Is Customer Experience a Priority for Accounts Receivable?

Customer service shouldn’t be conditional — if a customer is involved in any capacity, providing an optimal customer experience should be a top priority. Yes, that includes the often-taxing collections processes.  

Customer service doesn’t stop when companies are dealing with outstanding customer accounts. When it comes to the collections process, companies that remain focused on delivering exceptional service, having honest and consistent communication, and treating every customer with respect — regardless of what invoices are due — will set themselves apart. Bain & Company reported that businesses can grow revenues 4% to 8% above their market when they prioritise providing a better customer experience.

Businesses can — and must —provide excellent customer service, even during the collections process.
Here are three keys to delivering a quality experience:

Be easy to do business with

Whether escalating outstanding accounts to third-party collections agencies or managing receivables in-house, AR teams must emphasise customer experience throughout the entire collections process. The collector’s ability to sensitively work with customers’ accounts payable (AP) teams to navigate difficult financial periods while recovering what’s owed can set the tone for a lasting relationship. 

One way businesses can improve customer experience is by providing an online self-service tool where customers can easily access copies of invoices, view statements, provide supporting documentation for disputes, request payment plans, apply credits, make payments and more. Dunning communication and interactions with collectors can be captured and viewable for customers in an online portal, so expectations for what’s due and when is front of mind. But the main reason to have a customer self-service portal is that your customers expect it — instead of simply being “nice to have”, it’s now required to meet customer standards.

A self-service portal is not, however, a replacement for providing traditional customer support or the ability for customers to speak with a real person in an AR department. A self-service portal should be part of a larger customer service strategy that allows for a seamless omnichannel experience. Core Health & Fitness improved customer experience and had a 30% increase in collections after automating. Read their story here.

Refine your strategy

If it’s been a while since an organisation has reviewed its collections process, AR leaders should carefully analyse credit policies and collections team structure, and ensure that collectors have the right customer segments and priorities. Some customers require far more work and focus — this is the perfect opportunity to re-assign customers or regions based on collections team performance and cash-collection rates. Take time to investigate low-hanging fruit: Is there any way you can provide a more effective customer experience and collect payments quicker by offering early pay discounts, further extending payment plans or accepting credit cards for your customers? 

Another means to emphasise service is tailoring payment reminder communications according to customer segments and demographics, and revisiting strategies and messaging to make sure customers are being reached in the right way. Millennial AP staff might want to communicate through email and chat messaging, while other customers may feel more comfortable with speaking to a person on the phone. Read LinPepCo’s customer success story to learn how it significantly reduced DSO and virtually eliminated customers in the 90-day-past-due category by setting up autopay.

Be flexible if you can

Remember that there’s life after collections; the customer relationship doesn’t end after the debt is recovered. Customer experience needs to be a priority from the first collections message sent, to even after the debt has been paid. Most are aware of the concept “bad things happen to good people”, and it’s imperative to understand that this applies to businesses as well.

Life happens. Worldwide pandemics happen. There can be extenuating circumstances that negatively impact customers and create financial burdens. Financial downturns can have a severe and lingering impact, even on customers who have faithfully made payments to businesses for years. Be a problem-solver that’s there to help the customer. Enterprises must see the situation for what it usually is — a hiccup in an otherwise good customer’s financial life that requires additional support, flexibility and patience to help get them back on track. 

There is just no substitute for a customer base that remains loyal, even when having to collect an outstanding debt. Businesses that commit to providing the best possible customer experience, delivering a great experience, and educating and advocating for customers will benefit from rich dividends well after their customers’ financial troubles subside.

Written by: Diana Eagen
Diana Eagen is the Director of Sales for order-to-cash solutions at Esker North America. Diana’s expertise is providing software that complements an organization’s current Finance and IT departments while improving their productivity, efficiency, and environmental impact. Her passion at Esker is eliminating manual and paper-based processes to decrease customer costs within credit & collections, order management, invoice delivery, and cash application.