Bye-bye invoice stress!

There is increasingly less paper in circulation at the Adapt Apartments in Berlin: Large corporate customers are increasingly paying by credit card and demanding electronic invoices. This lightens the workload for hotelier Ralf Krause and allows him to dedicate more time to his core business of providing service to his customers.

TEXT: Jürgen Baltes  

Whether on talk shows or the talent show "The Voice": Countless television programmes shown on German TV are transmitted from the studios in Berlin's Adlershof district. For Ralf Krause, General Manager of the Adapt Apartments, Adlershof is actually Germany's "Silicon Valley". Faculties of Berlin's Humboldt University have located here, research institutes like the Fraunhofer and Max Planck organisations, alongside numerous start-ups – and the Adapt Apartments, a complex opened in 2012 with 189 rooms and apartments for short- and long-term guests.

Krause's guest list is as illustrious as it is international: Guest professors and scientists from around the world, programmers, film crews, and also "the odd celebrity face from the television industry" put up here, for a week, a month, or longer. "Our guests come from almost 90 different countries," according to Krause's reckoning, many of them visiting on behalf of international organisations or corporations.

KO factor: Electronic invoices

For the hotelier, this means: He must offer an appropriate level of quality and services, ranging from a 24-hour reception through a laundry service right up to shopping services. One thing Krause has noticed: When new corporate customers request information, the first question is no longer about the price or the facilities in the room, but increasingly often about the payment and invoicing procedures. "Can you process electronic invoices?" is one example of a typical opening question. "If I had to say "no" to this question, that would probably be the end of the discussion," Krause believes. However, his new PMS software "can do all of that."

One thing is clear to Krause: "A sea change is currently taking place in payment and invoicing in the travel management segment, and this is being driven primarily by large companies." Because of credit cards and electronic invoices, processes are becoming centralised and automated, he says. For example, some major customers have set up central accounting departments to which he has to send his invoices digitally and in very specific formats, Krause reports. Required information typically includes the invoice recipient, and the service recipient in the event of deviation from the former, guest names, name of the group subsidiary, frequently subdivided into department, project and employee numbers. Krause receives this data automatically through the credit card system, and now frequently on the basis of virtual credit cards.

Tenfold increase in credit card payments

The figures bear testimony to the structural change: The use of credit cards at Adapt Apartments has "actually increased tenfold" in the past five years. And the share of payments by invoice has accordingly declined from 70 percent to 30 percent. Cash payments have decreased from 15 percent to 5 percent, and Maestro cards – "predominantly used by German guests" – have remained stable at 5 percent.

Krause sees a direct effect in the fact that he is sending out increasingly less paper. "We are saving €6,000 to €8,000 a year on postage costs alone," the hotelier says. And there is another, even more decisive effect: With automated customers, there are significantly fewer "malfunctions". What Krause means by this are invoices which have to be handled for a second time, because some piece of information or other is incorrect. Krause outlines a typical incident: "An employee books the room in their own name and only informs the hotel at check-out that the invoice must be addressed to the company. A new invoice is written and handed to the guest. Two days later, a call comes from the accounts department of the guest's firm. The cost centre or some other piece of information is missing. We have to correct the invoice and send it out again." With the "old customer base", as Krause calls them, this generates more work for him, he says. Another advantage is the "mental relaxation" for his own employees. Because every phone call regarding an erroneous invoice – and there could easily be 200 or 300 of these every month – gives an employee the feeling that he or she did something wrong themselves, Krause explains.

No more creditworthiness worries

Krause is convinced that on the bottom line, the benefits predominate. That means, savings incurred by the central credit card systems and "paperless invoice" more than offset discounts and initial software investments. In addition, Krause no longer needs to worry about his customers' creditworthiness either. "Every Thursday, I get a collective settlement and the money is on our account on the Friday."

For the hotelier, these resource savings mean that he can dedicate himself more to his real task, which is providing a real home from home for his guests. After all, the longest tenants in the Adapt Apartments have been there for two-and-a-half years already: two IT developers from England and India, who have founded an expanding software development firm. "Apparently, they like it here so much that they have stopped searching for apartments any more," Krause believes.

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