Addition of Technology and Teamwork Transforms AWP’s AR
Customer Service is traditionally the pinnacle of a client’s interaction with a company. Billing is traditionally a pain point. So, what happens when you combine the two?
That’s the question Tammy Evans, VP of Quality & Organizational Excellence, asked when she found herself newly in charge of the Billing, Accounts Receivable, and Collections at AWP.
Historically, AWP’s Billing Analysts were responsible for multiple accounts within a specific region, while payment collection and communications involving disputed or unpaid invoices were passed to a separate team of Collections Specialists. There was minimal interaction between the groups, which led to issues in the daily flow and gaps in information.
“The strained communications both internally and externally, led to low confidence in the system and a growing pile of past-due invoices. We recognized that our processes needed reworking to improve the Customer Experience,” Evans said.
Evans engaged her team of nearly 40 women to brainstorm potential solutions, and together, they came up with a new way to serve customers through department restructuring, results-driven communications, team building and improved automation processes.
Restructuring the Department to Empower the Account Specialist Role
“All Billing Analysts transitioned to Customer Relations Account Specialists and are assigned to customers from the first invoice to final collection,” Evans says. “Customer accounts that were previously divided by region are now handled by one Specialist to reduce confusion.”
With a more logical division of accounts, Specialists now build stronger relationships with their Accounts Payable counterparts and more efficiently present invoices to customers.
Celebrating Successes to Encourage Results
With the change in account ownership comes a renewed drive to own and celebrate results and improvements in relationships.
Now, the Specialist’s integrated approach enables close account management and accountability as well as close collaboration during daily team Zoom meetings to celebrate wins or share results.
“We recognize achievements openly on our calls no matter how big or small,” says Courtney Sabolek, the team’s new Director of Customer Relations. “If we identify an account that might need extra attention, we collaborate on our daily call to find a solution as a team.”
Strengthening the Team to Improve Collaboration
To help strengthen results further, department leaders emphasized team building and collaboration between members.
While the team’s size posed a challenge initially, McCullough presented the idea of forming “pods” within the department, groups of 5 or 6 Specialists who can quickly collaborate with each other to solve problems with accounts. It’s also a great tool to help train and integrate new team members.
“As a new person, it’s easier to approach a colleague with a question instead of a manager,” says Sue Kirby, Customer Service Account Specialist, and pod leader. “It also helps relieve some of the pressure on leadership so they can focus on bigger projects.”
Automating Daily Processes to Increase Productivity
Restructuring the team wasn’t the only change to help build customer relationships. With many day-to-day tasks still a manual process, AWP’s IT department offered new technologies to help automate routines.
“Our new automation technology is the second-largest contributor to the improved customer experience,” Wilhelm says. “Now it takes half of the manpower to do simple tasks like presenting invoices and applying payments, so we can focus more on customers and what their needs are.”
It’s taken a lot of work to get the team to where they are today, but the results are undeniable.
And they aren’t done yet. In the coming year, Evans and team plan to automate even more processes through Salesforce to not only reduce human error in data entry but also continue to increase the time Specialists have available to directly communicate with their customers.
“At the end of the day, we are here to serve our customers,” Evans says. “If there’s anything we can do to make that service faster, more accurate or more convenient, we’ll make it happen.”