Supplier Payment Inquiries: How AP Teams Can Eliminate Interruptions and Boost Productivity

Workplace distractions can take a toll on worker productivity, accuracy and well-being, and no one knows that better than AP staff, who often have to stop what they are doing to respond to supplier inquiries. AP automation solutions that include white glove payment services are growing in popularity because they provide a dedicated team to respond to supplier inquiries, removing the administrative burden from the AP team and reducing interruptions in the process.

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Statistics underscore the business impact of interruptions. It takes employees about 23 minutes to re-gain their attention on a task following an interruption, according to research conducted by Gloria Mark and the University of California, Irvine.

Accuracy also takes a hit. The Journal of Experimental Psychology study found that people make double the number of errors when they are interrupted, even if the interruption only lasts about three seconds. Additionally, interruptions can raise the level of employee exhaustion by 9%, according to the Journal of Stress Management.

Alleviating the burden responding to supplier payment inquiries

While AP automation goes a long way in increasing productivity and accuracy, AP staff still have to contend with the continual interruptions of supplier payment inquiries. Typical questions they might be addressing throughout the day include when invoices will be paid, and what specific payments cover.

For this reason, AP automation solutions that include managed services create additional efficiencies for AP teams because they remove the administrative burden of responding to these requests, freeing them up to focus on other priorities. The provider’s dedicated team works closely with suppliers to find out their payment preferences, educate them on the benefits of digital payments, onboard them, maintain an ongoing relationship, and handle routine supplier inquiries. This takes a lot of pressure off AP departments, which often have staff and bandwidth constraints, enabling them to work more efficiently and effectively without interruptions. At the same time, it addresses supplier requests in a timely manner.

As an added benefit, because these providers are constantly in touch with suppliers—often, on behalf of multiple customers—they might be aware of policy changes and other developments, such as suppliers that will now accept virtual cards even if they hadn’t done so previously.
In addition to relying on an AP automation provider that offers white glove payment services, following are three best practices to reduce supplier payment inquiries, and improve satisfaction:

  • Digitize the invoice-to-pay process to get the details at your fingertips. Trying to find answers to supplier inquiries can be a nightmare if you rely on manual, paper-based processes. For example, if a supplier is checking into payment for an invoice that is months’ old, imagine the time it would take to look through paper files to find it. When companies automate the invoice-to-pay process, they benefit from efficiencies and visibility across the process, a digital trail, and information that can be accessed at the tap of a finger or click of a mouse. Additionally, when companies use e-payments they can eliminate the inherent errors that can arise from manual processes, such as mailing paper checks to wrong addresses.
  • Increase virtual card usage to reduce inquiries. Virtual card payments not only enable companies to benefit from rebates, but also to cut down on the number of supplier inquiries because – unlike ACH – remittance information is provided with payment. By contrast, suppliers often see an ACH hit their bank account and then have to spend time connecting the dots on what invoice(s) that payment is for, which lead to calls or emails into the AP team. By letting suppliers know what the payment covers, many inbound queries to AP can be eliminated.
  • Provide a self-service portal. Some AP automation providers offer a self-service vendor portal, giving suppliers the convenience of checking the status of invoices and payments anytime, anywhere. Suppliers can view invoice and payment details from all their buyers on the platform, creating a second layer that deflects supplier inquiries from the AP team.

Strengthening supplier relationships

In addition to minimizing AP interruptions, there’s another very important reason to offload supplier payment inquiries to your provider and that’s the value that it provides to your suppliers. Managed services provide the best of both worlds – freeing AP from interruptions and repetitive, administrative work so they can enjoy greater productivity, accuracy, and employee satisfaction, while improving the supplier experience through faster payment and responses to inquiries, which can ultimately lead to better cash flow and productivity. This helps strengthen the all-important buyer-supplier relationship at a time when it is more important than ever.

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Vivien Diep

Vivian Diep is a Supplier Enablement Team Lead at MineralTree and has been with the company for more than two years. Vivian specializes in vendor enrollment and support to ensure that both MineralTree customers and their vendors are fully utilizing MineralTree's SilverPay Virtual Card. She graduated with a degree in Microbiology from the University of Oklahoma.