Industry News | July 23, 2013

Key Change Will Boost Use of Vendor Portals

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For restaurant vendors, online portals provide their customers an easy outlet to ask questions, voice disputes, or simply pay invoices. The problem is vendors aren’t realizing the return on their investment because the restaurants they work with simply aren’t using the portals.

 

This has been confirmed by a new study of the restaurant industry's payment habits by post-sale customer relationship management firm TermSync. The study of the post sale relationship between restaurants and their vendors revealed that while most restaurant owners are aware of the portal option, they still are not using online portals to manage their invoices. However, if these portals were reconfigured to include multiple vendors in one place, those same restaurant owners would be much more likely to interact with vendors through them.

 

Small Business Owners Claim to Want Portals Yet They Do Not Use Them

 

According to the study, 70 percent of restaurant owners are aware that they have the ability to pay their invoices or ask questions online for certain vendors. But when these same owners have a question regarding an invoice, just three percent said they would log in to their vendor’s online portal to contact the company. This is surprising considering a recent Forrester report found that 72 percent of people would prefer a self-service model (like a portal) to resolve a customer service issue rather than use phone or e-mail.

 

Put together, we find that many customers (72 percent) want to use a self-service model like a portal and most (70 percent) are aware their vendors offer a portal, yet very few (three percent) are actually using them when an issue arises. This leaves many vendors wondering where the disconnect is. Why are restaurants not using the self-service models that studies show they prefer?

 

Why Traditional Portals Get Little Customer Adoption

 

The main issue with most current customer portals is that vendors fail to take into account that restaurants are purchasing products or services from many different sources. It’s just not realistic to think your customers are going to create a log in and password for each vendor’s portal, then log on to each one separately when it comes time to pay an invoice or ask a question. The portals themselves may be very user-friendly, but they are useless if the customer never signs up in the first place.

Instead, restaurant owners are depending on traditional communication methods. Calling the vendor was by far the most common way restaurant owners contact their vendors, with 79 percent of restaurant owners saying they pick up the phone when they have a question regarding an invoice.

 

The Importance of Providing a Good Customer Experience

 

Too often companies chase down a customer for payment, finally get paid, and then fail to examine how it became late in the first place. Companies should be tracking and categorizing these instances to identify and improve potential holes in their process and also make better credit decisions on certain customers in the future.

 

First, work with your team to identify a handful of reasons why invoices become past due. Then instruct them to categorize each invoice that becomes 30 or 60 or 90 days past due (depending on your invoice volume select the date range that works for you.) Once you put this process in place, there should never be an instance where an invoice reaches that age and has not been categorized. Over a quarter, six months, or a year, analyze the reasons for lateness and start by attacking the biggest bucket. Often you will uncover areas where you can improve your process which will get invoices paid faster and make your customers happier.

 

Software makes this process much easier, since it would eliminate the use of spreadsheets and manual tracking. Using a solution, like TermSync, you are able to enter your timing rules and reason categories. Your team is then prompted to take 30 seconds to categorize an invoice each time one reaches the aging date. Analysis reporting is then provided to identify areas of improvement.

 

Multi-Vendor Portals Benefit Customers and Vendors

 

Portals can give vendors the tools to provide the best customer experience but only if they are actually used. So how do you get customers to be more proactive with their questions or concerns so issues can be resolved quickly without hurting the relationship? The answer may simply be to make their lives easier by no longer forcing them to make separate calls or log in to separate portals to manage each vendor’s bill.

 

When the restaurant owners were asked if they would use a standardized portal that allowed them to view all their invoice information, ask questions, and make payments to several vendors from one location, 85 percent said they would. That’s a marked difference from the three percent who say they currently access individual vendor portals when they have a question.

 

At TermSync, CustomerConnect was built to revolutionize B2B post-sale interactions by including several vendors in one standardized portal that is free for any small business customer to use. This allows the customer to manage all their invoices from one location, which results in the business owners or managers being more proactive to submit questions to vendors. Disputes get resolved faster, payments made quicker, and relationships remain strong.

 

Restaurant owners will appreciate the customer-first approach and likely recommend vendors who utilize this type of technology to others in the business. That is important as, according to the study, 73 percent of surveyed three restaurant owners said that other restaurant managers’ feedback was important when choosing a vendor. In today’s competitive B2B market, referrals and customer experience are key differentiators.

 

In summary, portals have been around for years but have never really taken off because vendors were ignoring one important fact – no matter how key of a vendor they are to their customer, they are not the customer’s only vendor. Once customers are able to manage several vendors in one location, adoption rates increase, customer satisfaction improves, and both sides gain efficiencies.