When providing support to customers, it doesn’t take a big problem to create a big frustration. Whatever the level of severity or criticality of the issue, regardless of your meeting the platinum/gold/silver/copper/tin SLA service plan the customer may have subscribed to, the way you take their request into consideration and communicate with them until resolution, the empathy you demonstrate, will have a long-lasting effect on their perception of your brand and could make the difference between a win and a churn come contract renewal season.
Fast forward to the invoicing and cash collection phase: managing the customer relationship gets even trickier for your Credit Management Department: you’re now the one asking for an action from the customer: payment.
If your invoices are overdue, it is probably because something went wrong upstream, still undetected or unproperly handled by traditional customer care. The path to resolution could be complex, involving other stakeholders than the financial teams, both on your side and within your customer. The customer could be of more or less bad faith. Anyhow, whatever your actual responsibility, this stage is still part of your customer overall experience with your company.
However, if not all companies pay proper attention to traditional customer care, fewer still meet the mark when it comes to managing customer relationship at the invoice payment stage. Financial support functions are rarely considered a high priority, all the more so for supposedly no-brainer collection processes. Agents are supposed to be here to mostly push standard dunning letters to customers and answer customers most basic enquiries. There’s precious little time left for qualifying disputes, identifying the internal stakeholder(s) in charge of resolution and formalizing a response, let alone calling up the customer to give a courteous explanation or apologies. When the number of disputes raises ever so slightly, the process becomes jammed and, by the time a solution to the problem is found, the invoices are long overdue…
From the customers point of view, it looks at best as an organizational mess, at worse as a refusal to take into account what they think are legitimate claims.
Is Artificial Intelligence reinventing Customer Service?
With the advent of Artificial Intelligence, this state of things is up for a full revision. Time-consuming yet mundane tasks can be automated while support and collection agents can now be dedicated to personalized, human-to-human communication with the customer.
Upon receiving a customer requests, support teams roughly follow the same 4 steps:
- Identify customer account and send back acknowledgement
- Qualify and assign request to the right resolver(s)
- Track the case status with resolver(s) and keep the customer informed of progress being made
- Communicate resolution and close case
Steps 1 and 2 may eat up to a third of a care agent worktime, because customers often forget to provide their account number and understanding the nature of the request takes time. But by training a Machine Learning algorithm on an existing database of customer emails, it is now possible to automate much of those activities, including the sorting into a topic or category. If the raised issue is related to an invoice payment, the machine recognizes the invoice number within the email and can directly present its image to the collection agent. Even the tone of the email message can be gauged through ‘sentiment’ analysis algorithms and help prioritize emails.
Step 3 is also time-consuming since messages about the case may be scattered over several stakeholders and thus uneasy to access for the Care Agent. There also, it is now possible to automatically parse all emails received or send, externally or internally, to find those that refers to the same case and consolidate all documentation in a single place. The care or collection agent thus benefits from a quick access to what has been going on and easily provide update to the customer.
Replace customer satisfaction at the center of the relationship
By the time the case reaches step 4 to communicate that the case has been solved, the agent will have several customer contact opportunities to update them about status. This is when your organization should really shine, showing that you care about their problems, explaining what you do to solve them, comforting them.
The time saved by Artificial Intelligence automation on the previous steps means that the care agent has now much more time to do what they ought to do best: caring.
We all know what it cost to acquire a new customer. You don’t want to see your Net Promoter Score collapse or, worse, compromise your contractual negotiation because of a handful of issues which were left unattended or, still worse, because your Customer Care team was too busy shuffling incoming emails to spend 5 minutes on the phone with the customer to show you’re paying attention. It is not the least of paradox that Artificial Intelligence saves time for us to show more of this very human quality: empathy.