Customer service is an increasingly consequential aspect of accounts payable. And according to a Financial Operations Network survey, most AP departments — 88 percent — rated their own customer service as either good or excellent. Good news? Not so fast. Only one in five had ever asked their internal customers and just one in ten actually surveyed their suppliers for feedback on their service.
In any area of consequence it is important to know how well your team is actually performing. Sure, self-assessment is important and common performance metrics will be a major indicator. But there’s more to look at, and asking your customers how you are doing provides a “reality check” you won’t get otherwise!
Metrics are a tool to help you understand where you stand currently and identify issues you need to address. Don’t think of them as “one more thing” you ought to be doing, but as a handy utensil to make it easier for you to do what you want to get done. Metrics will tell you where you are currently and help you identify and prioritize issues; they are useful in goal setting, and can be used to measure and demonstrate improvement.
In the realm of customer service, there are three kinds of metrics to look at, and chances are you’re already looking at one and maybe two of the kinds.
The first are your key AP performance metrics, led by the paid-on-time rate. (Spoiler — there’s going to be a correlation between a high paid-on-time rate and the number of your customers who are pleased with your service!) Many other key performance indicators will give you a picture of your operation’s effectiveness and efficiency, which go a long way toward satisfying customers.
You can also learn a lot by gathering metrics from customer inquiries. How many inquiries are you getting? What format are they in (email, phone, etc.)? How much time do you spend on each inquiry? How many inquiries are resolved in one contact? What are the reasons for the inquiries?
Your system may make tracking this information easy. But if not, create a simple spreadsheet for individual staff members to use to keep track. These metrics will provide a trove of information that you can use to identify and prioritize issues. Another option is to use InvoiceInfo's AP Customer Service Activity Survey — a simple, desktop application your team can fill out in seconds as they handle inquiries. The AP Customer Service Activity Survey is available to you at no cost. If you are interested in learning more, click here to request your AP Customer Service Activity Survey.
The third way of measuring your customer service is to survey your customers, both internal and external. Often we don’t know something because we have not asked. Take a lesson from consumer-based companies, who are asking their customers for feedback all the time.
The KISS principle applies: keep it short and simple. Consider conducting a brief survey of all your customers. Ask them to rate your service on: setup/enrollment; timeliness; accuracy; overall service; and communication. Give them a three-or-four point scale from poor to excellent to rate your department.
Also include an open-ended question or two, such as “What do we need to improve or do differently?” and “What are we doing well?” Or leave space for additional comments. These open-ended invitations for comments can yield valuable information.
Such a short, simple survey will give you a starting point. Surveys can be set up easily in readily available survey software, and can be included in emails.
Another approach is to do ongoing surveys of customers one by one as you communicate with them. Include a very brief survey as you communicate with customers via email or at the conclusion of a phone call.
Quit trying to manage by intuition and noise or you may be managing the wrong things. Get and use metrics. These measures will help you see and understand your situation and enable you to improve your payables customer service. As the great tennis player Arthur Ashe said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”