By Bruce L. Nelson
This is a message to the executives, especially the financial experts, of business-to-business companies, your numbers are not showing the future of remote working. I know CFOs, CEOs and COOs have been salivating over revenue and cost numbers this past year. The Covid lock downs forced companies into remote working. Many companies have now had time to analyze the results and have found that revenues were unaffected or increased and expenses were reduced. Multiple articles were written telling us that worker productivity and morale increased from the work from home model. CFOs are now figuring out how to dump office space to accommodate a permanent work from home staff thus further reducing physical plant expenses. C-Suite executives are plotting their vacations to the Maldives based on current profit projections. They truly believe they caught the golden goose, and it will keep laying those cherished eggs!
I am here to rain on that parade. B2Bs, both suppliers and service-related companies, are falling down on customer service. Virtually all our vendors have suffered in customer service as it relates to ordering and delivering products as well as maintaining accurate billing this past year. Full Stop!
One such example involves my credit card processor. We moved our bank accounts to a new bank, because our old bank told us flat out that they will no longer service restaurants. I have been working with my credit card processor for over a month to get all the paperwork set up to transfer the accounts. Pre-Covid, my sales rep would have sat in my office for one hour to fill out the paperwork, I would have signed the documents, BAM - done! After a month of phone calls, zoom meeting multiple DocuSign transactions by me and my new banker, I still do not have the work done. Why? Everyone is working from home! I have had to become an expert at my credit card processor's procedures so that I can continue the "privilege" of paying for credit card transactions.
Pre-Covid our company converted our accounting systems to SAAS. These systems are robust but take concentrated efforts to maintain. As a CFO, I have long learned that solving complex integration and upgrades are faster and more cost effective when I fly the expert to my office for a couple of days then to get stuck in an endless and infinite loop of support tickets. But, my SAAS company is currently working remotely as well and has not approved in-person meetings. Problems that could have been resolved in a week are dragging out six months or longer.
My vendors' accounts receivables are another mess. Again, remote working has all the AR staff working from home. There is no connection between the person opening the check envelops and depositing the funds and the person at home applying payments. B2B remote workers have tunnel vision. They may be good at their jobs, but they are disconnected from the department that handles related functions. Again, I have had to become an expert at understanding my vendors new processes so that I can be assured they have properly applied my payments.
The biggest problem with companies embracing the work from home mentally is, they are losing their culture. My old bank once won "the best place to work" in the Twin Cities. God help me now if I can extract a banker from their home office bunker! When I had a billing problem with a vendor, the AP clerk could walk down the hall to get the expert to fix it. Now that process is multiple phone calls and zoom meetings with a little sympathy but even less accountability!
I could go on with the same story with vendor after vendor this past year. So here is my message for the C-Suites. Your goose may be kicking out those golden eggs this year and you may be patting yourself on the back for getting through this pandemic, but the culture that grew your companies are being jettisoned for short term increased profits with very little attention to the business model that made your company successful. Those of us that emerge from last year with our businesses intact will be looking for companies that can do more than just service our accounts, we are looking for companies that add value to our customers. You do not add value when I have to pick up the pieces of your broken "work from home" model.
So B2Bs, live it up this year, because the pandemic is fading and restrictions are lifting. The companies that come back together to work as a team and live their shared culture will be the ones earning my business! The first question I will be asking any potential new vendor is, "are you working from corporate offices or from home?" Business executives, I feel it only fair to warn you that I have noticed and absorbed your "work from home" deficiencies and I will be making positive moves to new business relationships in the coming year!
Bruce L. Nelson is a CFO and author of Restaurant Management, the Myth, the Magic the Math