How to Improve Your Finance Team’s Soft Skills
One of the reasons our business stays open is because someone purchases our services or products and will continue to do so based on having a successful series of interactions with us from purchase through delivery and later support if needed.
A simple enough way to describe the importance of customer touch points for our company, right? And yet some customers find, once they have purchased and are in the customer “chain” within operations and finance, the quality of interactions with that company declines.
Sales and service reps are trained to create customer experience during every MOT (“moment of truth”) that each customer experiences. The quality of written, face-to-face and verbal communications is reviewed and coached regularly to ensure consistency. Our credit and finance teams may not always be receiving the same coaching.
When I work with a finance department, I often find that the emphasis is on the accounting processes while little attention is paid to helping employees develop their soft skills.
In order to have satisfied long term customers we need to make sure that the quality of customer experience doesn’t stop at the door to our finance team. And since finance and credit representatives work not only with our outside customers but also with internal sales and service areas, we need to ensure that they understand the importance of building successful relationships with internal customers as well.
If you really want to know what is going on with your finance team’s soft skills, you can’t just sit next to them and listen to half of a call or glance quickly at an email. It takes time to coach and train and we need to plan for this in our schedules.
When your internal credit, accounts payable and collection people are emailing a customer, be sure to look at the following skills that affect customer experience:
Greeting: “Thank you for contacting our company about this issue” as an opening to a customer email says, “Hello Customer Number 3,568. Prepare to have canned response.” Make sure they are addressing customers by name and personalizing whenever possible.
Empathy: Are your finance people trained to just paste numbers and data when the customer has a complaint or questions or do they write something that shows concern or even apologize when necessary?
- “I’m sorry that my reply was delayed.”
- “I know this is frustrating. I’ll be happy to help you resolve this.”
Your vendor doesn’t care if your department is rated excellent or that you have a record of paying on time if your team messed up their vendor invoice payment.
Even if the vendor is a challenging one to deal with, writing veiled jabs is just asking for the issue to escalate or continue on and on in future emails or interactions. Yes, I’ve seen that happen when an employee dislikes a vendor.
Engagement: Are your credit people acknowledging something personal the business customer may have shared, such as “I’m late in replying because I’m just back from vacation” responded to with “I hope you had a great time on your vacation!” Even mentioning weather events in their area when the opportunity is there is a connection.
Accuracy: We can have all the warm and fuzzy words and soft skills on target but they are meaningless if we don’t have accurate information and details. Finance and credit in particular must establish trust by making sure correct data is shared. Blending process and empathy is key.
- Are your finance teams using internal company credit or accounting abbreviations or buzzwords?
- Are paragraphs, spelling and grammar appropriate for clear delivery of the information to the customer?
Poor word choices and sentence structures may create more disconnect with your customers.
Follow-up: Just saying, “Let me know if you need anything else” at the end of their emails may not be enough.
- What will your credit rep due to follow-up?
- Does the customer need to do anything to follow-up later?
Your emails should state what will happen next and offer to do anything proactive to avoid additional issues or confirm payment next steps. Be specific about what happens next.
Ending: Is there a genuine appreciation for their continued business at the end of communications? Even if they are paying late, they are paying so the focus should be on thanking the customer and letting them know we are here to assist them in the future. Wording that threatens future cancellations if not paid on time isn’t an appropriate ending to a positive transaction with them.
Customer error versus deliberate avoidance of payments: I’ve seen so many poorly worded emails for credit situations that were a “first time” situation for the customer. Payment issues may occur from time to time with even our best customers so make sure your employees understand how to show value while still getting the payment needed for your business to succeed.
Since your internal customers in sales and customer service are both your customers and also providers of customer experience to external customers, everyone needs to be on the same page as to how the customers and vendors are treated. There is nothing worse than having one department blame the others when a bad experience happens.
The only way credit and finance employees can create a great customer experience is if managers and C-suite see them as more than “bean counters” in the back room. Help your accounting people see their value with both internal and external customers by coaching with them and reward their success verbally as well as with incentives that reflect their importance to your business success.