By Judy Bicking, AP Consultant
Accounts payable provides a critical service to the organization. It is one of the few departments that touches every department within a company as well as external parties, and has a direct impact on the reputation of the organization.
When people talk about accounts payable, how often do you hear compliments about how quickly invoices are allocated, approved and paid? Do you hear people standing around the water cooler praising accounts payable for how quickly their expenses are reimbursed? When was the last time you had a call from a vendor thanking you for getting their invoices paid on time? In reality, vendors and internal staff members rarely call to say what a good job you are doing. When you hear from vendors it is because they have a problem and they want you to solve it. Discussions about AP are more likely to include:
- They never pay the supplier on time
- They lose the invoice
- I can’t get reliable and consistent information
- AP can never answer my request without asking for another copy of the invoice
- Requesting a copy of the invoice is a payment delay tactic
Changing this perception seems immense. But, try to see things through the eyes of your customers. How AP customer service responds to late payments could be re-enforcing their poor reputation with the words that are being used. If you want different results, you have to change what you are doing and what you are saying. Rather than asking the supplier for another copy of the invoice (which is the easiest and fastest way to get the customer off the phone), ask questions to turn the situation around.
AP: “Where was the invoice sent?”
Supplier: Provides an address
AP: “Since this is not the AP address, we first have to have the address fixed in your customer records to ensure we receive the invoice immediately.”
AP: “Better yet, can we set up electronic transmission of the invoice to avoid delays in the future? We can accept the following formats…”
AP: “Now that we have the future invoices fixed, I will need a copy of the invoice you are calling about so I can get the payment processed.”
AP: “Speaking of payment: please provide your bank information so we can also make the payment electronically.”
Now the perception is being changed from inefficiency or trying to delay the payment, to the realization that the process was not working and the customer-service rep took the time to fix the end-to-end process ensuring future payments can be made on time. Now the reputation is changed to a professional business partner recommending a better way forward.
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