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Using a Help Desk to Improve AP Customer Support

Introduction

Segmenting Accounts Payable work activities to identify those that would be best supported by a call center or help desk has been a design element for the majority of Shared Services organizations, with resulting benefits including improved visibility to problems and issues, and higher levels of satisfaction from internal customers and external suppliers.   However, like any significant process change, getting the design right can be challenging, and attempting to implement by changing the process flows only, without supporting software solutions, in some cases may result in new issues that do not clearly outweigh the benefits.

With many different designs and supporting software solutions available, even if you have already implemented, there can be significant benefit to knowing how leading peers tackled the challenge of managing the Accounts Payable customer inquiry process.

Company Experience

During a recent Peeriosity PeercastTM, a global services company with over $10B in annual revenue discussed their approach to implementing a global help desk solution in 2015, with details about why they implemented and their experiences and lessons learned.  Prior to implementing a help desk strategy Accounts Payable was performed at captive service centers in North America and Argentina, and an outsource service provider in India, using the following design:

  • Accounts Payable inquiries were managed by email
  • Inquiries were answered based on the geographic location and the business unit supported, with no standard process across business units or between locations
  • There was limited visibility to the number of inquiries in process, or the status of the inquiries
  • No tracking or reporting of inquiry performance took place until the issue became critical, with unresolved issues escalated to senior management

As a key part of their initiative to improve this process, a web-based solution from Service Now was implemented that provided global access, using a resource that was already being used for internal IT service requests.  Using three email addresses, inbound emails create a case identification number, with the case routed to the appropriate help desk based on the incoming email address.  The solution includes three tiers of escalation support that are prompted either by key words, or by a delay in resolution.

Benefits of the new help desk design cited include:

  • A structured approach provides visibility to issues before they become critical
  • An increase in customer satisfaction (internal customers and suppliers)
  • Senior management no longer needs to step in to resolve issues
  • Eliminated a lot of duplication of work effort by efficiently routing cases for resolution
  • Excellent reporting and dashboards highlight performance for a process that used to be largely invisible with poor controls

Lessons learned included creating case templates, adding the ability to quickly close cases without having to fully evaluate the issue (based on user judgment), and adding the original email to the case notification so that each person who touches a case benefits from having all the available information, if needed.

iPollingTM Results Review

A supporting Peeriosity poll created using the iPollingTM technology provides additional insight by exploring a range of member company experiences with call centers or help desks for Accounts Payable.  The results indicate that 79% of member companies have made a decision about whether or not to use a call center or help desk in Accounts Payable, with 74% saying “Yes” and 5% indicating that they attempted to implement, but they were not successful. The balance of companies (22%) are currently either considering the opportunity (5%) or have not yet evaluated it (16%).

When examining the level of satisfaction experience by the 69% of the companies who have implemented, 21% indicated that they are “Very Satisfied – This was a good move for us” with an additional 72% who indicated they are “Satisfied – The benefits outweigh the issues”.  Here are the details:

Poll comments from Peeriosity members on this topic include:

  • In North America, we have an inquiry team that is staffed by our offshore business partner and they field AP-related questions. I marked Satisfied, although I could easily argue Indifferent. My challenges revolve around the accuracy of answers and trying to drive improvements to the process so we’re not answering the same questions every month. At the end of the day, the inquiry team is a resource for our vendors that is being improved with regular monitoring and the appropriate KPIs.
  • We have a very basic call center design. We respond to emails and calls, but the calls are not tracked. Emails are tracked by conversation. We’ve had a few complaints, as a few vendors want a person they can talk to all the time. They can leave a message and my team responds back within 24 hours.

Closing Summary

The move to Shared Services provides new opportunities, including increasing the volume of transactions to the point where there is sufficient scale to support the implementation of technology solutions that would otherwise be cost prohibitive.  Like any implementation, it is important to pay attention to the design of underlying work processes, and not rely only on the strength of new software to achieve improved performance.  When it comes to help desk and call center designs for Accounts Payable, while most have implemented, only one in five report that the are “Very Satisfied”.  Getting it right requires attention to the details of process design, and most importantly, focusing the analysis of why inquiries happen to fix the underlying causes.

Rather than tackle the challenges in isolation, many of the world’s leading companies are openly sharing insights for how to best approach specific issues and challenges, with the idea that everyone can benefit from the lessons learned via the actual experiences of peers.   Once you have insight to the approaches of peers, with the opportunity to discuss specifics, many challenges can be easily overcome.

What is the status of implementing an Accounts Payable call center or help desk at your company?  If you have implemented, how satisfied are you with the results?

Who are your peers and how are you collaborating with them?

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“PeercastsTM” are private, professionally facilitated webcasts that feature leading member company experiences on specific topics as a catalyst for broader discussion.  Access is available exclusively to Peeriosity member company employees, with consultants or vendors prohibited from attending or accessing discussion content.  Members can see who is registered to attend in advance, with discussion recordings, supporting polls, and presentation materials online and available whenever convenient for the member.  Using Peeriosity’s integrated email system, Peer MailTM, attendees can easily communicate at any time with other attending peers by selecting them from the list of registered attendees. 

 “iPollingTM” is available exclusively to Peeriosity member company employees, with consultants or vendors prohibited from participating or accessing content. Members have full visibility to all respondents and their comments. Using Peeriosity’s integrated email system, Peer MailTM, members can easily communicate at any time with others who participated in iPolling.

Peeriosity members are invited to log into www.peeriosity.com to join the discussion and connect with Peers.   Membership is for practitioners only, with no consultants or vendors permitted.  To learn more about Peeriosity, click here



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