I’ve been away from the accounts receivables automation space for the past 15 months and, now that I’m back, it’s clear that a lot has changed in that short amount of time. Electronic payments are not only becoming top of mind, but becoming a core customer requirement. The popularity of topics such as migration to electronic payments, getting clients to participate, and tools available to help facilitate the transition was evidenced at a recent CRF show. Through discussions at that event, one issue began to stand out: most companies wanted or were being asked to transition, however, few had outlined a clear path toward the migration. This blog was written to help those companies who were starting down the path of transition, by outlining the considerations to look for, and the items to avoid.
First, I feel compelled to share that I have heard virtually every excuse in the book for why clients won’t join in electronic payment transformation, including:
- My biggest clients won’t do this
- Our clients don’t have computers
- We are a hand hold customer service business
The list goes on and on. Although I find all of these to be true in some sense, it’s important to think about the 80/20 rule. There will always be the exception, that 20% of customers who want to continue paying the same way they always have. The goal of the transformation should be a focus on the 80%. If done correctly, providing ways to pay electronically will facilitate:
- Efficiency in your invoice to cash process
- Cost savings by not mailing invoices and processing checks in the traditional ways
- Streamlined processes to apply cash and handle disputes with 100% accuracy
- Scalability in times of growth allowing the current team to handle 50-80% more volume
- Increased client satisfaction by becoming easier to do business with
- And finally lowering and/or maintaining DSO by receiving and applying cash faster
As companies think about transitioning to electronic payments, most will look to implement a payment portal. Payment portals are very effective in driving efficiency by using customer self-service and automation; however, it is imperative to consider the entire customer experience when deciding on what portal to use. Why? We have all seen companies roll out difficult self-service portals or automated phone systems that actually made the buying or customer service process more intolerable. To help you choose the right payment portal, here are the top 5 things to consider when evaluating an electronic payment portal.
- How many seconds and clicks are required to view invoices and make a payment?
A payment portal is often the area that provides the biggest challenge and ultimately lends itself to the success or failure of any electronic payment process. Successful portals allow you to send out invoices in a format that has a similar look and feel to the invoices you send out today. They provide access by email, links on your website or client portal, and a direct link that customers can bookmark. With a single click your customers should have instant access to invoices, statements, supporting documentation, and the ability to pay one or multiple invoices.
- How intuitive is the portal and will your customers require training to use it?
The right payment portal needs to be so intuitive, so simple, it does not require training or help to navigate for the first time customer. The portal must provide such value that it becomes the preferred method of interaction with your company. When evaluating a portal, pay close attention to the steps required to interact with the portal in every aspect of your business to ensure you are truly adding value to your clients.
- Does the portal assume the risk of PCI compliance for payments made through the portal?
Another key aspect to consider when looking at any payment portal is the requirement for the user to login and provide username and password information. Although critical for PCI compliance and security when storing payment information, there are ways to provide essential information such as invoices, statements, and supporting documentation securely without the need to log in. This simple change has a tremendous impact on the adoption rate for any portal. Without it, we typically see adoption fall well below 30%. Think of all the times you wanted to quickly access some information from a site or app on your phone but could not remember the log in information. As a result, you probably went to another supplier that was easier to do business with. Beware of just how many clicks and seconds it takes for your customers to get the information they need in your portal. If it is more than 30 seconds, they will pick up the phone.With grave consequences if not followed correctly, PCI compliance is a huge responsibility for all companies today. I am still amazed by the number of sticky notes, word documents and notebooks I see when working with companies in the invoice to cash process. If this is happening in your office, make it a priority to change. Often companies don’t even realize this is happening until we come in and observe their teams doing day to day work. We understand customers want you to save banking and credit card data for future use so make sure you pick a portal that truly transfers the responsibility and liability for PCI compliance from your company to the supplier of the portal.
- Will the portal offer ways for the customer and supplier to collaborate?
Effective communication and collaboration can help to eliminate large amounts of wasted time. Hours spent by suppliers and customers trying to understand an invoice, determining what a payment is for, or why the amount does not match the invoice. Portals are great for disseminating information, but when issues occur, most portals today fail to offer an effective way for suppliers and customers to collaborate on a resolution. Industry leading portals will include the following to help:
- A way to communicate by message or chat from every window.
- If a short pay is allowed, the customer must select your reason code from a drop down and provide a space for them to add notes. Short pays must also be linked to the specific invoice they are concerned with so that cash application is 100% accurate for auto apply and include remittance information.
- The communication between customer and supplier must be stored in an audit log for everyone to see, eliminating the back and forth of providing history as new people are asked to step in.
- Finally, look for a portal that allows the entire team to participate in the process. Over 70% of the companies I work with include sales, customer service or other teams to assist with resolving customer concerns. If that is the case with your company, it is very important that the portal you chose provides limited view access for all team members as well as mobile accessibility for when they are in the field. For mobile, make sure your team will not need to download an app requiring a password to get in.
- How will the portal integrate with other solutions?
Last but not least, how does the solution integrate with the other solutions currently in use within your business. In order to provide real value, the portal needs to be a tool that provides easily accessible, actionable data for your team. Think ‘two clicks to critical information’. I challenge you to watch how many systems your team currently needs to touch in order to access the critical data needed to manage customers’ expectations. Think all past payments, invoices, statements and even supporting information such as bills of lading, delivery receipts and pictures. If it takes more than one system and more than two clicks, you need to look for a new solution. A solution that will warehouse this data and become a single source of truth, accountability and efficiency to assist your team in offering the best customer experience possible.
Ultimately, implementing a payment portal for your customers affords your business with the opportunity to improve the quality of life for both your customers and your internal teams. By considering these five points as you embark on your project, you will be well-positioned to ensure that your portal project is a success story (not a horror story). As I’m sure you can tell by this point, these types of projects are a passion of mine, and I’m always happy to chat with you about this topic whether you’re in the early days of research, or well into a project.