A best practice for accounts payable customer service is to transfer vendor invoice and payment inquiries to a supplier self-service portal where vendors can get the answers themselves — quickly and easily.
According to a recent AP Customer Service Survey conducted by Financial Operations Networks and InvoiceInfo, respondents indicated that they receive inquiries from vendors and internal colleagues about payment and approval of invoices. But surprisingly, respondents said that the most important questions asked are questions about which invoices are covered on a payment and why an invoice was short paid. For those that chose “Other,” they stated that statement reconciliation and departments inquiring about what remains on a contract or blanket purchase order to spend are common questions.
Questions like these and others can easily be answered with a vendor self-service portal, which helps to improve staff productivity and reduce cost.
Who Is Using a Self-Service Option? According to the survey, of those participating, on average only 17.5% responded that they currently have a vendor self-service portal, while 82.5% do not. For participant companies with revenue greater than $1 billion, 46.9% of respondents have a portal, which is an increase of 16.9% from last year’s survey. So it appears that the larger the organization, the more likely they are to utilize a self-service option.
Self-Service Portal Uses. Of those that do have a vendor portal, the main reason they made the decision to get a vendor portal was to reduce phone calls and emails, followed by moving the focus from employees handling inquiries to more productive tasks, to provide 24/7 customer service and fourth on the list was to reduce cost. When asked whether the handling of invoice inquiries from vendors and internal staff members is distracting for AP staff, the clear majority (91.7%) said yes, with the remaining 8.3% saying no. Those saying yes went up dramatically from last year’s survey results when 68% said that inquiries were distracting.
Surprisingly, only 43% of those that responded were motivated by cost reduction. And of those, 46% of the respondents were companies with revenue greater than $1 billion. Larger companies appear to be more focused on cost reduction as a motivator to implement a self-service portal.
Customer Service Metrics. When asked if metrics are tracked for customer service inquiries, 12% responded yes while 88% said no. Of those that do track metrics, 100% said that they track how many invoices are inquired upon, 92% track the average length of an inquiry call or email response and 85% track the average, fully weighted cost of an AP staffer to handle inquiries.
Of those that do track customer service inquiry metrics, 16% of respondents have revenue less than $1 billion and 84% have revenues above $1 billion. Clearly size is dependent on tracking.
We at InvoiceInfo are always asking AP professionals if they track customer service metrics and are always surprised that most don’t have any idea how much customer service is costing. If you asked the same questions about whether AP tracks on-time payment or cost per invoice, you would probably get a very different answer. Although, couldn’t one argue that handling invoice inquiries should be included when calculating cost-per-invoice?
Since implementing a portal, only 31% of those that have a portal track to what degree automation has helped reduce the number of vendor and internal staff emails and calls, while the majority (69%) does not.
Portal Uses. When asked what functions participants are using a self-service portal for, nearly all (96%) answered invoice payment status. Invoice submission was also popular at 56%. Other uses for a vendor self-service portal showed 36% use a portal to onboard vendors and 44% use the portal for vendors to submit W-9s.
Are Portals Considered Good Customer Service? The clear majority of participants (82%) believe that a secure, online self-service portal can deliver the same or better customer service as manually responding to calls and emails. This is up from 77% last year.
With so many benefits to AP departments, it is not surprising that 47% of the respondents plan to implement a portal within the next five years.
To see how InvoiceInfo’s vendor self-service solutions can benefit your operations and your company click here to request more information or call (678) 335-5735.