How to resolve a disputed invoice, step by step (2024)

A disputed invoice is a contested billing document, causing payment withholding. This guide offers a concise, step-by-step blueprint for resolving such disputes effectively.


A disputed invoice is a contested billing document, causing payment withholding. This guide offers a concise, step-by-step blueprint for resolving such disputes effectively.

Dealing with unpaid invoices is a common challenge for business owners, but when faced with a disputed invoice, the situation becomes more complex and stressful.

This guide provides a step-by-step blueprint for effectively resolving disputed invoices, addressing common disputes and offering potential solutions.

What is a disputed invoice?

A disputed invoice arises when a customer expresses reservations or objections in relation to an invoice and declines payment.

One primary source of disagreement leading to disputed invoices is the perceived variance in the quality of goods or services delivered compared to what was initially agreed upon. Customers may express dissatisfaction with the received products or services, citing deviations from specified standards or expectations. This dissatisfaction can prompt them to dispute the associated charges until the matter is resolved to their satisfaction.

Another common trigger for disputed invoices is disagreements over invoiced amounts. Discrepancies may arise due to misunderstandings, errors, or changes in the scope of the agreed-upon services. Customers may assert that the invoiced amount exceeds the initially agreed-upon terms, leading to a refusal to make the payment until the matter is clarified and rectified.

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Impact of disputed invoices on a business

Disputed invoices can significantly affect a business, leading to cash flow disruptions, operational challenges, and strained customer relationships.

Cash flow disruptions

20 % of small business owners say that unpaid invoices would mean having to refuse new business.

Disputed invoices can lead to delayed or withheld payments, causing disruptions in cash flow. For businesses, maintaining a healthy cash flow is essential for daily operations, paying suppliers, and investing in growth opportunities.

Operational challenges

The time and resources spent on resolving disputed invoices can divert the focus of the business from core operations. This diversion may lead to inefficiencies and impact overall productivity.

Customer relationships

Disputes over invoices can strain customer relationships. Prompt and effective resolution is crucial to maintaining trust and a positive rapport with clients. Failure to address disputes may result in the loss of valuable customers and harm the business’s reputation.

Frequent invoice disputes

While every invoice dispute is unique, there are recurring factors that frequently lead to disagreements. Among the most common reasons for invoice disputes include:

  • Unsatisfactory work: Customers may dispute an invoice if the delivered service or product does not meet their expectations.
  • Pricing errors: Discrepancies in pricing, excess charges, or billing inaccuracies can lead to disputes.
  • Administrative errors: Disputes arising from mistakes in the billing process, such as duplicate invoices or incorrect information, are common causes of invoice disputes.
  • Late or incomplete delivery: Delays or incomplete orders can result in customers withholding or disputing payment.
  • Product complaints: Customers may dispute an invoice if the received product is damaged, incomplete, or of poor quality.

How do I resolve a dispute over an invoice?

Addressing disputed invoices promptly and effectively is crucial for maintaining a positive business-client relationship and ensuring the smooth flow of financial transactions. Here is a step-by-step process which might help you resolve a dispute:

1. Contact the customer

78 per cent of c-level executives say their AR team encountered payment disputes that could have been alleviated with better communication.

When faced with a disputed invoice, communication is key. Reach out to the customer in a professional and non-confrontational manner. Seek clarification on the specific issues causing the dispute. Disputes commonly revolve around the quality of goods or services, the invoiced amount, or mismatched cost expectations. By narrowing down the issues through clear communication, you can lay the foundation for resolution.

Keep records of all communications, as they may be essential if the dispute escalates. Make it clear to the customer that you are committed to resolving the problem collaboratively.

2. Check the contract

A disputed invoice is essentially a contractual dispute. Once you understand the specific issues, review any written agreements you have with the customer. Ensure that you have fulfilled all obligations as outlined in the contract. Check for any steps beyond the provision of goods or services that might have been overlooked.

If there’s a dispute resolution clause in the agreement, follow the prescribed steps to address the dispute. Even in the absence of a formal written agreement, review any email correspondence or discussions that may constitute an agreement with the customer.

3. Propose a resolution

After narrowing down the issues and reviewing the contractual obligations, propose a resolution to the customer. Be open-minded and willing to compromise. Consider options such as replacing goods, re-delivering services, or offering a discounted invoice price.

Look at the bigger picture of your relationship with the customer. If there’s potential for future work, it might be worthwhile to compromise to maintain the business relationship. Proposing a fair and mutually beneficial resolution demonstrates your commitment to resolving the issue.

4. Consider involving a third party

If direct communication and negotiation prove ineffective in resolving the dispute, it may be prudent to consider involving a neutral third party. Mediation presents an effective alternative to formal court proceedings, often proving to be a more cost-efficient option.

Mediation is a structured negotiation process facilitated by an independent mediator. The primary objective is to assist the involved parties in navigating through the issues at hand and reaching a mutually agreeable resolution.

Engaging a neutral third party introduces a fresh perspective into the dispute, potentially breaking the deadlock and fostering a conducive environment for resolution.

5. Take legal action

Legal action should be the last resort, as it is costly and time-consuming. If all attempts at resolution fail, and the disputed amount is substantial, you may consider taking legal action. Before proceeding, seek legal advice to assess the prospects of success and understand the potential costs involved.

For smaller debts, consider lower courts or tribunals to save on court costs. However, for larger debts, legal representation may be necessary. Follow the contractual procedures for legal action, and ensure compliance with any dispute resolution clauses.

Feedback loop in dispute resolution

Resolving a disputed invoice is not just about finding a solution for the current disagreement, it’s also an opportunity for businesses to learn, adapt, and improve their processes to prevent similar issues in the future.

A feedback loop involves systematically gathering information, evaluating performance, and making changes based on lessons learned. In the context of disputed invoices, a well-structured feedback loop offers benefits such as:

  1. Root cause analysis: Identify the underlying causes of disputes, whether miscommunication, procedural flaws, or product/service quality issues.
  2. Process improvement: Refine invoicing, delivery, and communication processes based on identified root causes.
  3. Enhanced communication: Improve clarity in invoices, contracts, and communication channels to minimize misunderstandings.
  4. Customer relationship building: Strengthen relationships by seeking customer input on improvements and demonstrating a commitment to better services.”

Benefits of a well-executed feedback loop

  • Proactively address potential issues to prevent recurring disputes and enhance overall operational efficiency.
  • Demonstrate to customers that their feedback is valued and acted upon, leading to improved satisfaction and strengthened relationships.
  • Cultivate a culture of continuous improvement, driving excellence in your business operations.
  • Develop an adaptive mindset that allows your business to evolve and stay ahead of potential challenges.

Tips for preventing future invoice disputes

Taking proactive measures is vital to reduce the likelihood of future invoice disputes:

Implement an efficient billing system

To fortify your invoice management and reduce the probability of disputes, it is imperative to institute a robust and streamlined billing system. Here are key components to consider:

  • Integrations for billing automation: Integrate automated processes into your billing system to minimize human errors and enhance efficiency. By employing automation, routine tasks such as invoice generation, data entry, and calculations can be executed seamlessly, reducing the likelihood of discrepancies.
  • Real-time reporting: Opt for a billing solution that provides real-time tracking and reporting capabilities. This functionality allows you to monitor the status of invoices, track payments, and generate comprehensive reports. Access to up-to-date financial data empowers you to make informed decisions and promptly address any discrepancies.
  • Ease of use: Select a billing system with a user-friendly interface to ensure ease of use for your team. An intuitive dashboard and straightforward navigation contribute to efficient utilization, reducing the learning curve for staff members and minimizing the risk of input errors.

We recommend that you get started with Conta, which stands out for being 100% free for Australian businesses. Noteworthy for its commitment to simplicity and efficiency, Conta empowers users to effortlessly generate an unlimited number of sleek and professional invoices, making it an ideal choice for business owners.

Review payment terms

Avoid uncertainties and misunderstandings by routinely reviewing and updating your payment terms. Clearly communicate your expectations regarding payments and deadlines to your customers. Provide a detailed breakdown of charges and inform them about available payment methods. Keep an open line of communication with customers to ensure a clear understanding of their payment obligations.

Include dispute procedures in contracts

To proactively handle potential disputes, consider integrating transparent dispute resolution procedures into your contracts. Specify communication channels, set timeframes for resolution, and outline an escalation process. Having predefined procedures can simplify the resolution process and help prevent conflicts from escalating.

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Frequently asked questions

What should I do if the customer doesn’t respond to my attempts at communication?

If your attempts to contact the customer are unsuccessful, consider sending follow-up emails or letters. Clearly state the urgency of resolving the dispute and offer alternative communication channels, such as a dedicated phone line or a specific contact person.

What if the disputed invoice is related to a verbal agreement and there’s no written contract?

In cases where there’s no formal written agreement, review any email correspondence, quotes, or documented discussions that may serve as evidence of the agreement. While a written contract is ideal, other forms of documentation can still support your case in resolving the dispute.

Can I involve a third party for mediation without the customer’s consent?

Generally, involving a third party requires the consent of both parties. However, in certain situations, if your contract includes a mediation clause, you may be able to proceed with mediation even without the customer’s direct consent. It’s advisable to seek legal advice before taking this step.

How do I initiate a feedback loop within my business for continuous improvement?

Establish a systematic process for gathering information from disputed invoices, evaluating your performance, and implementing changes based on lessons learned. This can involve regular team meetings, customer feedback surveys, and a structured review of your invoicing, delivery, and communication processes.