Xero apologises for “scaring” users with online invoicing

Three options Xero online invoicing

Xero users lash out at lack of options in initial release.

Xero CEO Rod Drury has defended the cloud accounting vendor’s latest addition to its software, online invoicing, as a leap forward that would eventually become as common as automatic bank feeds. In the third post on the company’s blog within two days titled “Sorry for scaring the horses”, Drury apologised for shipping online invoicing without the ability to send invoices without the new function.

“It seems we scared the horses on our recent online invoicing functionality. Our intentions were to ship Online Invoicing with some more flexible emailing options but we didn’t quite get that out this release. Ordinarily we think, ship early and iterate and accept that in this case it would have been better to have both features at once,” Drury wrote in the blog.

Xero overnight added three options for sending emails that included the option to send PDF invoices by email without a link to online invoices. “Again our apologies and thank you for your feedback and passion. We love hearing it all. Good and bad,” Drury wrote.

See the new drop-down menu with options for sending emails below.

Three options Xero online invoicing

The introduction of online invoicing on Tuesday had prompted strong and rare criticism in a post on Xero’s company blog. Several Xero users complained that the interface for online invoicing carried a Xero logo rather than their own logo, a move some saw as advertising to their own customers without permission.

The criticism also focused on the fact the new feature had been introduced with little warning and with no opportunity to review how it fit their own business processes and was not easily removed.

“I agree that we need to be able to turn this feature off. I find it extremely inappropriate for Xero to place themselves between businesses and their customers without any consultation with the businesses first,” wrote a user called Chris.

“My issue is that Xero has made a conscious decision to reach out to my customers by default on this release and provide them with a new service on my behalf without asking me. I was not given an opportunity to introduce this to my customers, document the process, communicate the new process internally or decide if it will improve my customer’s overall experience,” a user called James R said.

“What if an invoice is sent when payments have not been reconciled? What if a customer calls to ask how to use the system and our people don’t even know about it? What if we already have a portal for our customers to check on orders and invoices? I’m happy to see that this can easily be turned off. My issue is purely the fact it was set by default in the latest release,” James R said.

The sudden introduction of a major feature clearly rattled the faith of some users that Xero prioritised the needs of paying customers over generating revenues.
“The main reason I switched from Intuit products to Xero was that Intuit was like a constant “commercial” and ceaselessly promoting their business and their product while I was trying to just do my accounting. Please don’t follow in their footsteps,” said user Jill V.

Drury told BoxFreeIT the company had been talking about online invoicing for a while. The company had previewed the technology with “a whole bunch of users” and had showed it off at Xero’s first conference in the UK last week.

Drury said the few negative comments were “a pretty small number compared to the overwhelmingly positive comments”.

“All the pre-testing was very positive. I can see that just launching it in the wild, we haven’t had that conversation with people in the room and we absolutely scared the horses. We’ve got 111,000 customers now and less than 10 have had a real problem. We have contacted those people directly, they understand and we are making changes. it’s a very healthy ecosystem,” Drury said.

“I think it’s been a really good response. It’s good to see the passion of the users. No-one asked us for live automated bank feeds and now they’re a standard feature of every online accounting software,” Drury said.

Drury said Xero branding was minimal and only to show users the online invoices were hosted by a secure provider.

“Remember, we’re the first ones to do this. If we’re going to present an online invoice it’s got to be from someone trustworthy. You want to know it’s there, we make no apologies for that. We think we’re doing it in a way that’s value adding to our customers,” Drury said.

Branding online portals was standard practice among online providers, Drury added.

“That’s the same way everyone does it. Even PayPal, you’re advertising that as well, I don’t think it’s a big deal. And I think we’ve done it in a very subtle way. If you look at the image on the page, it’s absolutely tiny – there’s a greyed out logo at the very bottom – and we’re also providing lots of opportunities over time to allow customers to promote themselves to clients.”

See a same online invoice with the Xero logo below.

Xero branding online invoicing

Drury said no white-label version of the online invoicing portal was planned. “No, why would we do that? It needs to be a trusted adviser that’s providing the service, we’ve subtly put a Xero logo on so people can see who’s providing the service and we make no apologies for that.

“Do we want them to promote us? Absolutely, that’s how we grow a sustainable business so we can invest further,” Drury said.

Xero was making changes to online invoicing such as making it “completely optional” and adding more options for customising emails Xero sent to clients. This included the ability to add social media links to LinkedIn, Twitter and FaceBook and widgets polling for customer satisfaction.

“there are a whole lot of interesting widgets we are planning to make optional for our customers to build their relationship with their customers,” Drury said.

Some users complained on the initial blog post that customers had to sign up to Xero to see their invoice online. A second blog post by Xero’s head of design (and co-founder) Philip Fierlinger pointed out that there was no need to sign in to see the invoice. However, customers would need to create a free Xero account to see their outstanding balances and a list of unpaid invoices, which was an optional.

“If somebody wants to view opening balances they do need to create a free account, they have to log onto something so that’s ok. When you take people through it there’s no big drama, but it’s just difficult. We’re doing something that’s pretty new, we’re changing the game again,” Drury said.
Xero was also criticised for adding PayPal as the only online payment option. Customers of Xero users could choose to pay the invoice immediately through PayPal’s online interface, but some Xero users said the transaction fees charged by PayPal were much higher than alternatives.
Drury said PayPal was the first option because it was the easiest to do, and that Xero would be adding other payment systems based on user feedback.

About Sholto Macpherson

Sholto Macpherson is a business technology journalist, consultant and analyst specialising in cloud accounting software.

Sholto is the author of the Macpherson Report, which examines the key technology trends facing accountants in Australia.

He lives and works in Sydney, Australia.

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