Pit Stop: Managing Your Paper Documents
What Americans know April 15 as, Tax Day, is not the case for 2020. With the coronavirus pandemic shaking up the economy, the 15th of this month is where all of your paper documents will come in handy. But do you have all of your documents ready to go? And what if you get there and find some of the invoices and receipts you need are missing? Now, you have a whole other situation to deal with: protecting your customers’ and business’ privacy.
“Obviously, you want to protect customer information,” Jon Vorisek, CEO of RepairSurge, says. “It just comes down to a privacy issue and a business efficiency issue.”
Here’s Vorisek’s advice on how to organize any important documents and how employees should handle the information to protect the privacy of all.
As Told to Abby Patterson
If you don’t have a filing system for these documents, you also have a disorganized business when it comes down to it. The documents are either going to end up in physical or digital storage, depending on your preference. If the documents are physical, keep them locked in a cabinet or a storage closet. You can even store them off-site in a storage unit if you’re in a smaller facility.
If your documents are digital, just make sure to avoid suspicious links and emails, and run regular backups into the cloud so the information isn’t lost if something happens to the computer.
One thing’s for sure: have a digital version as a backup to your physical documents. It’s easy enough to scan documents and it’s easier to find them, too. It’s a good practice in 2020.
Documents have a life cycle: there is a period to keep and throw away. It depends on the type of document. For tax documentation, the rule of thumb is seven years to keep. In some cases, it varies, depending on where you are located. Some states have laws on how long you can keep customer information At least 35 states have enacted laws that require either private or governmental entities or both to destroy, dispose, or otherwise make personal information unreadable or indecipherable, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
I air on the side more of not throwing stuff out. There might be a benefit to going back 15 to 20 years. However, there is a point where you will have boxes and boxes of documents and storage will become limited. It’s figuring out how to strike that balance between not throwing them out prematurely, but not keeping them to the point where it becomes a burden on the business. It also depends on the size of your facility. If you have a big space, great. If not, you might want to consider what is essential to keep and what is not.
To dispose of paper documents, make sure to put them through the shredder. If it’s a digital document, keep it in a delete folder just in case.
When we talk about handling invoices and receipts in a secure way, I think an important principle to start with is a process and standard in place. Businesses should have some sort of a document management system in place, and the end results should be specific processes people can follow.
Something to think about is who owns the process, in other words who is responsible for handling this process. If your employees are handing these documents, you really want them handing those off as soon as possible to whomever is responsible for them so they can manage and organize the documents into whatever set-up you have put in place. And when other employees are handling documents that aren’t in charge of handling them, there should be a statement that these documents should go into the hands of who is responsible ASAP and employees should know that firsthand. To tie it all together, it all starts with communication and consistency, and maintaining communication so the consistency stays.
You want to come across as a professional operation to your customers. You don’t want your customers to see you are handling documents with their names and information on it. With a risk of a competitor going Watergate-style, stealing the information and using that information to put you out of business, nothing like that should happen. If anything, you’ll just look unorganized as a business to your customers.
Invoices and receipts mainly contain proprietary information and, in some cases, customer information. Invoices won’t include full credit card numbers, but your customers are going to want a baseline of privacy. I know that in some areas there are laws that you have to notify customers affected, mainly when there are breaches of computer systems, but the same thing probably applies to paper records, too. I think your customers would have a right to know. In terms of steps beyond that, it’s more of a preventative thing. You would need to take corrective action in addressing employee behaviors to make sure it doesn’t happen again.