Tag Archives: business processes

Should we view Artificial Intelligence (AI) as the evil robotic mind that has prompted an inflated cause for concern when it comes to thinking about job security becoming under threat?

As we see increased thoughts towards the adoption of autonomous vehicles, delivery of goods via drones, chatbots taking fast food orders, immersive technology such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), then should we be concerned for the future of the job roles that we currently have and the security of the future workforce?

We increasingly hear that the next industrial revolution of robotic process automation, machine learning, and AI is upon us and with this in mind, a certain amount fear, uncertainty and doubt seems to have set in. Just as history has shown with the very first industrial revolution, many people initially opposed this change due to the fear of large-scale manufacturing leading to the deskilling and replacement of the workforce.

Of course, some work practices were replaced and lower quality items initially produced but for the large majority, it actually meant a surge in workforce employment and improved practices to supply the increased demand for goods. In fact, one study from Gartner Research states that while 1.8 million jobs will be lost by 2020, 2.3 million new ones will be created.

So, we should probably embrace the new industrial revolution and view it as a positive step towards improving our work and lifestyles yet further. Yes, there may well be some short-term implications concerning job replacement but in the end, the impact will be minimal just as it was with the first industrial revolution.

Therefore, following our own philosophy at Esker, whereby we embrace technological advancements such as AI to enhance the way our customers can go beyond business as usual, we have been pleasantly reassured to continue our investment in the development of such solutions.

For example, one area in which we help organisations to improve their business practices through these technological advancements is the processing of incoming customer orders. When an order arrives in the system, the data is automatically extracted with machine learning and any exceptions are flagged for review. Approvals are then made through an automated workflow with accurate order data integrated into the ERP system. A copy is then archived for a complete electronic audit trail. Custom dashboards display data like the number of open issues or processing time, while a customer portal allows for orders to be placed from an online catalogue and for staff to quickly communicate with customers.

This allows benefits to be quickly realised, such as increasing the accuracy and efficiency of the processed data as well as improving the visibility of the workload. The result of these benefits does not diminish the skills of the workforce as perhaps perceived but actually enables them to allocate more time to assisting customers and providing a better overall customer experience.

With this, plus the various seminars and events I’ve attended over the past few months, I have been further reassured that this new era is not the apocalyptic end to the way we do business and won’t see humans being the puppets on the strings of a far superior robotic mind intent on taking over the world!

The fact is that technological advancements should be embraced and be viewed as a positive move towards enhancing our current working practices, improving the business world and making our lives even more positively interconnected to reap the rewards it will bring.

Written by Sam Townsend – Esker Head of Marketing, Northern Europe

Today’s a Good Day for Automation

Most companies face a wait time receiving customer payments that could range anywhere from 30 to 90 days to even longer. Payment delays not only cause anxiety for the collections management team, but they impact your cash flow. The bottom line is simple — the more quickly you collect your accounts receivable (AR), the better your cash flow situation will be.

You have undoubtedly heard about or have automated certain business processes already. By automating wherever possible, you’re looking where you can leverage technology to compliment your existing ERP or finance solution, and reduce labor-intensive administrative tasks, thus operating much more efficiently in the process. AR automation transfers invoicing to a digital process, sets you up to receive multiple forms of payment, handles what is usually labor-intensive deductions, accurately applies cash, and captures and prioritises collections efforts. In addition, AR automation allows you to:

  • Create customer invoices based on your company’s data or simply upload an ERP created file of invoice PDFs to send and track electronically or via postal mail
  • Send automated reminders for payment

Finally, AR automation also supports numerous types of collections strategies and is set up for internal collectors based on the collections rules and approach unique to your company.

The benefits of AR automation are numerous and impossible to ignore after you have experienced them firsthand. Here are the main reasons to consider implementing this year:

  1. Faster Payments
    If you’re accustomed to dealing with clients who tend to pay your invoices at their leisure, then you’re not alone. This is just one of many reasons to consider automating your AR processes as soon as possible. The enormous benefit of automation is that e-invoices are made available for customers to pay immediately. This eliminates delays in payment that might have previously been common. AR automation can help you speed up your invoicing so you get faster payment.
  1. Improved Customer Experience
    A benefit of AR automation is an enhanced customer experience. Your team is better able to focus on more strategic and detail-oriented tasks. When it comes to AR-related customer data, you know the more you can do to merge things for greater visibility, the better customer service you can provide. When it comes to inaccurate invoices or collections issues, AR automation technology allows you to quickly address any issues that may arise. By implementing technology in your AR processes, you are giving yourself a valuable tool that allows you to provide stronger customer service. Because of this enhanced customer experience, you can expect improved customer retention and a decrease in customer service-related problems.
  1. Cost Savings
    Studies have shown that e-invoicing saves approximately $8 per invoice sent. This cost reduction might come as a surprise. However, the decrease reflects cost savings in several areas, such as postage costs, manual handling of paper invoices, cost of paper, envelopes, and equipment used in the printing and posting process. By implementing invoice delivery automation, your company can cut costs where you never could before. In time, the sizeable cost savings will be worthwhile to leverage technology to your benefit.
  1. More Control & Visibility
    Another benefit of AR automation is the added control and visibility you and your team will gain. Invoicing and international e-invoice compliance, automated payment reminders, online customer payment, automatic cash application, collectors outreach and workflow, and capturing dispute reasons are just a few of the AR automation functions that allow real-time visibility and reporting. Improved visibility provides insight you and your team can act on.

You may still have reservations about making the switch. The manual processes you’ve always known feel comfortable and familiar. Change can sometimes be scary. Look at automation technology as something that can easily be adapted to your business needs. Opt for software that’s simple, intuitive and closely matches how you already do business. Consider automating your AR and collections process — it’s a more predictable and repetitive sequence of activities that provides benefits from end to end.

Be Your Own Field Guide: How to Identify and Cure the Top 5 Pains in Your Accounts Payable Team

Being raised by parents who were nature enthusiasts, our house never had a shortage of books or magazines about the great outdoors. National GeographicOutdoor Life, Mother Earth News — you name it, we had it lying around.

One book that I’ll always remember was the Birds of Wisconsin Field Guide. Admittedly, I never paid much attention to it growing up — I was more of a reptile kid myself — but to my parents, it was their ornithological bible. They used it as a guide to distinguish similar looking species, attract more of their feathered favorites, and even dissuade “bad birds” from making their home in our backyard.

Wouldn’t it be great if those in accounts payable (AP) management roles had a similar guide?

As different as birding and managing an AP department is, both passions could benefit from a resource helping them to avoid the bad and maximize the good.

Top 5 Pains Ailing Your Accounts Payable Team

While AP management doesn’t need to be lectured on how to run a successful department, it’s never a bad idea to stay informed on solutions that can fix pain points in a traditional AP process. With that in mind, use the field notes below to guide you in navigating your AP landscape.

First up, the top 5 pains affecting today’s AP management teams:

  • Manual data entry. With the laundry list of side effects contributed to this top pain, it’s shocking that it remains so prevalent in companies. Each moment your educated AP staff has to spend manually entering data before an invoice can be approved represents lost value for your business. Avoid at all costs.
  • Getting approval. Ah yes, the waiting game that no one ever seems to win. In a manual environment, supplier invoices often get routed for approval only to sit in a state of limbo on someone’s desk or email inbox, slowing the payment cycle down to a crawl. And do you know who passes their competition by crawling? Nobody.
  • Erroneous invoices. Exceptions happen, but that doesn’t mean they should be accepted with no questions asked. Research by Ardent Partners revealed that 17.8% of supplier invoices cause exceptions in a “typical” company, while best-in-class companies average 9.8% exceptions — a stark contrast considering the major impact errors have on AP efficiency.
  • Late payments and missed discounts. These are the worst. Not only does it have the obvious potential of damaging important supplier relationships, forming a habit of late payments makes it impossible for your team to run at peak efficiency.
  • Lots of tracking and reporting. According to the Institute of Finance & Management, only 15% of AP departments currently track their metrics with technology like dashboards that display data. So then how do they do it then? Manually, which makes it harder for staffers to prioritize tasks, managers to measure team performance, and finance executives to get the cash flow visibility they need.

How AP Automation Cures All

Don’t get overwhelmed. After going through all those pains faced by AP teams, fixing them can seem daunting. Nope … not if you’ve got the proper guidance to spot a good solution when you see one. Something like the Birds of Wisconsin Field Guide, but for AP.

And you don’t even have to look far. We’ll be that guide and show you why automation is the single solution to cure your AP woes.

How can one solution put an end to so many problems? It enables businesses to streamline their entire workflow process — from the capture and extraction of invoice data to automatic dispatching for approval to customizable dashboards displaying key metrics. The benefits truly span the entire invoice settlement process and positively impact every user.

Instead of worrying about pains, you can start profiting from:

  • Reduced overall costs
  • Improved supplier satisfaction
  • Increased payment discounts
  • Enhanced reporting and analytics
  • Accelerated payment cycle times
  • Eliminated duplicate payments
  • Strengthened credit rating
  • Greater support for regulatory compliance

AP Field Guide: How to Treat the Top 5 Pains in Your AP Team

[INFOGRAPHIC] SIT BACK AND RELAX WITH THE PERFECT AP PROCESS

If you’re looking for a way to improve productivity, financial management, and overall AP performance, kick back and sip on this perfect AP cocktail.  Afterwards, have a look at our AP Buyer’s Guide and discover the 15 key questions to ask when scoping out an automation solution for vendor invoice processing.

Trek Bicycle Reduces DSO Thanks to Esker’s Global Collections Management Solution

Sydney, Australia — April 10, 2018 — Esker, a worldwide leader in document process automation solutions and pioneer in cloud computing, today announced that Trek Bicycle, the largest bicycle company in the United States, has automated its global collections management process using Esker’s cloud-based solution powered by TermSync technology. The initiative went live in March 2017 and is currently being released to Trek customers in Europe and the United Kingdom. 

Trek has 16 international distribution centers and 5,000 independent bicycle dealers around the world, with 60 percent of its business coming from abroad. With Esker, the company finally has a global collections management solution, utilised by 32 collectors in 18 offices worldwide, to streamline critical accounts receivable (AR) activities such as payment reminders, account lookups, call logging, customer portal payments, collections forecasting, root-cause analysis and task management collaboration.

“We didn’t have a standardised collections tool before Esker,” said Andrew St Clair, global director of financial services at Trek Bicycle. “Everyday tasks, like sending reminder letters, were all done manually. We made it work, but there was no real consistency in our process. It was crucial that we had a true global solution and the other credit and collections vendors just didn’t have Esker’s international expertise.”

In an effort to meet its customer’s needs, Esker partnered closely with Trek to translate the interface into 14 different languages and even helpedin the design of a more user-friendly statement to send to customers. “Our worldwide rollout was a huge deal, and Esker kept up with us every step of the way,” added St Clair. “It was a true partnership.”

Benefits of automated collections management

Following the implementation of Esker, Trek has achieved numerous benefits, including:

  1. Reduced past-due percentage by 4 percent
  2. Reduced Days Sales Outstanding (DSO)
  3. Improved collaboration — users can now go into
    dashboards have helped in my day-to-day work, giving me access to indicators that greatly facilitate my daily monitoring.”
  4. Enhanced visibility — customisable monthly management reports can be accessed directly from the dashboard
  5. Increased productivity — several staff members were able to be reallocated to more business-critical positons
  6. Higher satisfaction — customers now have access to a self-service portal to make payments, manage preferences and more

“The discipline that Esker drives in the credit and collections process is phenomenal,” said St Clair. “In my 20-plus years, it’s the best product I’ve ever used based on its simplicity and ease of navigating. Esker has been extremely well-received within the walls of Trek and even with our customers. Everything we thought we were doing right before … Esker’s simply made it better.”

About Trek Bicycle

Trek Bicycle is a global leader in the design and manufacture of bicycles and bicycling-related products and accessories. From Tour de France-winning road bikes to tricycles designed to introduce the next generation of riders to the possibilities of pedal-power, Trek has a bike for nearly every rider. Trek believes the bicycle can be a simple solution to many of the world’s most complex problems, including obesity, traffic congestion, and climate change, and is committed to breaking down the barriers that prevent people from using bicycles more often for daily transportation, recreation, and inspiration.

Debunking the Myths of Sales Order Processing Automation

“We are already automated” is a common phrase many manufacturers and suppliers say consistently when I first start talking with them. At first, I was blown away by how quickly so many companies were adapting to this new digital order processing technology, but as conversations continued this proved to be incorrect.

For many organizations, being automated refers to back-end processes once a sales order is entered into the ERP system. For example: sending out a confirmation email with ship date, determining if a customer is in good standing with credit, ensuring stock is available, etc.

While it’s fantastic to have as much automated as you can on the back end, what about the front end? Would it be useful to have your orders automatically routed to the right person and no longer have to print or file them away? What improvements could come from customer service if they no longer had to manually key in all those sales orders that come in each day? Would it help supply chain performance if they had full visibility to all orders before they got into your ERP?

Some companies think they are automated because they use EDI. At face value, this makes sense. The EDI order comes in, seamlessly feeds into your ERP (i.e., no one sees or touches it) and your front end is 100% automated — awesome! Unfortunately, this is essentially a myth all of its own.

Companies can’t get 100% of their customers to send in EDI orders. There will always be those customers who prefer email or even fax. Even for those customers who are willing to send in EDI orders, it’s practically an IT project to simply get each customer onboarded; even then, companies typically still need to “touch” some of the EDI orders because they fail out. Also, for many organizations, it’s left up to IT and their already-strained resources to determine why the EDI order failed.

So … just how automated are you with EDI? For each company the answer will be different but, regardless, you will still have some fax and email orders coming in, and you will still have to manually touch at least some of the EDI orders. Could it be helpful to have a solution that can take in EDI exceptions, flip them into a human-readable format, and allow customer service to fix and handle the EDI errors? What if IT no longer had to onboard new EDI customers — could this be beneficial?

A funny thing happened as all these questions were being asked. Organizations who thought they were very well automated started realizing there were still many manual touch points in their process in need of automation. As digital order processing technology continues to advance, it now offers organizations the opportunity to revolutionize their customer service teams while, at the same time, removing the burden of EDI away from IT.

So, the next time someone brings up sales order processing automation, don’t be afraid to dig below the surface, you may be surprised just how helpful a solution like this could be.

You’re Trying to Manage What With Your Email System?

automated business process

3,352

That’s how many messages currently reside in my inbox at the start of this blog. I am not ashamed nor proud of this stat, but it’s a fact. I’m envious of those that can manage their mailbox like it’s a task or to-do list but, as much as I’ve tried, this simply hasn’t worked for me for a variety of reasons. And I know I’m not alone in this.

Many strategies have evolved over the years for me to efficiently find and manage my inbox. Key word in that last sentence…evolved.

New technology is great, but as it becomes more established in our everyday lives, both personally and professionally, it can morph into a solution it was never intended to address.

Email is not a workflow tool, business automation or document repository.

Organizations have come to me to optimize a variety of business processes that currently reside in their email system…sales order management, help desk tickets, master data requests, invoice approval, customer issue resolution — the list goes on and on.

Regardless of the process, where’s the visibility? Who has it, when did they receive it, what is the status, where does it need to go to next, how long did it take and why isn’t it completed?

No matter what industry you are in or department you report to you probably have encountered something similar.

As more and more emails are received, the potential for information being lost, misplaced, accidentally deleted, or unintentionally ignored increases.

This post is not a magic pill that is going to solve your overwhelming inbox. It is simply a statement that there are many great tools developed to help streamline business processes such as:

  • Accounts Payable Automation
    Allows businesses to eliminate the manual pains of traditional AP invoice processing thanks to intelligent capture, touchless processing and electronic workflow capabilities. The end result? A simpler, more efficient way to manage cash flow and generate new revenue.
  • Order Processing Automation
    Automation with workflow tools, customizable dashboards and self-service portals allowing customer service leaders to bring accuracy and security to every order processed and can eliminate backlogs from one day to the next.
  • Accounts Receivable Automation
    Completely automates the sending and archiving of invoices according to customer preferences and regardless of media type – postal mail, fax, email, EDI and publication on a web portal.

Now, it’s just a matter of doing your research to find the right automation tool for what you are trying to manage that best suits your organization’s requirements.

3,361…time to get back my email.

How Technology Plays a Role in Order-to-Cash Success

Whether its customers calling in about late shipments or your warehouse accidentally shipping incorrect items, sales order disputes can impact customer satisfaction. Order disputes can arise as a result of several different situations, such as:

  • Price variations of the goods that appear on the order vs. the invoice
  • Sales tax and shipping costs inaccuracies
  • Keystroke errors from manually entering orders
  • Differences in the terms of sale on the PO and the invoice

As a consequence, payment delays occur because customer service teams have to reprocess the orders and exceptions. Customer service is strapped for time as it is, and it’s challenging to take the time needed to adequately review all customer purchase orders for accuracy before processing.

Unfortunately, inaccurate orders result in inaccurate customer billing. If customer service had the time to manually review orders line by line for accuracy, there would be any number of exceptions found (e.g., PO with the wrong price or unacceptable terms and conditions of sale). No matter the exception so begins the tedious task of rejecting or reprocessing the order. Emails back and forth, requests made for an updated order to be re-sent, inventory put on hold, credits applied, verification for price adjustments … and this can go on and on for weeks.

Getting orders entered right the first time shortens the timeline to billing. By streamlining your entire procedure for customer communication, order processing, invoicing, and collecting payment for an order you’ll speed up cash flow, cut costs and serve your customers better in the long run. So, where is this Utopia found?

In the world of inbound customer sales order automation. From having visibility of all received sales orders into a single queue (by email, EDI, fax orders) to automatically extracting data from the document (e.g., customer name, PO number, ship to address, quantity, etc.) and comparing the data against information stored in your ERP, automation provides customer service a streamlined approach to approve orders or handle exceptions.

Technology like sales order automation has a role to play in implementing best-in-class strategies for order-to-cash (O2C) success. No need to avoid new technology from fear of costs, effort or change — these investments are necessary to remain competitive. Order automation can be implemented at a reasonable cost for companies processing as few as 500 orders a month and scalable to handle over 500,000. Speeding up the overall O2C process means speeding up your cash flow, reducing costs and running your business more efficiently overall.

Efficient O2C processes play a large role in the customer experience and company success —  unfortunately, they can be a challenge to attain when you have different teams working towards different goals. Download your copy of this eBook to start creating a positive customer experience with a proactive solution.

 

How to Start Building a Successful Customer Experience Program

By the year 2020, customer experience will overtake price and quality as the key brand differentiator. In other words, brands that don’t work on improving their customer experience will be left behind.

Customer experience is more than a trend or buzzword — it will play a pivotal role in the future of marketing and has an insightful ability to predict where a company will be 5-10 years down the line. What should you be doing, if anything to prepare for this change?

First, what is customer experience?

On a basic level, customer experience (CX) refers to how a customer perceives their interactions with your company. How does your customer feel at every touchpoint they have with you, from marketing to sales to support? CX is ultimately defined by the consumer, which means businesses need to actively adapt and set themselves up to exceed expectations.

Should you be investing in this?

Joe Hanousek, Esker’s Customer Experience Manager, believes that every company needs to be tracking their customer touchpoints and working towards continually improving that process. He often says that: “Seventy percent of senior executives in companies believe that CX is important. In my opinion, the other 30 percent shouldn’t be executives.” So much of the B2B focus is on lead generation instead of improving customer experience, although most people are well aware that it is less expensive to keep existing customers than it is to acquire new ones. Companies mistakenly start looking into customer experience as a last resort once they’re suffering, but customer experience is best as a proactive approach, taken when business is growing versus lagging behind. The graph below shows just how valuable an investment in improving customer experience could be.

How do you begin?

If you’re just getting ready to work on improving customer experience, aim for C-level sponsorship. It won’t go very far unless there are people at the top behind it, so do the research you need to convince someone to back you up. Most executives are aware of the importance of CX, but still aren’t taking active steps to improve upon it. If you haven’t already started in a few years, it’ll be too late.

Next, be sure you’re ready to invest a significant amount of time and human resources into building a solid customer experience program. At Esker, the process took a full year to go from conception to having a Customer Experience manager and a team in place. It’s a good idea to have at least one person fully devoted to customer experience and multiple people from different departments committed to being a part of the CX improvement process; otherwise, CX can easily become a task that is swept away on an already busy to-do list. This will also depend on executive buy-in, as far as whether the need to have a customer experience manager or team is understood.

Finally, it is important to communicate the goals of the customer experience program throughout the organizationEveryone should be on board and kept up to date. As Joe puts it: “It’s not C-Level people or managers that make customer experience better — it’s the staff working directly with them.” Educate, train and update all those who interact with customers at any level on what needs to be done to improve those important touchpoints.

The beginning stages of our customer experience journey.

Joe’s biggest recommendation for those starting to work in CX? Change your perspective. “It is not an area for problem customers to go to, but rather a way to prevent customers from ever having the problem in the first place,” he explained. As staff focus on offering solutions to immediate problems, the CX team should be looking into why those problems happened in the first place, and if there is anything that could be done to fix that.

Customer experience goes beyond customer satisfaction or happiness. A successful customer experience program will work to prevent problems before they arise, delighting your clients past the point of mere satisfaction. CX has become more of a trend in the past two years, but it is definitely here to stay for the long haul. If you have any questions about the process we went through to build our customer experience program at Esker, or about customer experience in general, leave a comment below and we will respond to you!

eCommerce and the Digital Journey

With spending 15 years of my career in the eCommerce space, I’ve learned a lot along the way. One thing that has stuck with me is no matter how much a company believes the business case that this is going to be the only solution they need, you can’t force it.

You see, there is another entity involved that the company doesn’t control — its customers. For example, one of my chemical industry clients created a whole eCommerce site to sell its low-margin products. If a customer wanted that product they would have to buy through that portal. Other companies create significant campaigns to transition their customers to eCommerce, highlighting the benefits to the customer and offering discounts if they buy from their site. All of these are legitimate strategies, because, in today’s world, an eCommerce channel is a must.

The problem is an eCommerce channel is not going to work for all customers. Some of them are large, drive a majority of revenue, and want to buy through EDI so that the systems can talk to each other with no human intervention. Other customers have ERP systems that are spitting out their POs and they don’t want to re-key orders, or upload a spreadsheet to a website. Some industries have customers that don’t have the capabilities, nor do they want to deviate from what’s been working during the course of their relationship with you: sending their orders via email or fax (yes, there is still a lot of faxing going on).

Digital transformation usually begins with EDI and eCommerce sites, but it doesn’t end there. If neither of those channels work, email and fax orders can be placed into your ERP after validation checks for accuracy — all without manual intervention. This gives companies cross-departmental visibility to everything in the order pipeline, the ability to easily measure KPIs, and the actionable intelligence necessary to address priorities or concerns in real-time before they become big issues.

In today’s world, the customer experience is king. Figuring out how to efficiently cater to them is every companies’ challenge. Sometimes the easiest paths are overlooked for those more glamorous. It reminds me of a song I learned in Girl Scouts that says “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” Every channel is important in its own way and can co-exist to provide a truly exceptional approach to business.