -- Sean Miller, director of Generac's remote monitoring division, recognized that the billing portion could be a stumbling block. "With all that speed, you don't want billing to be the thing slowing you down," he said.
Although Miller acknowledged that the company is still in the "newlywed stage" with Tract, its specialty billing software, he said having it in place was an important component in the program's success.
Specialty billing vendor eases the switch to B2C billing
But Mobile Link is in the business-to-consumer (B2C) realm -- an area that Generac didn't have previous experience with. Also, Mobile Link charges on an activity-based model. This was another scenario that Generac's systems had not handled in the past.
"We had two major risks going into this: Upsetting the customer and fumbling the football -- money," Miller said. "If moneys were to be mishandled or something gets delayed, that could inconvenience a customer or someone here at Generac."
These functional considerations drove Generac to investigate specialty billing software. But Miller said the company ultimately chose Tract, produced by Austin, Texas-based vendor Transverse, due to both functional and support reasons. "Tract presented a good overall value statement along with that human touch that helped them go the extra mile," he said.
The support proved to be invaluable during implementation. Because Generac's finance team had never handled B2C billing, it relied heavily on the vendor for coaching and training. "Things as simple as how credit cards get processed, [and] what they looked like when our accounts receivable department saw them, [or] refunds," Miller said. "[They] helped give our finance group a sense of security learning this from the ground up."
And it wasn't just the finance department that needed to be trained. Miller said Transverse provided tailored training sessions for various teams, such as the customer support group. The vendor also set up a sandbox version of the product so users could familiarize themselves with the system in a non-live environment. Transverse allows Generac to maintain this version on an ongoing basis to train new users.
Miller said the hurdles Generac faced in Tract implementation mostly involved training, but he also attested to some process adjustments. "Some of the times we adapted our processes and other times [Transverse] modified theirs," he said. The main example of incompatible processes had to do with customer renewals, and Miller said Transverse bent to Generac's wishes in that instance by making the necessary tweaks to the software.
Billing software's internal and external benefits
Miller named two main advantages of the specialty billing software, one on the customer side and one on the Generac side.
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For Generac's finance team, Miller said Tract helps lessen the complexity of Mobile Link's billing. "When the customers pay for cellular service for Mobile Link, Tract plays the role [as] the efficiency point to collect all that customer and payment information, [and] gives us one lump payment," he said. "It really drives a lot of efficiency and simplicity for us."
And on the customer-facing front, it helps Generac create a positive interaction. "The modern customer is very familiar with how things act when they pay on a website, and with [Transverse] having that knowledge of how that [process] works, it ensures customers have a good experience."
Miller also said Tract's ability to create custom reports is a benefit. The reports "allow us to look at customer behaviors and purchases, so we can see which customers bought what, and maybe drive a bit more into the why," he said. "Getting [analytics] is very important to us and we're finding systems that support that."
Miller had one piece of advice for finance managers in need of specialty billing software: You get what you pay for.
"Especially when you're new to a space, forcing yourself to look at capabilities and other value-adds is really important" rather than getting hung up on the price of a system, Miller said. "If you simply focus on price you may or may not get a solution that's viable for what you need."
This was first published in September 2013