1. FLEXIBILITY: Software must grow and change as you do. When you develop your company’s strategic plan, you focus on dynamic growth. In order for successful growth to occur, you must select an Accounts Receivable and collection software package that will grow with you …easily and cost effectively. You need to clearly understand each software company’s change process. What is the time frame for a change? How is it billed? Will they customize your software to meet your changing needs? What percentage of work can you do without the company’s involvement? How much do they mandate that they must do? If they have to make the change, how is it scheduled and billed? Remember, timing can be critical to your success.
2. SUPPORT: Every company will or should offer a maintenance plan. You must pay close attention to the plan details and the plan options (if they exist). Each company will have a support team; you need to know the size of the group, their hours of operation. Also find out how the company bills for outside of standard hours support. Is it on an hourly basis? Is it more on the weekends.
3. PROFESSIONAL SERVICES & TRAINING: This is mission critical. Everyone offers training of some sort, but system set up and a clear understanding of how to operate the software is mandatory for your success. Don’t assume that a training manual either on line or hard copy will be adequate. Onsite or internet based with a live instructor is your best option. Make sure you know if it is included in the up front cost or if it is extra? Are user manuals online? Is there a follow-up training option? As new products and services are introduced, does the company provide training? Is it billed at an hourly rate?
4. COMPANY BACKGROUND/YEARS IN BUSINESS: Experience in the industry truly matters. You are entrusting your business operations to a software provider. Make sure they are experts with a long term positive track record. In the last decade with the internet explosion, software providers have multiplied. Be cautious. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Short term savings could result in long term problems.
5. TESTIMONIALS: Ask for testimonials. The company should be able to provide you with the name and number of several existing clients. Make sure to call these clients and be prepared to ask specific questions based upon your own requirements and what you have learned in this paper. Always call more than one of them. You are more likely to get a fair assessment when speaking to two or more.
6. INSTALLATION, CONVERSION, AND GROWTH OPTIONS: Understanding the initial installation process is critical. How is this process managed? Is there a project leader and an associated project plan? Do you receive onsite support during the installation? If you are converting from another system, do you receive a certain number of programming hours or is there a certain number of accounts that will be converted within the price? Or is everything on an hourly basis?
As your business grows, will the system grow with you? Can you expand by simply adding work stations and enlarging your server? Or do you have to purchase a completely new platform and new software package? Ask for specifics now so that you won’t be surprised with unexpected expenses in the future.
The best vendors provide a one stop shopping solution. Today you may be satisfied with three workstations and one or two clients. As you grow, you will need all of the tools that make for a successful collection operation: predictive dialer, integrated voice response, online bill payment solutions, 24/7 client internet access, just to name a few. Does the vendor provide a one stop solution or will you need to find all of these tools on your own? Ask the questions. 7. HOSTED (SaaS) VS SERVER BASED: Understand the differences. In recent years, this subject has been hotly debated. New companies are sprouting up on a daily basis offering some type of hosted solution that is clearly cost effective (at least on the surface). Some of the key issues that you need to consider include the following:
- Speed: delays can occur in several places: your machines, resources at the host site etc.
- Costs: a hosted solution is similar to renting a car; at the end of the lease you have nothing to show for it. A server based system is your investment in the company.
- Change process: how quickly can a change to your business application occur? In a server based system, you may be able to make the change yourself and immediately. Client contracts often depend upon your ability to quickly adapt your system to meet their requirements. Time lags could cost you the business
8. REVISION PROCESS: Every vendor should have a process in place. As federal and state regulatory requirements develop, your software must be updated to reflect these changes in order to avoid violations and potential fines. In addition, as industry trends evolve and develop, you want to know with certainty that your software will be updated on a timely and cost effective manner to keep you on the leading edge. Generally these changes are done via a software revision. It is extremely important to know if and how revisions occur. Are they free? How often do they occur? How many has the vendor completed since they began operating?
9. FOCUS ON THE CUSTOMER: A successful collection software vendor is focused on customers. They clearly understand the issues and concerns that collection professionals face and stay closely connected with their clients. Communication is the key. Make certain that you review their website in detail. Ask for a copy of their most recent customer communication. Ask for their communications plans. Do they have an active user group? Do they schedule annual conferences? Ask to see a recent agenda.
10. THE PEOPLE AND ATTITUDE: Learn a lot about the company when communicating with employees. When you begin the decision making process and start talking with a variety of software vendors, pay close attention to the attitude of the front line employees. These people are hired to represent the company to the public. How do they treat you? Do they take the time to explain details? Do they answer your questions directly? Do they seem friendly and professional? Do they return calls on a timely basis? Remember, this is the beginning of a long and important relationship. Your initial impressions should guide you. You will notice an enormous difference between vendors. Consider what is important to you: they will be your business partners.Deborah Kilroy is a management consultant who specializes in Accounts Receivable management. Ms Kilroy managed large collection call centers as part of her career in the telecommunications industry. She has worked as a call center management consultant and spent several years in sales and marketing positions within the ARM industry. She has a BA in psychology and a MS in Management.