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Can a Vendor Self-Service Portal Serve?

The latest vendor service survey by InvoiceInfo asks: Can an online vendor self-service portal provide the same or better vendor service answering invoice inquiries as manually responding to calls, emails and faxes?

For some, this question requires conjecture. If you do not have experience with a vendor portal, then you must speculate. Others — 12 percent of organizations, according to the survey — actually have a vendor self-service portal, so they can answer based on actual experience.

So what did the responses look like? Better than two-thirds say yes, an online vendor self-service portal provides the same or better service than “manual” responses by AP to phone calls, emails or faxes.

Still, 32 percent say no. That’s almost one in three that thinks not. Why not? Perhaps they’re thinking about the importance of the “personal touch.” That sounds like a reasonable concern. But personal touch may not always be preferable.

For certain medical checkup procedures, one might wish for an alternative to a personal touch, but let’s not go there! Consider your personal banking instead. Sometimes you may have a need or want to do something and you really want to handle it in person. But most of the time you just want to check your balance, transfer funds or deposit a check, and you are just as glad not to need to see a live teller. You hop online wherever you are and take care of those kinds of activities quickly and easily, in a matter of seconds! No skipping lunch, getting in the car, driving to the bank and then waiting to see a teller or an officer.

Having a self-service vendor portal is a lot like online banking. Vendors have several questions for accounts payable, and occasionally they might really want to talk to a person about an issue. But more often, they just want to know something simple but important to them. And they would prefer not to spend a lot of time finding out.

The four most frequently asked vendor questions according to survey responses are these:

  • Has my invoice been paid?
  • When will my invoice be paid?
  • What is/was the check payment number?
  • Has my invoice been received?

The answers to all these questions are in the AP system. There are just a few ways for a vendor to get those answers.

One is for the vendor to call accounts payable and either ask someone or leave a message. Then the AP person has to look it up, and then call back the vendor with the answer.

Another way is for the vendor to email AP. AP then looks up the answer and emails back. Or a vendor can fax you their questions (for recent college grads, a fax is a … oh, never mind).

Yet another way vendors get answers to their invoice status questions is to call the purchaser. Then the purchaser contacts AP and waits for AP to get back with them before communicating the invoice status to the vendor (taking even more staff time).

With any of these ways, there’s waiting involved, and there is an AP staffer’s time involved (including the “cost of interruption”).

With a vendor self-service portal, however, a vendor is empowered to go to an online URL, enter a query, and — BOOM — get an answer!

For questions like those above, which make up a vast majority of vendor queries, a portal provides convenience and speed that far surpasses the service provided “manually” via an AP staff person. That “personal” touch necessarily requires a delay in the vendor obtaining an answer.

Our expectations in the digital age are different because the digital age delivers convenience and speed like never before. It’s true in things like personal banking. It’s true with vendor self-service portals. Portals offer a high degree of service for most vendors’ questions. That has got to be preferable to the waiting necessary for manual responses.

So yes, a vendor self-service portal can serve and serve well.

If you’d like to know more about managing AP vendor service, click here to learn more about how InvoiceInfo and VendorInfo self-service portals can benefit your operations. You can also call (678) 335-5735.

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