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Customer Service: A Core Competency for
Accounts Payable


By: Chris Doxey, Consultant

Customer service is defined as the assistance and advice provided by a company to those people who buy or use its products or services. Customer service can also be defined in terms of the relationship between the customer and the company or service provider. It is the act of taking care of the customer's needs by providing and delivering professional, helpful, high-quality service and assistance before, during and after the customer's requirements are met. Accounts Payable has customers and provides customer service internally (within the company) and externally (to suppliers).

 

In AP, the customer service process is driven by questions related to the financial status of a transaction and the relationship between a vendor and the company that pays it. Many questions focus on payment status, issuing a credit and the status of a product shipment or return. Other questions can address issues about onboarding. 

 

Outstanding customer service leads to both customer satisfaction and loyalty. Poor customer service can cause significant damage to the company’s, the department’s and individual’s reputation. In today’s world of social media, one is able to communicate a personal experience with poor customer service immediately. 

 

As a best practice, outstanding AP customer service is consistent with adherence to high service levels for both internal and external customers. Historically, providing outstanding AP customer service has required trained, skilled staff. But it can be challenging to find and keep people who can provide both great customer service and deliver excellent AP processing productivity. As many experienced accounts payable leaders will attest, the skillsets required to be a great AP staffer are different from those required to deliver great customer service, and finding both skillsets in one person can be a tough job.

 

As a result, many AP departments have established goals of implementing an AP self-service portal where suppliers can get immediate answers to payment status and new suppliers can be onboarded. This approach also helps ensure that correct and consistent answers are given and accurate information is collected. 

 

Implementing customer service metrics within your AP department can help you ascertain whether a self-service portal can help your AP department reduce costs and improve productivity. Below you will find a series of metrics to help you determine the state of your customer service process and to see the potential impact of an accounts payable supplier self-service portal. Developing a monthly customer service scorecard can help AP track the real issues and focus on root-cause analysis. Your scorecard can be incorporated into a set of operating metrics. This approach will help communicate and track all the services that AP provides.

 

AP Customer Service Metrics 

   1. General Customer Service

         • Number of AP Staff Supporting Customer Service

         • Number of Calls (Call Volume)

             — Cost Per Resolved Call

             — Calls Answered

             — Calls Abandoned

             — Average Wait Time

         • Number of Queries (Email, Via Website)

             — Cost Per Resolved Query

         • Percentage of Suppliers Using Customer Service Website

 

   2. Customer Service Query Analysis

         • Percentage of External Supplier Payment Status

             — Payment Information Provided

             — Invoice Not Received

             — Duplicate Invoice

             — Credit Memo Problem

         • Percentage of Internal Company Payment Status

             — Queries by Business Unit

             — Emergency Payment Requests

 

   3. Supplier Master Maintenance Issues

         • W-8 and W-9

         • Compliance Screening

         • Incorrect Tax Information

         • Invalid Address

         • Invalid Phone Number

         • Invalid Email Address

         • Duplicate Supplier

 

Conclusion 

High transaction volumes, increased levels of operational complexity and an often diverse range of AP processes and systems make managing AP operations challenging. AP executives and professionals are often focused on internal controls and regulatory compliance. If resources are  scarce, AP customer service can be overlooked until there is a crisis. Defining customer service as a core competency for the AP process can provide recurring benefits for cost savings and process improvements with the proper tools, approach and metrics.

 

Learn how an InvoiceInfo self-service portal can benefit your company; call (678) 335-5735 today or request more information online!