Rethinking collaboration between finance teams and customers

In a previous piece I covered the opportunity for improved communication in service-based companies through and beyond COVID-19, using new internal and external collaboration tools. This article will expand on this theme and explore how this new world will increase the need for the finance function to collaborate more with its customers and suppliers online and in real time.

As you’ll likely have noticed during the period of lockdown, the way workforces, clients and customers are now interacting has transformed significantly. Through the widespread use of video conferencing platforms, be it Microsoft Teams, Zoom or even TikTok, interactions with customers and suppliers in particular have become more personal. We’re now all getting a glimpse into the home lives of the people who, although outside of our own organisation, we work with so closely and so regularly. The result is that, in our working practices and customer communications, we are all becoming much more open, tolerant, and collaborative. 

One of the oft-repeated points of COVID-19 is that, once this is all over, things will not return to the way they were before. Although, at this stage it is difficult to see too many silver linings to the situation, the finance function and customers’ new mode of interacting, enforced by remote working could provide opportunities for business improvement in the long run. 

If the platforms finance groups are already using to collaborate internally, extend externally to their customers and suppliers, both could benefit from the efficiency gains needed to weather the current economic climate and that which comes after. 

The show must go on…remotely

Despite the undeniable economic blow delivered by COVID-19, many businesses are still operating.  Deadlines still need to be hit, and their employees are working to meet them. With so much uncertainty in the market currently, managing cash is a key concern for businesses. In order to manage cash effectively in this environment, decisions must be made quickly and projects delivered rapidly, so organisations can get cash in the door at pace.   

Making decisions and delivering projects quickly is one thing, ensuring the right decisions and projects are delivered quickly is another entirely. The delineation between the two is the easy access to the relevant, real-time data needed to make informed decisions. Through modern collaboration portals, information including transaction history, account balance, invoices and payments details are all stored in a single location, providing a one-stop-shop for all the information needed to make decisions strategically rather than purely reactionarily. 

However, this has been true for some time. But, where the scope of digital collaborative platforms has extended is in the community aspect.

Extending the team 

Whereas before, we simply used digital collaboration platforms as a fundamental source of real-time data around the inner workings and updates on projects. Now, in this new mode of collaboration into which we’ve all been thrust, finance groups and their customers should be thinking around how they can be used as a truly collaborative, advice-sharing space. 

If separate organisations are willing to put aside previous ideas of organisational silos, leverage the tools that they have at hand and extend them to those outside their business, who they work closely with, all will benefit. Collaborating directly on projects in real-time through an online platform, rather than using a flurry of emails or unnecessary calls, not only speeds up project delivery, but ensures a reduction in errors and ultimately, better working relationships and engagement.

The time is right for finance teams to rethink how they work with their customers. The remote working situation has already torn down some of the persistent mental barriers that have bogged down inter-organisational collaboration in the past. We now have the opportunity to forge our own collaborative new normal and improve relationships and business outcomes.

Andy Campbell, Global Solution Evangelist at FinancialForce

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