Vendor Inquiries: Step Back and See the Forest

Vendor Inquiries: Step Back and See the Forest

A broken P2P process generates vendor inquiries.

When a vendor contacts your organization about an invoice, AP has an opportunity to do more than solve the immediate question or problem. Vendor interactions offer AP a chance to fix process problems, reduce inquiries, and improve vendor relations.

But in customer service, AP often can’t see the forest for the trees. Accounts payable customer service staff are focused on the immediate call or email. There is an appropriate urgency to it. But in failing to take a broader perspective, AP misses the opportunity to resolve underlying problems, which would better serve the vendor and eliminate future inquiries.

The 2020 Accounts Payable Customer Service by Financial Operations Networks finds that 53 percent of organizations have a response-time policy that governs vendor inquiries. Certainly, if you want good vendor relations, you want your team to be responsive to your vendors. But there is a potential problem lurking in a “response time” policy. Be careful what you ask for.

Commonly, AP faces a slew of emails or phone messages. The response-time metric reinforces the notion of “getting through them.” The person focuses on answering the inquiry and moving on to the next. But if there is a process-related problem, the process gap will continue to drive recurring inquiries. The issue behind a payment hold-up could be incorrect pricing or incomplete information on the invoice,  delayed invoice delivery to accounts payable or a poor receipt process (which is often the problem). But providing such “one-off” service, though quick, is not best.

Root causes

Judy Bicking, process consultant, speaker and author, says AP customer service often fails to look at the process. But, she says, “If my job is really to build a good strong supplier relationship, I need to have a different attitude. I should say, ‘I’m sorry to hear that invoice is late. Let’s look at what’s going on.’ Allow the AP staffer to really work with the supplier not just to fix the one late payment but fix the process. That improves all the future invoices.”

Rather than striving to answer the inquiry in two minutes or less, look at what’s behind the question. Why did the vendor have to call? Is there a break in the process that can be fixed, so you won’t have to take that same call again?

The goal, Bicking says, is to “Correct the process so that vendors are paid without a lot of hand-holding and touchpoints. Rather than dealing with questions ‘one-on-one-on-one,’ which is where everybody lives, look at the bigger picture.”

What else?

Along with looking for underlying problems, there’s another aspect to shifting perspective in vendor relations. Think beyond the particular question to ask the vendor about other invoices they might have outstanding.

To illustrate, Bicking describes the typical approach to a vendor call: “We figure out that it was the receipt that is blocked. So, I say ‘No problem, I’m going to call Sally and get her to get that receipt in so you can get paid.’ You’re happy, I’m happy, it’s a good call, right? I accomplished my job in the productivity of answering the inquiry. I was nice to you. You know when payment is going to be coming and you move on to your next past due.

“But the reality is you’re going to be calling me again on the next invoice, and the next one and the next one. But what if I said to you ‘By the way do you have any other invoices in the queue that we owe you for?’ (I may not know because the invoice doesn’t always go to AP.) You say, ‘Yeah in two weeks there’s this invoice and there are three invoices behind that one.’ So, I say, ‘Let’s take a look at them while we’ve got you on the phone.’”

Instead of hanging up after fixing one invoice, you address these other invoices in the same call.

“Now how does the vendor feel when we end the call?” Bicking asks. “Like: ‘Wow, she really cares about our relationship.’ We didn’t just take care of that one invoice, we took care of the four in the queue, which by the way, would have most likely been paid late!”

Broader picture, better relations

“By putting the importance not on the particular inquiry but the relationship, customer service looks at the broader picture, anticipating problems. And it begins to solve underlying problems. That broader approach not only resolves one call; by determining and fixing the cause it eliminates future calls while strengthening the supplier relationship.”

AP’s vendor interactions offer visibility into the problems to address. AP customer service has the opportunity to work with the vendor not just to fix the issue at hand, but to fix the underlying process and enhance vendor relations at the same time. That attention will result in improved processing for all of that vendor’s invoices and perhaps the invoices of others. And that’s good customer service.

To learn how InvoiceInfo can help you provide great vendor service while freeing your staff, contact us.

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Stop Calls and Emails, Enhance
Service and Increase Profit!

InvoiceInfo saves labor hours and cost by helping suppliers and internal staff easily and instantly get answers online to their invoice-payment questions.

If you are like many finance leaders today, you are being challenged to reduce costs more quickly. InvoiceInfo delivers real bottom-line results almost immediately, allowing you to deploy your customer service staff to focus on more productive, bottom-line oriented tasks.

Let us show you how InvoiceInfo's vendor self-service portal can help your organization eliminate invoice inquiry emails and calls while enhancing service to your accounts payable customers.


Get Up and Running Quickly and Seamlessly

InvoiceInfo and VendorInfo are standalone applications that can be up and running in as little as two weeks, with little or no IT resources required.

The faster your online portal is up and running, the sooner you will start reaping the benefits. InvoiceInfo and VendorInfo are dedicated solely to helping AP and procurement departments slash the time and expense of servicing vendors, while improving customer service for their suppliers.

InvoiceInfo and VendorInfo are simple solutions with big results. They are easy to implement and easy to use. Here’s how one customer described the process: “You give vendors a URL, provide instructions about what they need to know and tell them to go use it.” It really is that easy.


Improve Productivity with a Self-Service Solution

For most organizations, deploying a technology solution is a significant investment, and like most investments, the decision point ultimately comes down to the expected return on that investment.

According to a recent benchmark study by The Accounts Payable Network, 60% of AP customer service calls are from vendors while 40% are from internal customers. Vendor issues actually make up even more of the AP call volume than the 60% identified. Many times when a vendor has an issue, the vendor contacts their buyer or purchasing representative, who in turn contacts AP. Even though the call comes from an internal customer, the question originated with the vendor.

Vendor calls affect productivity in your organization exponentially. When vendors call the requisitioner, they are affecting that person’s productivity. Your internal customer’s productivity shrinks when fielding the vendor’s call and again when making the follow up call to AP and getting back to the vendor. Finally, AP’s productivity suffers as a result of the internal customer’s call, the payment status research and the follow-up communication.

With a minimal investment of IT time and talent, you can start reducing customer service calls and expense in a matter of weeks. In addition, you improve vendor relations since you are giving your vendors what they want — answers to their questions immediately — a win-win for everyone involved!


Easy and Economical Solution to Serve Vendors Around the World

InvoiceInfo can help you provide best-in-class customer service to your vendors around the world at a fraction of the cost.

Many organizations today have offices and operations throughout the world and are dealing with many time zones, different languages, and in some cases multiple ERP systems. InvoiceInfo currently supports different languages and can easily work with multiple ERP systems in different locations.

The key to good customer service is to provide the information that the customer wants when they want it. Whether your customer is a vendor waiting for a payment or a colleague that needs information on payment status, they want their information right away. If your organization has vendors and offices in other countries, they can be challenging and expensive to serve. But, with InvoiceInfo, your international vendors and internal customers can access the information they need when they need it.

With InvoiceInfo, you won’t have to staff your customer service team with 24-hour coverage in multiple languages to provide high-quality customer service around the world.


Enhance AP’s Role As a Strategic Partner

Learn how InvoiceInfo can help AP do more with less while continuously improving productivity and bottom-line results.

Many automation technologies such as scanning, workflow, e-invoicing, ACH, and electronic invoicing require significant investments of money, time and talent, making it difficult to get buy-in from upper management. Not InvoiceInfo!

If your goal for your AP department is to reduce costs quickly, call or email us today to learn more about how InvoiceInfo can help you achieve this goal through a quick, inexpensive and easy implementation of a vendor self-service portal.


Enhance Vendor Relationships

InvoiceInfo helps suppliers’ AR departments with simple and convenient access to invoice payment status online at a cost savings for all involved.

It may seem that the organization paying the vendor should hold all the cards in the relationship. But sometimes the opposite is true. Past-due payments and customer service perceptions can harm supplier relationships and disrupt the supply chain.

Your vendors and vendor relationship managers are living in a dynamic, fast-paced environment, so when invoice information is required, it is needed quickly and expected to be of high quality. With InvoiceInfo, your suppliers get answers to invoice inquiries real time, 24/7 with no need to leave messages and wait for responses. Studies show that confidence in data increases when suppliers access invoice and payment information themselves.


Give Procurement and Buyers the Tool They
Need to Respond to Vendors Quickly

Not only can InvoiceInfo be used by suppliers to learn the status of invoice payments, it can also be used internally within your organization.

In addition to reducing calls from vendors regarding invoice status, you can also reduce internal emails and calls from co-workers wanting to learn the status of invoice payment, and save time and effort and boost efficiency and productivity across the organization. Studies show that 40% of AP customer service calls are from internal customers. Many of these are from requisitioners who have received calls or emails from the supplier checking on payment status. These calls are often more expensive for the company because the internal staff member has taken the call or received an email from the supplier, contacted AP for the payment status and had to return the call or email the supplier.

By providing the vendor with a convenient and credible online option to get the answers it needs regarding payment status, you can eliminate multiple calls/emails between the vendor and the requisitioner saving time and money.


Eliminate Difficult Vendor Calls and See
Productivity and Staff Morale Soar

Reduce invoice payment inquiries and “promote” your vendor service team to more satisfying and profit-producing tasks.

By sharply reducing inbound calls and emails regarding receipt and payment status that your AP staff must handle individually, your staff can focus their efforts on more productive, cost-saving activities, learn new tasks, feel more confident and boost their careers.

According to a recent American Express survey on customer service, more than one-third of consumers have lost their temper with a customer service professional in the past year. Of those who lost their temper, three in ten “hung up the phone.” Your staff will no longer have to deal with difficult collectors who can be upsetting and disruptive. Your staff will feel that their time and talents are being put to better use and will feel better about themselves, their jobs and their organization. Reducing these calls can be a real productivity and morale booster for your AP department!


Simplify and Streamline Vendor Onboarding

According to Price Waterhouse Coopers, the average organization spends about $20 in labor to file each paper document, approximately $120 in labor searching for each misfiled document and $220 in re-creation of a document.

Wouldn’t it be great to have all your W-9’s, W-8’s and other registration documents completed online and instantly filed online for easy access when needed? With Vendor Self-Service Onboarding Module, VendorInfo, you can onboard your new vendors in one convenient location and eliminate paperwork and hassles.


Verify the Accuracy of Vendor Information and Stay in Compliance with IRS and Treasury Department Regulations

Government regulators are increasing the complexity of regulations and penalties associated with vendor-related non-compliance.

Penalties for incorrect 1099’s have more than doubled in recent years. Over the last several years, OFAC has levied more than $1 billion in fines against American companies or subsidiaries that did business with restricted businesses, organizations and individuals on its SDN list. In addition to fining these companies, the Treasury Department posts the names of infringing organizations along with fines paid.

VendorInfo Onboarding Module verifies the accuracy of vendor information and helps protect your organization by avoiding embarrassing penalties and fines.

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