The Treble Importance of AP Customer Service

In any organization, accounts payable touches a wide range of stakeholders, and therefore has a tremendous though often under-recognized impact. The various stakeholders are AP’s “customers” and AP’s service to them and how they perceive it are important. How so?

The job of AP customer service is to respond appropriately to resolve a customer’s issue. But the job of AP customer service is not simply to answer a particular question. It is to find and solve underlying problems, build strong supplier relations, and maintain a great reputation on behalf of the organization.

Some AP customer service calls are simply informational — when will we get paid? Others are more challenging but can lead to opportunities to improve your procure-to-pay process. Customer service calls can point to process breakdowns that need correction. Ideally, AP does not just solve the immediate concern but looks at the bigger picture, finds underlying causes and fixes them. This approach not only resolves one call but it eliminates further calls while strengthening the supplier relationship. But it’s hard to do when facing a heavy volume of contacts.

AP customer service also impacts supplier relations, positively or negatively. In its customer service interactions, AP is the face of the organization to the supplier. The experience and outcome of the contact from the supplier’s perception of the organization: Is it a “good” one whose people are on top of its operations? Is it easy to do business with? Or is it disorganized? Chaotic? Is it difficult to get problems solved? Are the people cranky and unhelpful? Ultimately, “When will we get paid?” and how much pain is involved?

Good AP customer service helps builds strong supplier relationships, which research has shown leads to such benefits as price concessions, better customer support, timeliness, innovation, improved quality, technology sharing, terms elasticity, discounts or supplier financing.

Another important consideration in today’s social media environment is that AP customer service missteps can spin out of control very quickly. What begins as a minor incident can become a defining “truth” impacting the organization’s reputation. An anecdotal incident becomes an accepted — and consequential — characterization of the organization, adding a new level of concern.

“Great,” you say, “but the phone is ringing and angry emails are flowing in. How can AP customer service succeed?”

Automate, facilitate, investigate and eliminate. First, address the volume by implementing a self-service supplier inquiry portal. A self-service supplier portal puts control into the hands of your suppliers and gives them access to information easily and quickly, while for you it removes approximately 80 percent of the calls you are now answering — yes, the easy ones. But this frees up the customer service staff from the pressure brought by sheer volume. It enables them to begin really serving customers calmly and with the big-picture, problem-solving approach. That, in turn, eliminates future problems while serving customers better, enhancing the organization’s reputation and its supplier relations.

Learn how an InvoiceInfo self-service portal can benefit your company; call (678) 335-5735 today or request more information online!