Mike Thelen, Director of Customer Financial Services at Land O’Lakes, believes that today’s B2B (business-to-business) buyers are demanding a buying and payment experience similar to what the world’s brands are delivering to B2C (business-to-consumer) customers. Land O’Lakes is one of America’s premier agribusiness and food companies that span the spectrum from agricultural production to consumer foods.
Here is the thing: Businesses are made of people at the end of the day. Business decision-makers are customers too in their personal lives. Since they enjoy a certain level of customer-centricity when they shop on an Amazon or buy a Netflix subscription, it is not unthinkable of them to expect their B2B buyers to replicate the same experience in a few years.
And here, we are also talking about the accounts payable teams of your customers. They are as much a part of the organization as anyone else, and delivering excellent customer service to them is the responsibility of your accounts receivable department and, as an A/R leader, yours.
Today, exceptional customer experience is a top executive priority and finance leaders are not necessarily the top drivers. But that can change. As the Director of Customer Financial Services at a CPG company, Mike and his team work directly with many customers on credit, collections, and deductions. When asked how one can make this team deliver on the CEO’s customer-first vision, Mike shared a couple of actionable tips for his fellow A/R leaders, which are summarized below.
More often than not, A/R teams are so focused on delivering on their KPIs (DSO, bad debt, past-due, etc.) that customer experience is not a priority for them. They believe that it is something that front-office functions such as sales and marketing need to worry about.
But come to think of it, right from submitting the credit application to making payments and getting deductions resolved, there are multiple points when the customer is directly in touch with the A/R department. How your analysts handle such situations directly impacts the customer’s experience of working with you and can make or break a potential long-term business relationship.
As an A/R leader, you would need to effectively communicate the importance of customer satisfaction across your organization and make sure that your teams feel accountable for delivering exceptional customer service to your buyers.
All customers are different, and the same strategies for billing, collections, and payments don’t work for everyone. A/R executives must ensure that analysts spend sufficient time understanding the customer’s expectations to deliver exemplary service.
Some of the examples of customer expectations that you need to spend time on understanding could be:
By understanding how your customers feel about your business today, and their expectations from their supplier A/R teams, you would be better positioned to shift gears and make process changes that resonate well with your customers. As it is rightly said, you can’t fix a problem that you do not know.
The culture of an organization starts at the top. Your team needs to see you valuing customers and customer relationships to do so themselves. As an A/R analyst trying to achieve some very difficult targets (as is the case with most CPG companies), it is easy to become aggressive in customer conversations and push for things to happen your way.
If this happens a lot within your team, make sure to have a conversation with the team about how long-term customer relationships are more important than short-term collection and payment goals. Customers are the ultimate drivers of revenue. And the world today is such that there are many options for buyers struggling with poor customer experience. To make sure that your team is not unknowingly sending one of your loyal customers your competitor’s way, make sure to have frequent conversations with them about how they can balance their KPIs with their customer experience objectives. Help your analysts be humane and empathetic in customer conversations. Train them on interpersonal communication and negotiation skills. Allow them to evolve into true partners for the customer instead of being just another resource on a huge team.
There will be occasions where despite continuous communication from your end, someone on your team creates a negative customer experience. If you receive an escalation against your team or a complaint of unacceptable behavior, it is essential to understand the story from the analyst’s perspective.
Also, it is more important to share feedback with them on how such a situation could have been handled in a better manner. Such occasions are great opportunities for leading by example. Show your team how you would have handled the situation differently. How would that have impacted the overall outcome? Make sure amends are made with the customers as needed.
In simpler words, driving a good customer experience is not a one-time activity. It is a continuous process requiring work from you and your teams. But the outcome, in the long run, is equally rewarding: Customers trust you and your business. They keep coming back to buy from you. Most importantly, you are the top supplier that they would pay, in a situation of economic uncertainty, because they value their relationship with you.
Last, and probably the most important thing in the next few years would be to empower your internal A/R teams with technology that works with them to deliver exceptional customer experience. Here are a few ways automation helps improving customer experience in A/R:
Customer experience is an executive priority today, and as an A/R leader, you must think about how you could deliver on this objective. A/R executives who manage a customer-facing team need to be the flagbearer of better customer service in finance and must take all the steps necessary to ensure exceptional customer service.
Fixing existing process gaps, continuous collaboration, and technology deployment will take consumer goods organizations a long way in achieving their customer-centricity goals. Take a step today in the right direction.
To access the detailed discussion from Mike, click on this link.
HighRadius Integrated Receivables Software Platform is the world’s only end-to-end accounts receivable software platform to lower DSO and bad-debt, automate cash posting, speed-up collections, and dispute resolution, and improve team productivity. It leverages RivanaTM Artificial Intelligence for Accounts Receivable to convert receivables faster and more effectively by using machine learning for accurate decision making across both credit and receivable processes and also enables suppliers to digitally connect with buyers via the radiusOneTM network, closing the loop from the supplier accounts receivable process to the buyer accounts payable process. Integrated Receivables have been divided into 6 distinct applications: Credit Software, EIPP Software, Cash Application Software, Deductions Software, Collections Software, and ERP Payment Gateway – covering the entire gamut of credit-to-cash.