For companies, regardless of industry, the customer experience is of the utmost importance, especially when it comes to collections. Granted, the collections function doesn’t always lend itself easily to concepts like “customer-centric” and “relationship building”, but at its very heart, collections, both B2C and B2B, is about the ongoing management of the customer relationship.
The banner of customer relationship management (CRM) usually includes sales and marketing activities, customer care and technical support. Yet, in many cases collections and accounts receivable functions, both vital customer touch-points, are handled the way they have been for the last 20 years.
Over the last few years, the emphasis on customer experience has been a growing trend. However, historically, companies have struggled with bringing together the concepts of “efficient collections” and “customer centricity”, for a variety of reasons.
Training & Managing – Collections is also a very tough and demanding job, and despite hours of soft-skills training, it can be difficult for staff members to consistently model behaviours that are more likely to retain customers. New methodologies and tools are emerging to help organisations evaluate each stage of the customer lifecycle to reduce bad debt, collections risk and costs.
Many companies do not have, and do not want, the ongoing burden of training and managing staff, implementing policies and investing in tools to walk the fine balance between maximising recoveries and enhancing customer goodwill. Yet, this is exactly what must happen, as positive customer experience is the new normal.
Front-Office/Back-Office Silos – From sales and service to accounts receivable, the customer journey weaves itself between both front office and back office functions. Yet many times these functions are siloed in different departments or as standalone activities. Traditionally, the front office and the back office have not been well integrated when it comes to sharing information and monitoring the customer cycle.
Both B2B and B2C organisations do not always have the capacity (either the resources, the time or the technology) to better integrate both sides of the customer experience equation.
Technology – To stay competitive, firms invest in technology that adds value to their core product or service. Accounting-specific tools and technology are low priority at best, if on the radar of any IT department. Yet workflow tools, automation and integrated solutions help break down silos, reduce errors, diminish bottlenecks and improve efficiency throughout the F&A function, including collections.
Customer Experience – Beyond the Initial Sale
Forrester recently predicted that in 2014 companies will “move away from procuring technology to sourcing a new breed of managed services that complement their strategic capabilities. This new breed of services will combine strong business process expertise and automation, monitoring analytics, and flexible engagement models that align with business value.”
This is exactly what outsourcing collections can do for companies. A world-class provider should be able to deliver an effective use of tools like F&A predictive analytics, performance management rules and customer profiling all designed to improve collections efficiencies and deliver a proactive solution, rather than a reactive approach to collections.
In addition, providers (like Sutherland) should be able to lean on their understanding of the front-office customer relationship management that relies on the need for a strong emphasis on staff training, communication and people skills and ongoing feedback. An F&A provider should also have the dedicated technology to be able to bring visibility through a single-view look at receivables. These technologies can be used to help build stronger customer relationships and improve communication and coordination between back-office cash applications and front-end collection agents.
In my next post, I’ll be exploring the eight critical components in a collections programme. How do your collection customer experience measure up? We’d be happy to offer a free assessment of your current practices. Comments? Questions? I’d be happy to answer.