When it comes to collecting customer cash, efficiency can make all the difference. That’s where Esker comes in. By automating what can be automated in the AR process via our AI-driven solution, your team is free to focus on the activities that really matter to the business — customer relationship building and optimising cashflow.
We asked Esker’s own Finance and Administration Department how they use Esker’s solutions, and how this is benefitting both Esker and our customers.
A discussion between Esker’s Head of Marketing, Sam Townsend, Esker’s HR & Admin Manager, Samantha Carr, and Esker’s Finance and Administration Assistant, Laura Cook.
This discussion is also available as a podcast . Listen here.
ST Hello everyone, my name’s Sam Townsend, I’m Head of Marketing for Esker Northern Europe, and in today’s podcast session we’ll discuss how Esker uses its own solutions to enable some of the key benefits of automating financial processes within both the order-to-cash and procure-to-pay cycles. For those of you who are a little unfamiliar with Esker, we’ve been developing solutions for more than 35 years now, and our main goal is to unlock the strategic value for finance and customer service professionals, as well as strengthening the collaboration between companies by automating the cash conversion cycle. Basically, in this ever more increasingly uncertain world, companies must build stronger relationships across their eco-systems if they are going to sustain future growth. This is why we always strive to help strengthen those relationships between companies, their suppliers, customers, and employees. So, let’s get started. Today, I’ll be speaking with Samantha Carr, who is the Finance and HR Manager for Esker Northern Europe, and also Laura Cook; Finance and Administration Assistant for Esker Northern Europe. Hello to you both. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedules today. Would you mind just introducing yourselves and telling us a little bit more about your job roles and the functions that you cover?
SC So I’m the Finance and HR Manager for Esker, started back in 2007, so seen a lot of changes within the business, manage the accounting, HR and Admin functions for the Company, and this primarily involves looking after accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll and management accounting. These are the functions within the accounts that I look after.
ST Thanks Samantha; and Laura?
LC Well, I’m Laura, and I’m an Administration Assistant at Esker, and I didn’t join until 2019, so I still consider myself a little bit of a newbie. As well as helping Samantha with the general admin tasks, the main part of my role is looking after the accounts receivable function, so I’d say that’s what I spend 90% of my time doing, focussing on cash collection, liaising with customers.
ST So, I suppose you’ve got quite a few years of experience. In terms of what you’ve seen, Samantha, over the years with Esker, has that changed over the years, such as those main accounting processes? What are most important to you on a daily basis?
SC Definitely within the accounting function, I believe that cash collection is one of the most important functions of the business. As Laura’s already said, she dedicates 90% of her time to this role in order to reduce the cash cycle, minimise risk of bad debts, and obviously, increase the cash flow for the business. So, without this cash flow, the business would not be as healthy as it is today, we wouldn’t be able to make future investments, and we also definitely wouldn’t be able to provide the security that we can provide now for our employees. One of the main benefits that we’ve seen is a tool, it’s an Esker solution, and it’s been so valuable in helping us to prioritise and perform these functions.
ST Okay, that’s good.
LC So, my daily routine, really, goes as, first thing I’ll do is to check the bank every day to see what cash is coming in, and update all the information. So, once I’ve put the information into SAP, that automatically transfers on within an hour, and then I’ll head there, and to me it is my one-stop-shop for all things cash collection. So, it gives me a dashboard at the start, so, each day it will give me daily tasks to complete. They are organised, they are prioritised, and I’ll action those on a daily basis. Everything I need to do is within the solution, so I can contact customers, I can respond to customer messages, send invoice copies, it sends automatic reminders based on the information we’ve put in, I can send statements, I can create tasks. It really is just a one-stop solution for everything that I need to do.
ST So does that show, so each morning, do you have a dashboard that you can use?
LC Yes, so I have a dashboard, and on that dashboard, it’ll tell me any collection calls I need to complete that day, so which customers I need to chase up or follow up with, anything that’s outstanding, anything that’s overdue, which statements I need to send, again, based on the information that it’s got. So, yes, it’s all there for me to action on a daily to-do list.
ST Right, and do you have full autonomy on what you see? So, you can make changes to that dashboard if you want to?
LC Absolutely, yes, it’s completely customisable, so you can select the things that you want on there. It’s personalised really to what you want to focus on, it can be amended, and it’s really quite easy to do.
ST Right. So obviously we talk about the current economic climate, and as we know, a lot of businesses are; it’s so important for them to collect cash. Cash is still king. We still understand that being of prime importance to a business. I was going to ask what the typical process is for using Esker and its Cash Collection, and how that might differ from what was previously used, and ways you collected cash before automation and after. Samantha, do you want to kick off with that one?
SC Yes, so this was back in my time, when I was doing this role myself. So, it was a very traditional method, it was the pen and paper I’m afraid. There was no connection between the ERP system and the process of cash collection. Everything was recorded on paper or Excel, so you had different solutions going on, which made it not as visible to other members of the team. We were unable to send statements to our customers which is not really good practise for cash collection. So, in total, it was just a more time-consuming process, and much more labour intensive. So, having the solution has enabled us to automate the process, so that now the whole team has complete visibility of the solution and the customers are updated in real time, so you can be checking on them any minute of the day, and obviously with the dashboard as well, we’re able to produce reports, we’re able to have better visibility, and it just gives us a to-do list. So, every day we are given a to-do list of what tasks need to be completed, so it’s just making our time more efficient.
LC Following on from that, like Samantha said, it’s that all the information is there and it’s really user friendly, and we can both use it when we need to. So, say I’m on holiday for a week, and Sam’s taking over, she can literally just pick up from where I left off, we’re not having to share email folders and spreadsheets, she can see when I’ve contacted customers, what I’ve said, what the response has been, so it gives that transparency between both of us, to communicate what’s happened, and it’s just so easy to pick up from one person to the next which is great!
ST I presume that with traditional paper-based processes before, this would be impossible to do really, or it would just take a very long time to collate all that information and then hand it over and then talk about it.
LC Absolutely, I can only imagine what it would be like if I had to hand all of this over to Sam before I went on holiday. I can just go now and she can see what collection calls need to be carried out whilst I’m away, and also anything that’s been said previously. I think trying to relay all of that information through emails and notes would be very time-consuming so it saves a great deal of time.
ST So, I guess if we come onto the solution benefits now with automation, we touched upon a few there. Some to kick off with, we hear a lot about customer information management, and certainly Esker has a feature for that, giving you the 360-degree view. How does that work in daily practise? Laura, is that one for you?
LC Yes, so all of the information we can see is there, it’s user friendly, I can click on an account, I can see the contact details, I can see current invoices if I want to, past invoices. Any communication between myself and the customers is there to see.
ST Does that show you historical information as well? Can you start to build a picture of the customer?
LC Absolutely, yes, it can even give you expected payment dates, based on when customers pay, it gives you a good overall view of their payment patterns. So, it flags up to me if there’s an issue, or if this is quite normal for this customer, which then enables us going forward to group our customers into different risk groups, and it builds up that history; it’s very clever really.
ST And I guess that helps you, Samantha, in terms of reporting and what’s required at that level for our Managing Director, and reports above that?
SC Absolutely, so just by having this dashboard, we can see at a glance, exactly which customers are over 90 days old, for example. At the click of a button, we can produce a report, we can send that report to any of our account managers, so we can involve other people within the business, and again, it’s great because it means that we can involve non-accounting employees in the process of cash collection very easily, and we can share that information with them, whereas before it was more tricky to do that.
ST Yes, that’s a great benefit now then that, perhaps before, we’ve heard it where departments were siloed, and don’t have that connectivity between the different departments, certainly within order-to-cash and procure-to-pay. Accounts receivable departments never really spoke to those people who were taking the orders and processing the orders, so I guess that gives you that ability now?
SC It does, and it’s all about customer relationship, and obviously we can take it so far, but ultimately, it’s the account manager that’s got the absolute relationship with the customer, and if we are struggling to get a payment date, then it’s great that we can call on other members of the team as a whole and include them in the cash collection process.
LC And again, creating the task for the account manager, they can then see all the dialogue previously that’s gone on with myself and the customer; all the chases I’ve sent. So, instead of me having to type it all up in an email and try to explain what I’ve done, I can create the task and they can then see the chases I’ve already sent and the dialogue, which makes it easier, to have all the information right there.
ST That’s great! Coming on to the solution, the technology that Esker has been developing over several years in terms of artificial intelligence, and RPA, and we hear these terms now, Robotic Process Automation. With those processes I guess we’re talking about from manual to automated, but then beyond automated, and how those technologies will help the financing function, have you seen any of those advantages already?
SC It’s definitely time saving.
ST And what kind of things have you seen there?
SC Well, definitely from our accounts payable function, I can definitely see some time saving benefits. Now, actually inputting the invoices is a much quicker, streamlined process where the system is able to remember previous inputs that we’ve done so it’s less keying in, the system is remembering more of our actions, so if you are a business that’s got a lot of AP invoices, it’s definitely going to be a time-saving solution for you.
ST Right, so over time does that start to learn different invoices that are coming in?
SC Yes it does, so it will learn where to find the date, the format of the date, the narrative of the invoice, and it learns those positions on the invoice, so it means less keying in, and more copying and pasting which is much quicker.
ST Right, so I suppose it brings us to thinking about your thoughts on tips and tricks for a successful cash collection. We talk about all the different benefits, but is there anything that you’ve found really useful with automation that you think, actually, this is the one thing that has really helped me?
SC Well, I think that the system is only ever going to be as successful as the information that goes into it. So, I think it’s really important that you review and update your collections strategies as needed. It’s important to make sure that the data is correct, so for example, if you are sending your invoice to a specific person, you need to make sure that the contacts are up to date, as you don’t want to be sending your invoices to an incorrect person. And really to make sure that you are using the system. Once, you’ve got it, make sure that you use it, to get the full benefits from the system. Use your dashboard every day, use that dashboard like a to-do-list, and then you will find that the system will just make your process so much easier. I don’t know if Laura wants to add to that because she’s using it more on a daily basis?
LC Yes, it’s all about the dashboard. I use my dashboard as my to-do-list and I like to see it clear every day. I find it really satisfying when I see all the ticks going down the side, and I find doing that, it never builds up, so just keeping on top of those daily tasks, and actioning them when you need to keeps on top of it all. I never come on and find that I’ve got 40 collection calls. If I’m doing it every day, like Sam said, inputting all the right data, keeping it up to date, that’s key to it all working smoothly.
ST And have you found that that has helped with better customer relationships, Laura?
LC Absolutely, I think so because, as well as that, the system is clever, so it knows when to send reminders, and as much as it’s important to chase things and keep on top of things and communicate, you don’t want to be bombarding and going over on that, so it’s a great tool for building those relationships, definitely. You can also message and respond to messages and emails, so most of my customer dialogue is through this, and that’s part of my daily dashboard, so again, as part of my daily tasks, I will always clear through those messages and keep on top of them, so we’ve not got customers waiting for responses or things getting missed. I can’t miss it. I’m not having to filter it out of my normal emails, it’s there for me to action. So, I definitely think it builds good customer relationships. I think we’ve got really good relationships with our customers to be honest. And again, when they want things; their account statements, their invoice copies, there’s no delay on that, I can send that in seconds. It’s instant, the message is there, it tells me which customer sent me the message, and I can click on there, and click send invoice or send statement, and it’s as quick as that.
SC I think, to add to that as well, I mean, definitely within business, I’ve noticed that people prefer dialogue more with messaging rather than the telephone. Before, all of my cash collection was done primarily through telephone, and that was quite a time-consuming process because you didn’t always know if it was the right time to ‘phone that person. Did they have time to talk to you? Were you going to get through to the right person? Whereas now, I find that we get much more communication from our customers because they’re able to respond when they are ready to respond, rather than you are interrupting their day. We get a lot more interaction with the customers now. I think that’s the same with your personal life as well, I think the way the world is at the moment, people prefer the messaging solution rather than the speaking solution.
ST Yes, and on their own terms.
SC Exactly! There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of a task and someone ‘phones you, and it’s just not the right time because you are right in the middle of doing something that’s quite important or you’ve got a deadline to meet. Whereas, most people will set aside a part of their day where they are actually checking their emails or their messages. They sort of dedicate that time to that, so I think that’s what works better for the cash collection. We do seem to get customers that are much more interactive with us now. Do you find that Laura?
LC I find that, yes, absolutely, and with the automatic sending out of our reminders and statements, that’s just a way of keeping in check, and then a lot of customers like to get back to us then and give us an update. I suppose, if you weren’t sending those statements, you wouldn’t be getting that update. They can give me an update before the end of the month, and I can then log that note or that update against their invoice. So, then we know what’s happening with that and we don’t have to over-chase them, they can give us the promise to pay, and it’s all really visible. I think if we weren’t doing that, and like Sam said, picking up the ‘phone.
ST Such a slower process.
LC Oh gosh, yes, and I think, again, coming back to the visibility element, through the solution I can log any notes and issues, any notes from the account manager. I can log it against accounts and invoices and it’s really easy for me to see. So, when contacting a customer, if, for example, I’ve been given a message from an account manager or I was made aware of a PO problem, I can see what’s happened previously that I’m contacting the customer about, instead of just blindly chasing things. So, I think that’s good in the way of building relationships.
ST Right. So, sort of instant access to information as well.
LC Yes. Instead of fishing around looking for it, it’s there, but again, back to the tips and tricks, keeping all information up-to-date is key.
ST Fantastic. I think that covers most of it. Is there anything else that you wanted to say?
SC Just about how we measure success, and I suppose every business will measure it differently, but for us, we measure it by looking at the DSO, or Days Sales Outstanding, and obviously we want to keep that figure as near to the standard terms as possible. So, I think the key to all of this is, the shorter the cash cycle, the less risk there’s going to be. And ultimately, we want to maintain good customer relationships whilst we’re achieving our goals.
ST Excellent. Well, thanks once again for taking the time to join us on this podcast today, and for letting us know about some of the ways in which you’ve benefitted from automating your financial processes with Esker. It’s been really interesting and very much appreciated.
SC/LC No problem, thank you.
This discussion is also available as a podcast . Listen here.