Learn how to deliver an AR experience that improves your customer satisfaction, as well as the speed at which your customers pay
The credit and collections team often find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
They have traditionally been viewed as the bad cops of the business, both internally and externally. Internally, sales teams fear that their customers' credit lines are going to be reduced, product might be held up due to late payment, or that their clients might be incessantly contacted about unpaid invoices, which then impedes the sales process. Externally, customers view calls from AR departments as frustrating experiences because - let’s face it - nobody really wants to hear from the debt collector.
However, within this seemingly impossible challenge is actually a game-changing opportunity. You can unlock incredible value by transforming your accounts receivable into a world-class customer experience. This value lies in the fact that AR is a business area which frequently fails to deliver good customer service and if you are able to overcome this and provide a positive experience, you can differentiate your business and deepen your customer relationships.
"AR is more about collections than customers - right?"
We hear this from our prospects and our customers, and we respectfully disagree. AR is a key customer touchpoint. The organizations that successfully optimize their order to cash process and improve their bottom line find that customer experience is key to success and directly linked to return on investment (ROI).
There are two key reasons why AR is so fundamental to your customer experience:
- AR typically has the most customer touchpoints
AR is often the relationship your customer has cradle to grave. Your AR team manages customers throughout their entire relationship with your organization, starting from onboarding. If a customer becomes delinquent, it’s typically the AR team that determines when to end that relationship.
- AR is the consistent customer contact
Consider the sales process for a typical SaaS customer. They will most likely be contacted first by an SDR, then passed onto an Account Executive to negotiate the sale, then to an onboarding specialist, and finally they will be passed to a customer success manager. Throughout this convoluted process, the AR contact often remains the same and as a result, they become the person who the customer calls when they need assistance.
These two points should not be overlooked as they have significant implications. They tell you that the AR team is in a unique position to deliver a world-class customer experience. However, they also tell you that the AR team can have a significant negative impact on the customer experience if they are not trained and empowered to adopt a customer-focused approach.
The best practices you need to optimize the AR customer experience
There are three best practices you need to follow to ensure your AR customer experience is optimized:
- Establish your team as an extension of the customer service function - It’s not enough for them just to be well-versed in AR
- Empower your team to come from “a place of yes” - Let them know they are supported to make customer-centric decisions
- Equip your team with the capabilities they need to succeed - Establishing the culture and the approach is the first step, but this has to be supported by the required capabilities, tools, and technologies
Establish your team as an extension of the customer service function
Your customers expect your AR team to be well-versed in areas of the business beyond accounts receivable. They need to be able to field customer questions, own the issue, be empowered to resolve it or identify the correct internal contact for resolution, and then be able to oversee it until it's resolved.
A best practice for this is to include a quality assurance goal in your team's evaluation. You can do that by using an NPS score or a customer survey, to make sure that your team is completing the customer problem cycle. In AR, you should be invested in the customer’s experience. Hitting your KPIs will help you achieve your monthly target, but providing a positive experience that improves customer retention and even spending within your organization will provide a long-term sustainable outcome that has a positive impact on your AR performance.
Empower your team to come from "a place of yes"
This is a culture I have established throughout my career with the teams that I’ve managed. Your AR team should feel confident and supported in accommodating your customers as much as possible, within what’s reasonable for your business. Teams need to be empowered to make customer centric decisions - such as refunding or crediting a client for unsatisfactory goods or services. This has a massive impact on their experience, yet many organizations are tentative to do this as they are concerned about the impact it will have on cash flow. However, the ultimate truth is that your cash flow will be impacted more severely if your customers churn due to substandard service.
Coming from a “a place of yes” also enables quicker problem resolution. If you can resolve the customer problem on a first call, their experience is exponentially better than if they're being passed off to different departments where they are forced to continually repeat their issue.
Equip your team with the capabilities they need to succeed
With increasing customer expectations, organizations are focused on making sure that they equip their teams with the technology they need to master the order to cash process. There are three significant technological capabilities that optimize customer experience in AR:
1. An automated customer communications delivery system
First and foremost, your AR team needs a system that sends their routine emails automatically. When your invoices reach a certain threshold, automation enables the collection process to run effectively and efficiently.
Your customer communications must be branded and consistent and set on a cadence that is timely, but not overwhelming. They should be soft at the beginning of the dunning cycle with early friendly reminders and slowly graduate in urgency as an invoice ages. They also need to be personalized, which can be done by including a billing contact name. In addition, they need to be detailed and actionable, including clear instructions on how and when to pay. All of these best practices must be adhered to in each and every customer communication and an automated tool that customizes your communications and manages thousands of them daily is a critical capability to enable this.
2. A self-service portal
Ideally your team could provide a cloud-based self-service portal for your customers. One that enables them to access and download all their current and past due invoices, see their payment history, and submit requests to the AR department with a specific SLA for turnaround time. Imagine it also enabled them to settle their debts with flexible payment options, such as wire ACH, or credit card. These capabilities would increase the speed at which your invoices are paid and improve your customer satisfaction levels. Enabling your customers to review their account details (the very same ones your teams are seeing) and take action on those items in their own time gives them a new level of autonomy which makes them much more likely to pay on time. We are conditioned to this convenience in all other aspects of customer service. So why not within AR?
3. A tool that centralizes your customer data
Do your AR team and other departments, such as sales, use a centralized tool that is updated in real-time with aging reports and customer communications? Is everyone on the same page, and can they understand and see the latest interaction with a given customer, as well as their specific priorities?
Centralizing all your information for teams to see is a game-changer that enables your business to deliver a consistent customer experience. It eliminates ambiguity, as well as the traditional and tedious back and forth with your customer to establish the state of their account. This not only elevates your customer experience; it also improves your internal communication and relationships.