Credit management has a vital role to play within any business. Its primary aim is to ensure customers pay their outstanding balances within the pre-agreed timeframes. When implemented effectively, it helps reduce late payments and improve cashflow, in turn driving a more positive liquidity position for the business. Below Martin de Heus, VP of Direct Sales at Onguard, explains for Finance Monthly.
All of this is fundamental to the work of the credit manager. Unfortunately, however, credit management departments don’t always believe their job also entails keeping the customer happy. Whereas sales and customer service departments might be trained in the arts of charm and diplomacy, credit management teams are more likely to value persistence and tenacity. After all, organisations want outstanding invoices paid as quickly as possible.
The issue is that the role of the credit management department also needs to be about maintaining positive customer engagement. Sales and customer service departments will have done their best – with the help of various tools and technologies – to get to know the customer and ensure their satisfaction. Maintaining this positive relationship is generally much trickier if the customer falls into debt.
It’s a delicate situation. The wrong approach may negate any early groundwork and jeopardise a potential long-term relationship. Nonetheless, these customers are in the credit manager’s portfolio for a reason: experiencing payment difficulties, in arrears or have already been transferred to a collections agency.
The organisation wants to keep Day Sales Outstanding (DSO) as low as possible, however the customer still expects to be treated well and with respect. Respectively, how can organisations create a positive customer experience despite these payment difficulties?
As credit managers are aware, the reasons for non-payment differ greatly between customers; there is never a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Some may be experiencing temporary difficulties. For example, an understaffed accounts department with a high workload might mistakenly overlook an open invoice. While some always pay late as a matter of policy, and others are genuinely facing cash-flow problems.
Because of these differences in circumstances, all these will act favourably to a personalised approach.
Today there is technology available that monitors each customer’s order to cash journey and this will segment customers, assessing who the customer is, what they need, what the risks are, their payment behaviour and how they prefer to communicate. Automated reminders, processes and actions can be created based on these segments. Consequently, communication with a customer who always pays late will differ from those with the customer who simply forgot to pay an invoice. This functionality provides customers with the attention they need, while at the same time, giving credit managers more time to focus on exceptions.
Because this software provides insights on the entire order to cash process, all stages of the journey can be optimised and KPIs achieved. This may include lowering the DSO, optimising cash flow, improving the ability to focus on the core business and focusing on a positive customer experience. It also gives a fully integrated overview of the cash flow forecasting and outstanding debts.
In short, a positive experience and the lowest possible DSO can co-exist – and a credit management team can focus on the customers’ needs and requirements. After all, with the right care and attention, a late-payer can suddenly transform into a loyal customer – and one that pays on time.