Driving E-Adoption For Billing and Payments: An American Greetings Success Story



Lauren Kennedy

Senior Manager, Retailer Financial Services,
American Greetings


[0:05] Lauren Kennedy:

Today’s session we’re going to talk a little bit about our EIPP journey. It’s specific to us, but there’s a lot of great things about it that we wanted to share with you. But first, let’s talk a little bit about American Greetings. We’re centered in Cleveland, Ohio. Established in 1906. We are the card people. I read the cards that you buy and target the gift rep that you buy at Christmas time. Those are ours along with somebody else, but we don’t talk about them. So it’s this. Okay, so why did we go on an EIPP journey?

First off, it was an initiative up at the upper levels, we wanted to develop a self customer self-service portal. We didn’t want to be the only point of contact for our customers to manually provide invoice copies, pod copies whenever they called. We have a lot of automation in that arena now but we wanted to be able to deliver something to a customer and get that themselves. So that was our effort here. Of course, as you know, think about your own personal experiences when you are dealing with anybody you do business with. On a personal level, you want to try too much information as you can by yourself. I want to get it. I want to get a bill copy when you get a statement copy, I want to pay a bill online. I want to do all of these things without potentially talking to somebody and I only want to call someone when I have a very specific question that my online portal is not going to give me an answer to.

So this is what this tool does for us. No longer does because we’re in an Eastern Time Zone to our California customers have to worry about getting and waiting until the next day when we’re open for business to get an invoice copy or proof of delivery. They can go on at the weekends. A lot of our businesses that are on this portal are smaller, independent retailers who do their bookkeeping in the evenings, after work hours, on the weekends. And so this portal gives them the ability to go ahead and clear off some of their tasks on the weekend and not waiting till Monday morning or Tuesday, or whenever they’re in the store actually interacting with customers and bouncing phone calls to vendors in between.

So 24 seven customer support for them. Obviously, this is the trend. Everything wants to be put online. So we want to be able to maintain that standard. We want to continue to move in that direction. And we’re giving the customers the ability to get it themselves or empowering them. Previously, and it’s still to this day, this hasn’t eliminated calls entirely. So I don’t want to give that misconception but you know, they have to wait in the queue for us to get in touch with them or to be able to talk to them. And sometimes a lot of this can be addressed without even having to get in line in the queue. They can just take care of it themselves. So we have higher efficiencies, better experiences. Okay, so we went live on this journey in January in the US of 2019 and February in Canada, 2019. Prior to that, we were talking about 6000 credit card payments and all 6000 were handled by my team. Every single one, every call. And since that time, yes, I have 10 people. So we handle all 6300 credit card payments last year manually through the year 2018. And it might not seem a lot of volumes, but for us, that’s a lot of calls, inbound calls. So we were able to get that shrunk by 50%. So now that volume, this is as of December but that volume is 50% customer 50% us. So we still have some room to make up on calls the customers and personal interactions. We want to cut that down even more, but that’s a big step so far. So a little bit about how we did it. Early communication, regular and consistent messaging and we had to bring in sales. You cannot do this. I don’t think successfully without bringing in your sales reps. As I mentioned, we went live in the US on January 23, 2019, in Canada, February 20, we targeted a very specific group of accounts.

We didn’t target the big box retailers, we didn’t target the ones who we have a consignment based relationship with, it doesn’t make sense for them. We targeted our customers who get monthly statements, either email, or paper, or even fax. And we started, we said this is where we’re going to start off. So we sent letters to them. And then we encourage them throughout the process months before and we’ll get into that in a couple more slides. But as of October, we had about 34% of them onboarded. And as of January about 40%. Still, a long way to go with the EIPP, you’re always going to struggle with the customers who kind of hesitant to adopt that technology. So we constantly have to work with them to trust us.

[4:50] Lauren Kennedy:

And so we have different business models, different types of customers in Canada in the US. So we had to build a portal that would address all of those particular customer entities and then, of course, as I mentioned convincing our existing customers about the need and the benefit of it. Some of those things I just talked to you about, they can get their information anytime they want. They don’t have to call us for it. It’s available. It’s a present. They’re getting documentation that says the invoices there. It’s helping them get their information faster. Okay, so we did about four steps. We introduced the customer, months beforehand, we communicated to them, we made some planning with sales reps, we planned to go live, what kind of tools are going to be functional, what kind of stuff we’re going to have, and then post-release care.

So in about November, two to three months prior to going live, we sent out a one-page document in the same manner in which the customer receives their monthly statement. They got an email, the letter email. It’s a letter that said coming soon to you. The ability for you to pay your bills online, to pull your own invoice copies, to pull your own people POD copies, to create disputes on your invoices. All will be available in this portal at a time in the future coming soon. And we didn’t mark a specific day because in case something happened, we wanted to plan for that possibility that we might have to delay the go-live. We didn’t. But we had that window if we needed to. We had English, we had French and English for our Canadian customers. As I said, it gave them some benefits of the tool. And we asked them to pre-register at that time. So we said if you’re interested in this tool, give us a call, or our preferred method was that you shoot us an email. If they gave us an email, we now had the opportunity to move them off of paper statements into email statements, and we had an electronic communication method that we didn’t have before. So that was our priority is trying to get as many emails as soon as we get an email address, we registered them, we took them off paper statements, and we communicated electronically going forward. So it served multiple purposes here. As I mentioned, giving them an assumption gave some reasons for release date flexibility. In terms of signature emails, so I’m sure all of you are familiar with the automated signature that comes down the bottom of your email and Outlook or whatever tool you have. All of our collectors on the team had a message underneath their signature to ask us about our EIPP portal coming soon.

These are the pay your bills online, just really few quick lines that told them what was coming in case they didn’t get the letter or in case we were communicating with an AP representative that doesn’t normally see some of the mass meetup email communication that we sent out. We had several web access with our sales reps both on the Canada and US side as well as our inside sales group. We had WebEx as in demos with our call centers so that everybody was aware of what this tool could do. So as customer-facing relationships, they could encourage adoption into this portal. They loved it. They enjoyed the tour. They had many questions. The salespeople have questions about how to open up invoices so they could actually perform some tutorials while they were on the customer site, and helping them through it. We made it a sell sheet. For that one-page sell sheet very, very similar to the coming soon letter. They could email it to their customers, they could leave it behind for them and just kind of give them a basic idea of what this tool did. And it just helped them in their sales calls.

So when we went live, we then said okay, we are now live most of the same customers who got the coming soon letter got this announcement letter, it was pretty much the same thing. Again, welcoming and the portal, giving them the benefits of the tool, giving them some ways to contact us with questions if they had them. It was a great way for us to say hey, we already told you about this, but now we’re actually live so contact us to go ahead and onboard.

[8:54] Lauren Kennedy:

I’m going to skip to the next slide really quick but months before when we started a blueprint in August, probably within a couple of weeks after blueprint, our first step was to begin to send PDF images of our documents to Highradius. We knew we weren’t going live on the portal for months yet to come. But I wanted to build up as much of a historic archive as possible to make the invoices and credit memos available to our customers. So I didn’t do an archive pool. So I didn’t pull things that were enclosed. I didn’t go a year back of invoice history, I said as of this moment, we’re going to go ahead and start sending invoice and credit memo images to Highradius for storage and they held onto them. So then when we went live with the portal, every open invoice that was on this portal had a much higher rate of having an attached invoice and credit memo, thus reducing the number of calls from our customers asking for copies that weren’t there.

So that was a great thing for us. We’re going to go back as we go for post-go-live customer service and change management. In the portal, I had the benefit before going live in our portal and building some of the ideas about how I wanted it to work and interact for our customers. I was a user on a portal, similar to the EIPP portal for a retailer of ours. They use them to collect their contract claims or chargebacks. And they actually use the Highradius portal. And there were things on there that I didn’t like. I did not like how I had all of these questions on the port. I didn’t know how to get in touch with anybody. I didn’t have a user manual that told me where I could find things. If I had questions, I couldn’t even email anybody. At least I wanted an email address. I didn’t have any welcome packet. So I leveraged all of that and I said, this is what we’re going to do with ours.

Every page of our portal whether they’re open invoices, closed invoices, payment history, correspondence history, has our information on the bottom in both French and English. Our department name, our phone number, our email address, they can always get in touch with us. It also references that most of their questions are available in our PDF welcome guide that we send with registration. We’ll talk a little bit more about that in a couple of slides. But that was extremely beneficial to most of them. I added the monthly statement templates including aligning on it. So every statement that goes out has a section or paragraph underneath their account balance summaries that say, access your account online. Here’s the website. Very simple, very user-friendly link. It’s even something that you don’t have to have a lot of slash marks or hyphens or parentheses or anything else. It’s a very easy user URL. And let’s see. I mentioned the welcome email consisted of a user manual.

Also, what we did was we anticipated ahead of the goal. I would have some of our key questions we’re going to be for our users, our key issues. Some of the things are what browser are they using? What do they have popup blockers on? Do they have email addresses blocked for spam? These are all critical pieces that will impact the customer’s ability to register and access the portal. If they don’t have Highradius’s email domain added as a safe sender, they will not get their registration email address. If they don’t have the popup blockers blacked most of the sites, the pages on the portal require them to pick up pop-ups. You have to turn those off on the site. So a lot of our users we had to write up a couple of pages or a couple of quick examples of how to turn off pop up blockers in Chrome, and Internet Explorer. We had those all available for our users when they called in.

We knew the questions to ask what the most common questions were– What when we found out they were using Safari or we found out they were using another browser that wasn’t supported? And we found out that they didn’t have pop up blockers on or they didn’t have a smart visit safe center. These were the most common issues that we encountered. Some feedback that we had received since go-live our VP of sales says they were getting great retailer feedback out in the field about it. They’re also having a customer retail partner of ours says that having the digital copies provided through the portal was incredibly helpful and would eliminate receiving paper duplicates in the mail, which was key. And so far online access has been very easy to use and pay with. I like it. Okay, so customer-centric project implementation– we ensure that we’re always approachable. As I mentioned, I always made sure that we had our contact information at the bottom of every page, every email that went out from the portal, whether it was an automated correspondence email, a statement email, a payment receipt, had our contact information on it.

There was never a way that the customer didn’t know how to find us. They never felt abandoned. Maintained clear and consistent channels of communication for all updates and changes. Highradius is great because things constantly change. They’re always evolving the tool, they’re always evolving the portal, so we have to make sure that we communicate those differences. A lot of them are a lot more visible to us and as the main users of the Promy team going outbound to the customer, the customer doesn’t see a lot of the changes, and we’re behind the scenes. So I just have to make sure that my team is worth the changes so that they can facilitate any questions that might come in from retailers. A user manual, the user manual was key, I have it in English, I have it in French. It’s a PDF of that document attachment that goes out with every registration email customer request to be onboarded onto the portal, they get an email that says welcome. Here’s your user ID, here’s your one time password and attaches a PDF User Guide for the portal. Doesn’t get an appendix, it tells them where to go to pay bills and tells them where to go to change our correspondence, everything isn’t there. And then keeping the enrollment campaigns as per the changing end-user community. So you’re caught and you can’t just do one, you have to constantly market the tool, right?

So adding statements can send new communication. My next round of communication will most likely be to targeted customers who still send me checks, and I don’t want you to send me checks anymore. Go online. Send me credit card payment, send me ACH, you need these things, these are the customers that I’m going to target next down to the customer level. That’s how I’m going to communicate. So everything that happens in the portal, the customer has full visibility to it. Every way that we clear an invoice, the customer sees it in close items and invoices open, the customer sees it in closed items if they paid by cheque which isn’t handled in this particular portal just yet. And we do it out of our cash application environment. If there are any residuals that come out of that payment application, it shows up in the portal. So everything that we do has to make sure that we’re keeping the customer in mind and these particular accounts, they will see everything, every letter, every payment receipt, every transaction history, they have full visibility to it.

You can’t hide anything. Less correspondence with our customer team. More people are going online asking their own questions and answering their own questions. Excuse me and get their own information. It’s great, I have seen a reduction in our call volume, I don’t have a call center queue environment per se as our regular Call Center does. But I still can monitor the inbound calls to my team. I have seen a reduction but I also have collections and cash and deductions. So the calls are not just for this particular space.

[16:20] Lauren Kennedy:

Simpler and quicker billing and payments– I don’t have to worry about getting a customer. I can just say go online and everything that you need is out there. So I’m getting my payments turned around a little bit faster. Better internal and external payment gateway usability prior to this, I had two payment gateways, one in the US and one in Canada. With this implementation, I merged into one. So I have one provider for all of my credit card payments. So of two banks, I’ve direct links into my bank, US and Canada and into my credit card providers from this information. Okay, so this is a self-service portal invoicing across email, customer portals and other preferred channels. So every time an invoice or credit memo, a new billing document is posted to a customer’s account, they get an email that says a new document is posted to your account with a PDF attachment of that document. Also, in that email, they get a link to the portal so they can sign in and pay I don’t offer a quick pay right now by clicking on this link option because I want them to go in and see everything that’s open on their account, they might have missed the last email, or something might have happened where they just misplaced the payment. I want them to see everything, not just that one invoice. So it’ll link them over to the portal where they can access everything that’s open.

Customers at their choice can schedule payments for 30-45 days out if they need to. Let’s say there are a lot of these customers that I mentioned earlier, independent retailers who do their bookkeeping on a Saturday. They’ll say you know what, I’m going to be on vacation for the next week. I don’t want this payment to clear until next week, so they’ll schedule it for next week if they’re managing their books in that way. We can do recurring, and every month they can set it up where every month and the third day or on the fourth day of the month, they can process it that way, or we have auto payments to. So on the first of every month every customer who is enrolled in auto payment functionality and has a valid credit card on-site, their account will be charged automatically for everything that’s due or past due as of that time, credits included. If they have a parent-child relationship with another account, that account goes on account payments of the customer. We have several customers who might be on a payment plan. They don’t necessarily pay for one invoice at a time.

They just pay a balance on the account. So this account function helps them with that. And alternative modes, we have ACH opportunities and we have credit card opportunities. Don’t have each axiom. Billing-related documents I’ve been able to cut back a lot on the paper that I sent out. This portal has been great for that. Again, the number of requests for billing related documents and PODs has shrunk. PODs and invoice images are all directly linked. We already had claims in POD aggregation with Highradius. So we just utilize those existing POD feeds to connect into an EIPP on the document. So it wasn’t a new interface. It wasn’t new functionality, we just leverage what we already had. So all of the POD documents are attached within the portal so they can even pull their own POD to find out when something was delivered. A 50% reduction in credit card payments meant products processed directly by my team as I had referenced before. A seamless flow of data between the existing cash application environment and EIPP we are running a Highradius cash application. So everything that happens in this portal gets an interface out to the cash app and follows the flow into our ERP environment seamlessly. Automated correspondence for customers each day I had mentioned they get an email with PDF attachments with every new billing document generated. And enrollment for auto-payment cards is charged each month which I talked about as well.

[19:58] Lauren Kennedy:

So some of the benefits that I’m working on now, increasing functionality in this tool. My order processing system isn’t a legacy environment, my finances in SAP. I don’t love it, but it’s what I have to work with. So I’m constantly bridging the gap to get more information into the ERP environment and available to customers from a legacy system. So in this particular case, what I’m talking about is many of our customers get UPC communications on a daily basis about what new PCs were communicating into their doors, what product they’re going to sell. Some of these customers, it’s still a very manual feed for departments that don’t even belong in our space. Those UPC communications departments in the IT section. I want to take that away from them and free up their resources. So I’m building a full tool with Highradius that will give all of our UPC level detail into this portal.

So a customer will be able to click on the invoice and download all of the UPC details on that specific invoice. And that then serves a dual purpose the more detail I can provide in the credit card transaction, the higher PCI level I can get and the lower my fees will be. That’s my goal with this effort. So how is the adaption for billing and payments impacted other related areas I had mentioned cash application flows much smoother. We didn’t have a lot of instances where we didn’t have remittance information from some of our cash applications. We have a lot of rules and algorithms that help us support if we don’t have remittances. But now this is cut in half. I mean, we’ve got a significantly more amount of detail for remittances and credit card payments. Collections now we can put, you know, we’ve got customers to have better visibility into what’s open and past due on their account.

They can sort, they can filter, they can pick and choose, they can click on different boxes. This has helped with our collections team tremendously. They love it. Deductions–customers can create their own disputes and deductions in this portal. What that means they have to give us a reason for the deductions. They have to tell us whether it’s a shortage or damage or something like that. They have to give us an explanation, you can’t just pick a reason. And then close out on the dispute, you have to pick a reason and you can attach documentation to it, or you have to give us a note about what that’s for.

[22:11] Audience Speaker:

What was the first module that you adapted? In what order?

[22:19] Lauren Kennedy:

So we were able to go live with Highradius and cash app in 2013. And we’ve since, as you know, implemented all those amazing changes that have happened since that time, so we’ve been on cash app for a while. When we went, at that time is when we went into our SAP environment. So we did cash app, we did deductions, and we did ACH correspondence.

[22:42] Audience Speaker:

Okay, and then does this module push to cash app? I’m sorry, to ERP and then ERP pulls, and the cash app pulls from ERP is in the file?

[22:53] Lauren Kennedy:

So every day, there’s a number of extracts that come out of your EIPP environment to support cash application processing with Highradius. Open items, cleared items, contacts, banking information, and all that stuff. So that continued to flow. Highradius was able to leverage. The EIPP environment leverages a lot of those same interfaces so it’s not like I had to add anything separately. So every day when the cash they the Highradius open items databases update with newly posted transactions and cleared items, so EIPP it’s a flow.

[23:29] Audience Speaker:

And then when you talked about your gateway connection, single gateway, and the payment. It is a pretty simple capture or is it configured to where like, as time goes by different payment options appear and disappear because of the value?

[23:48] Lauren Kennedy:

Do you mean the dollar amount like the customer’s process?

[23:51] Audience Speaker:

Right. Like we take credit cards up to this point, we shut that off and then we go to ACH.

[23:55] Lauren Kennedy:

So I do have that configured in the system. I have a pretty high threshold for credit card payments. So that we haven’t really bumped up against that. The biggest opportunity or the biggest possibility of bumping up against that is when we do the auto-payments at the first of the month. When it’s clearing a number of invoices. And it might bump up against that threshold. But as I mentioned, it’s a pretty high threshold, but the system will try to process that card, but it’ll decline because it’s over the threshold amount. But they don’t, it doesn’t tell them you’re over your threshold process ACH, you know, both options are available to them.

[24:28] Audience Speaker:

How much configuration is available in the platform, if you wanted to grow that and get more sophisticated?

[24:37] Lauren Kennedy:

I think there’s plenty, the level of my dollar amount is more set with my processor than with Highradius. So you know what I mean? And I chose kind of, I will say it out loud that I kind of took the easy way out with that because I didn’t want to go through all of the additional levels of processing and approvals with my processor. So I just took their normal standard highest level threshold and kept it there and it’s been great.

[25:02] Audience Speaker:

Thank you

[25:02] Lauren Kennedy:

No problem.

[25:13] Audience Speaker:

Are you also doing portal billings with this tool?

[25:16] Lauren Kennedy:

No. No portal billings.

[25:19] Audience Speaker:

And then if they log in to make an ACH payment is their banking details link to this as well or how does the ACH payment work?

[25:27] Lauren Kennedy:

So within the portal, they have their own site. There are some things that we as the owners of the site cannot see. Full credit card information, banking information as some of those things. That was another benefit that I no longer had to worry about. I relied on Highradius’s PCI compliance and all of their stuff, I didn’t have to self manage any of that anymore. But it’s all stored in the portal. So they can have multiple credit cards. They can have multiple bank accounts, it’s up to them to choose which one. They set it up for a monthly fee. They just have to make sure it’s on them to make sure that that credit card when it expires, it comes back in. I know that there are tools that you can use with your provider that will auto-update. We just don’t have that turned on.

[26:11] Audience Speaker:

So you mentioned that you were sending in a statement every month still for your customer. So I assume you’re emailing?

[26:20] Lauren Kennedy:


[26:20] Audience Speaker:

Most of them?

[26:21] Lauren Kennedy:


[26:21] Audience Speaker:

And how about the invoices? Are they totally reliant on the portal to go fetch their invoices or you were emailing a PDF or anything as well?

[26:33] Lauren Kennedy:

If the customer is enrolled the good part about it is that you don’t have to be a registered user on the portal to get the automated correspondence function. You can have automated contact and not even be a registered user. So if you are set up for that, everything goes to an email to you but as I had mentioned before, we still have a legacy shipping environment and it’s not ERP so our invoice copies or original invoice copies go in the box with the shipment when they go out. But this is because of the seasonality of the business it can be months before an actual Christmas invoice or a Valentine or Easter invoices do and they get lost. So we tell them to go over to the portal and pull up their own copy. One thing I wanted to add really quickly about this is another benefit that I was able to clean out of this site as we have about 10 holidays a year that we process credits for.

For products that didn’t sell. And we always provided paper. Fill out this paper and fax it back in unless they had somebody in the field to do that for them. But if they were doing it themselves, it was always a separate label, a separate paper, separate envelope. And with this, we turned all of that off and leverage the existing invoice copies and packing slips that go in their box and put all of the information that they need to request that credit the bottom of those documents. Then we can turn off and save thousands and thousands of dollars in the actual production of the statement or the labels and the paper and now if they need something and go back into the portal. They can reprint the invoice and everything they need is on it.

[27:59] Audience Speaker:

Do you have to deal with larger retailers that will refuse? For example, to utilize the portal? And how do you manage them?

[28:06] Lauren Kennedy:

Sure, I mean, there’s always gonna be, no matter what, I always am gonna have to deal with some customers who aren’t going to want to use it. At some point, I don’t know when that is, it becomes an internal discussion about how do you want to push it. I’m not at the level yet where I want to be, where I would feel comfortable saying that’s it I’m fully reliant on the portal. There are still too many customers who weren’t there. And I think the drawback to my collections would be too significant. So I don’t want to take that away just yet. So I’ll still continue to tailor and communicate and personalize in some places.

[28:46] Audience Speaker:

Did you have to use much customization to get it?

[28:51] Lauren Kennedy:

I didn’t. We were able to do a lot of mapping of the information. One thing that I would always recommend going into something like this. This is so customer-facing, right? So it’s obviously the intent of it. So they’re going to see everything that you see right away. So you have to plan. What do they want to see? Ask them questions. What do you want to see? When you use this portal? What will help make it more user-friendly for you to encourage you to use it? Information about their account number information about the season of the invoice, the due date, the payment terms, all of these things, you want to make sure that you put into them. And those were things that we already had in place with our data feed. So it’s just a matter of mapping data to different fields. So there wasn’t a whole lot of special customization.

[29:32] Host Speaker:

I’m sorry, I’m gonna have to stop the q&a. Unfortunately, thank you, everybody, for being such a great audience. And thank you, Lauren, for your presentation. If you’d like to find out more about the EIPP, we of course also have demo stations in the field just next to their Miller Lite room. So you’re welcome to go there and see the EIPP in action as well. Thank you, everybody, and have a good rest of the day.

[0:05] Lauren Kennedy: Today’s session we’re going to talk a little bit about our EIPP journey. It’s specific to us, but there’s a lot of great things about it that we wanted to share with you. But first, let’s talk a little bit about American Greetings. We’re centered in Cleveland, Ohio. Established in 1906. We are the card people. I read the cards that you buy and target the gift rep that you buy at Christmas time. Those are ours along with somebody else, but we don’t talk about them. So it’s this. Okay, so why did we go on an EIPP journey? First off, it was an initiative up at the upper levels, we wanted to develop a self customer self-service portal. We didn’t want to be the only point of contact for our customers to manually provide invoice copies, pod copies whenever they called. We have a lot of automation in that arena now but we wanted to be able to deliver something to a customer and get that themselves. So that was our effort here. Of course, as you know, think about your own personal experiences when you are dealing with anybody you do business with. On…

What you'll learn

  • American Greetings success story with HighRadius EIPP Cloud
  • Best practices for onboarding customers on an electronic billing and payments platform

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HighRadius Electronic Invoice Presentment and Payment (EIPP) Software provides tools that automate and speed up invoice communication and facilitate a faster collection of payments, enabling a closer and more convenient relationship with customers. It automates the invoice transmission and payment collection process providing a configurable solution that supports multiple invoice formats and different modes of transmission (fax, email, portal, etc.) depending on the targeted customer, its integration with ERP systems and a rich search capability enables efficient storage and retrieval of past invoices, backup attachments to minimize disputes and short pays. Apart from that it also has some key features that you would not want to miss out: level-III interchange and surcharge; self-service customer portal; invoicing across email, customer portals, post, and fax; advanced deduction management; and lightning e-payments. The result is faster invoicing and payment collection, better customer service, and improved profitability and cash flow.