Navigating customer portals

Author Keith Jennings
October 04, 2016 - 11:15am

Internet portals won’t transport you into the future—but your company will likely be using them soon if it is not already. 

Most people use some type of online “portal,” whether it’s for booking airline reservations, registering for a college class or uploading a customer’s order documents and invoices to lessen the customer’s requirement for human employees. The portal concept is becoming an increasingly common technology for business, creating an electronic and largely automated platform for interaction.

Our shop has been requested—actually mandated—by a few customers to use their portal platforms as the primary method for processing orders. So far, they’ve been large corporations with sizable IT budgets that use the technology to reduce costs and overhead. But what started with one customer several years ago has evolved into six, all requiring our company to implement and use their version of a portal in order to continue working with them. 

While we understand the role and value of technology, implementing and enforcing use of customers’ internet-based, enter-everything-for-their-convenience gateway has added an increasing burden on our staff for the privilege of being their supplier. The result is more administration and overhead for our shop, which we can’t pass along through a mandated portal. 

Unfortunately, in many cases, this arrangement provides customers with further rationale for a lack of accessibility and other issues, buffering them from direct contact and accountability. For example, some customers now pay invoices beyond terms, whereas they were consistently within terms before they established portals. They now use the excuse that the portal doesn’t show the order was received. Huh? We shipped those parts weeks ago, everything was accepted and no request was made for missing documents that would hold up payment. 

Nonetheless, if all of the order documents and signed delivery receipts weren’t processed correctly, or if not everything in their system matches perfectly, the invoice lingers in cyberspace, “on hold,” waiting for us to contact the customer about the payment status. 

Frequently, we’re told we must resubmit the proof of deliveries, provide backup as to why their received totals don’t match the P.O. in their system or clarify other “errors” their fancy portal system doesn’t like. The problem is, most of these issues were created on their end, by their staff, but our staff must do all of the clarification work by resubmitting documents. In other words, what used to be the responsibility of the customer’s staff has been transferred to us. 

As this technology continues to expand, I’m considering adopting a portal-usage surcharge. A customer will get one free pass, but, after that, we’ll charge a fee for the resubmission of job records to a portal that we handled correctly in the first place. Because most of these issues are caused by customers’ errors, they will need to pay when they make it our problem. 

Machine shops aren’t responsible for doing the administrative work of customers, and it’s time to nip it in the bud! And I’m starting to sound a lot more like my dad.


Manager's Desk Columnist

Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, metal fabrication and metal stamping.