In any successful and growing company, customer relationship and experience are key to competitive advantage. It doesn’t matter if it’s transacting with small, mid or large enterprise, people are interacting and continuing relationship success where consistent experience counts. Credit and collection/accounts receivable is no different. Customers want a transparent and painless experience with all promises delivered.
Increased positive experiences will drive customer satisfaction and goodwill, which will, in turn, improve customer retention and prioritization when quarter-end closing is near. But depending on budget, it may not always be possible to hire or invest in the people and tools necessary. This is where creative thinking and solution design have to become part of your organization and partnerships.
Technology and automation are key to happy experts and customers.
A great customer experience for accounts receivable focuses on communication and clear expectations while utilizing experts proficient in the automating manual tasks. No matter the size of your team, technology is the bridge to close communication gaps between team members and departments. Keeping everyone on the same page is what gives the customer a consistent experience. No matter the company size, unpacking a rich history of interactions with the customer when issues arise, shows they matter and are not just another cog in the machine. This effort supports the internal relationships with sales and presents a unified approach to the customer, especially when specific requirements are part of the deliverables. So, how is this automated? Well, utilizing voice analytics, transcription of call is converted to notes. Advance this with a bit of Artificial Intelligence and now you have smart notes, actions and workflow set off to close the loop internally and with your customers. Customer asks for an invoice, the application recognizes the action and using pre-designed templates emails off request while the conversation is occurring. Once you start building automation upon the reoccurring manual task, things really start becoming interesting.
Below are a few additional pillars for great customer approaches in the credit industry and methods for using automation to further improve customer experience.
Credit and Collections is part of the sales process - Good customer relationships begin with being upfront to customers in terms of expectations and delivery. A customer will know the specific terms required to fulfill it but what about payment and self-service options, portal access, available tools and support relative to people and applications. Let’s not forget the specific billing and invoice delivery options which bring forward several RPA driven processes and custom delivery designs. Having experts interact with the customer and using technology to deliver the heavy lifting in a customizable environment is no longer optional, but table stakes.
Before sending an invoice or EDI, Desk Top Automation (DTA) and AI can do basic QA to verify whether the invoice is accurate and complete. Any friction, such as sending an incomplete or inaccurate invoice, can impact customer’s workload and delay in payment. These are specific to the avoidance of deductions and short pays which RPA and AI have played a major role in reducing the need for expansive people resources and labor-intensive actions on both sides.
Invoice on time with confirmation of receipt – Invoice delivery and billing has become a fully automated process. Solutions relative to QA as well as delivery by EDI, email or portal should be part of our customer interactions. A feedback loop to confirmation of delivery is essential and when incomplete, automated process designs signal the analyst to make the call. Health checks with customers are an area of the relationship, which in my opinion are not automated, but provide relationship opportunities to check on processes and build stronger cadence. We are also providing the customer plenty of time on their end to formulate their method of payment, validate all pricing and order details and validating budget.
Another important step related to invoicing is to make sure you’re sending the invoice to the correct contact. Regularly checks to your master data should be a part of your process and using automation to validate when something has changed.
Simplify payments - The payment process can be tricky and filled with multiple methods for delivering the options available for payment. The easiest way to streamline this is to offer online payment methods. An online payment system should be smart enough to elevate your collection process to the next level. An online payment portal will allow you to send payment reminders to your customers automatically. It can be awkward doing this manually, but customers do appreciate being reminded ahead of time before payment is due especially new relationships. And if you haven’t automated 93%+ of your cash application, and still using lockbox keying + FTE’s, this is the first place your need to go for a wealth of cost savings and process improvement.
If you’re repeatedly working with a customer who may not always have timely payments, part of the suite of automation in platforms produces the ability to project an expected amount and time of payment based on previous customer patterns. A centralized payment system would also store past credit reports and histories to know how much credit should be expended so you’re not left with less capital than expected. Plus, unexpected untimely payments will result in a conflict that will leave both sides inevitably on poor terms. All of these aspects should serve as templates for creating triggers to prompt actions and alerts. Managing so much communication doesn’t need to be overload but proactive intervention to prevent delays or worse is standard in automating the collection strategies.
These methods will all help your collections department leave your customers with a great experience instead of what could otherwise be a painful process. But why should you and your credit collections team care about customer experience at all? Isn’t it more appropriate and important for the sales department to maintain a friendly attitude? Customer experience runs throughout an entire company. Your other departments have worked so hard to give your customers a good experience it would disappointing if drama occurred in credit and collections. If a department interacts with a customer at any point, the customer will think of each part of their experience with each step as a reflection of the entire company. Building a reputation on having exceptional customer experience, especially if you’re working with customers who are facing their tight deadlines or variable capital in their own business, will retain current customers and attract new customers. Let not forget the rock star status that comes from being the best CFO, Credit Manager or Collections Expert.
Technology will make it easier for your team to handle higher volumes of requests and manage more accounts than ever before and think about the retention of your experts. Great customer experience still requires human relationships, empathy, and understanding, but for a company utilizing the proper technology, they can help deliver a solution to your customers faster and more efficiently than ever before. Now is the question of invest, build or gain the transformation through partners. The good news is you have choices and hybrid solutions when seeking platform-based accounts receivable, cash application, credit, deduction management, and billing. All with customer experience, value and grow top of mind.
Robert Sherman -
Chief Revenue Officer of VWi