How can I measure productivity to create an effective customer service department?

November 22, 2018

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Q. (cont.) 

Our department has a customer service person. She responds to vendor phone calls and emails. She also, reconciles statements and sorts through our mail. We receive complaints that our customer service clerk doesn’t return calls or emails. I am also noticing the statements should look cleaner. This department is a couple of years new and I just recently took it over. There is not a clear process for her. I am wanting to see change.

A.

From our advisory panelists:

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The only effective way to truly measure is through something reportable, IE a CRM (Microsoft Dynamics, for instance). What I’ve seen over the last several years is a reduction in AP phone lines and an increase in monitoring SLAs. Reduced folks on the phones equates to a substantial increase in production, allowing one clerk/specialist, etc to manage more emails/tickets allowing a reduction in SLA to meet customer needs. That’s the model we’re moving to after we identified this trend late last year.

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We are going to a ticket software. We do have an SLA on our emails (3 business days). My customer service team (for good or bad) has really become a catch all area.

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We have a program called ‘Cross-Functional Training’ that focuses on internal customer service. Any of AP's internal customers can take the program. When people come into our department, we introduce the participants to our staff and have a fun ‘ice breaker’ to get everyone comfortable. We also provide light refreshments such as cookies, juice, and bottled water.

The program usually lasts about two hours. There is a power point presentation and handouts are distributed to the attendees. Topics covered include the following:

  • What happens to invoices when AP receives them
  • How AP enters invoices for processing
  • How AP’s check run processing works
  • What procedures are used for supplier setup, including the information that is required for the supplier profiles and the forms that are needed for vendor management
  • How AP handles checks that are received or returned from vendors
  • What compliance procedures and internal controls are practiced in AP
  • What reports are run on a daily basis, such as duplicate reports, withholding exceptions, and voucher build errors
  • What check dissemination procedures are in place
  • How AP serves the entire company

We tailor the content to the interests and time constraints of the attendees. For example, if we have several people attending from purchasing, we might spend more time discussing purchase orders. We invite participants to ask questions and keep the program fun and engaging.

AP has received a great deal of positive feedback from its internal customers who have taken the program. The bonus is that AP also receives constructive criticism as to how to improve the program.

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Check out this customer service survey on the AP & P2P Network: https://www.theaccountspayablenetwork.com/best-practices/benchmarking/results/benchmarks-accounts-payable-customer-service

It should be helpful! The study discusses the biggest challenges in the area of providing good customer service and also offers benchmarks in the following areas:

  • Quality of Customer Service
  • Customer Service Surveys
  • Common Customer Complaints
  • FTEs in Customer Service
  • Telephone Calls
  • Emails
  • Resolution Times
  • Web Portals
  • Intranet Site
  • Staff Training
  • Communicating with Internal Customers

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This is definitely a fine line in this day of electronic ordering. Most AP customer service teams are now becoming the "First Face To The Customer." If you have a metric that says calls must be answered in less than two minutes, for example, they may be rushed, not hear what the customer was actually saying and, most importantly, will not ask if there are any other invoices in the queue that they could discuss.

Also, they probably would not take the time to suggest solutions to why the invoice was delayed and not paid on time. For instance: Was the invoice sent directly to AP? Did it have a PO number? Could the invoice and payment be set up to be sent electronically? This approach takes longer in the beginning but has major pay offs. So you need to identify what the expectation is of your customer service team.

The best way to determine if the CS team is doing their job is to audit them as follows:

a. Listen in to calls when they don't know you are listening.

b. Survey internal and external customers. The best survey is one that is sent to folks who are calling into the team. This survey takes just minutes to complete if you prepare four well-thought-out questions. In my operation, I used a simple two-question approach: If you had an opening on your customer service team, would you hire this representative? Why?

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Two years ago, I broke out a customer service team from the rest of the team. I put people on the team who showed the skills needed for that role. The team is responsible for all phone calls and emails (soon to be tickets through a ticketing software), returned checks, and statements. I measure their productivity with phone reports that measure how many calls they took and how long they are on the phone. When we go live with the ticketing software, I will be measuring the tickets closed by each rep. Breaking out a separate team for CS has proven to be highly effective for us.

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