Although Accounts Receivable is foundational to the business cash flow and bottom line, it’s all too common for many organizations to rely on customer service agents for collections. The challenge in this scenario is that these customer support personnel often lack the specialized skills to turn AR into cash by reducing days sales outstanding (DSO), which is directly linked to the financial health of the business.
While these agents require special skills and training to be capable of reducing DSO by optimizing collections, call center managers can develop the framework to support that skillset development. The overriding goal is to turn the AR function into an area of competency by honing the needed soft skills and process adherence while integrating the use of back end technology that supports the collections process.
Two of the most important skills that must be developed are sensitivity and persistence. In other words, agents must understand how to balance the sensitivity of customers that are behind in payments. These customers may be easily offended if pushed too hard for resolution where account aging has become a factor. At the same time, the agent must be capable of being persistent in terms of keeping the customer focused on specific terms and payment possibilities so that they are constantly moving towards payment resolution.
Although the time it takes to complete each call is a key customer service metric, it is less important than the agent taking the time to sound calm, even, and well-paced. This will help to convey a sense of gravitas and authority. Hurrying thorough the main message will make it seem like the debt is less important to the company and make the call for payment easier to ignore.
To ensure that collections are consistent, customer service agents that also specialize in collections must be highly attuned to the conversation to calmly guide the customer through the process. This makes it imperative that they have the support and complete understanding of exceptional processes, procedures, and technology.
For example, collections agents need a complete understanding of how to interface with the CRM in real time to access detailed records of all customer communications, payment plans, invoicing records, DSO and other account receivable criteria associated with the customer. Not only do they need to have this data before and during the interaction, they will need to ensure that records are entered and maintained accurately throughout the debt collection process.
Collections agents operate best with a clear, concise collections strategy based on early intervention. When an account slips into the past-due column, processes and systems should automatically provide the support to the agents such as via electronic invoices to make the process easier and more accurate.
Manual-driven payment methods slow the collections process, increases costs and lowers cash flow by introducing errors into the process. Using an ERP and E-Invoicing solutions work to streamline transaction processing and help manage DSOs better. In conjunction with the specialized collections agent skill set, these solutions streamline the OTC process by providing a sound working capital management strategy.
The ongoing challenge of developing and maintaining collections talent makes it even more difficult to turn AR into a core competency within customer service. It can be a major relief to the challenges of skilled personnel shortages, incomplete proven processes, and technology integration to have support from a skilled outsourcing provider that can meet these needs in a customized way.
Agent performance optimization is an ongoing pursuit for customer service. Consequently, having the support to bridge the gap for collections expertise can be crucial to increased cash flow that strengthens the business and the bottom line.
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