Why Restaurant Owners Aren't Using Online Payment Portals

Restaurant owners are dealing with dozens and sometimes hundreds of vendors at any given time – resulting in hours spent paying and checking each separate invoice. To help streamline the payment process, restaurant vendors have begun offering their customers the option of using online payment portals, providing them with an easy way to ask questions, file disputes, or simply pay invoices. Even so, vendors are struggling to see the return on their investment, as restaurant owners simply aren’t using the portals.

At TermSync, a post-sale management platform, we conducted a study of the restaurant industry’s payment habits. We found that most restaurant owners are aware these portals exist, but very few actually use them to manage their invoices. On the other hand, we learned that if these portals were reconfigured to make multiple vendors’ invoices accessible in one location, restaurant owners would be much more likely to interact with vendors through them.

Restaurant owners say they want portals yet they do not use them

TermSync’s study found that 70 percent of restaurant owners are aware they have the ability to pay their invoices or ask questions online for certain vendors, but when these same owners were asked if they actually use these portals when they have a question about their invoice, only 3 percent stated they take the time to login to the vendor’s online portal to get an answer – despite 72 percent of people preferring a self-service model (such as a portal) to resolve customer service issues. So if more people want a self-service option, why aren’t more restaurant owners utilizing them?

Here's the primary issue with most existing vendor portals: they fail to take into account the fact that restaurants purchase their products and services from a large number of sources, and it’s simply not realistic to think they’ll have the time or energy to create and remember a login for each vendor’s separate portal. While the portals themselves may be very user-friendly, it doesn’t matter if nobody logs in. They've become more of a hassle than a convenience.

What's the result? Owners don't use the portals at all, turning to more traditional communication methods, or they ignore the invoice altogether until the vendor calls looking for the payment. According to the study, picking up the phone and calling is the most common way for restaurant owners to get in touch with their vendors, as 79 percent state they turn to the phone when they have a major question or concern. Many smaller issues or annoyances go unreported, however, because owners feel they don’t warrant the hassle of calling a vendor.

The importance of good customer experience

If you're a vendor, having your customers contact you via phone might not seem problematic, but it can actually lead to poor customer satisfaction and damaged customer relationships. Not only is having to make a phone call for every question time-consuming for restaurateurs, it’s also extremely inconvenient. Many restaurant owners review and pay their bills at odd hours due to their busy schedules. When this is the case, the chances of them actually connecting with a customer service representative is very unlikely.

As a result, restaurant owners have learned it’s often easier to wait for their vendors to reach out to them, rather than taking the time out of their day to call a vendor knowing they will either reach a voicemail or have to sit on the phone while the representative investigates the issue. In fact, TermSync’s study found 80 percent of restaurant owners who work with numerous vendors have delayed a payment so they could ask a question when the vendor contacts them about the outstanding invoice. In the end, both parties leave the transaction unsatisfied, with vendors angry their payment was late and restaurateurs frustrated it took so long to get their questions answered.

Customers will definitely take the time to call or contact you when there’s a major issue at hand, but with the little things, it’s not likely. This can lead to compounded issues down the road, as reported by Ruby Newell-Legner in “Understanding Customers.” A typical business only hears from 4 percent of its dissatisfied customers, and it usually takes 12 positive customer experiences to outweigh one unresolved negative experience. It's important to note, however, that if you can resolve issues efficiently when you do hear from an unhappy customer, they are likely to become even more loyal than before the problem arose.

You can only resolve issues you know about, so in the end, the key to positive vendor-customer relationships is to provide your customers with a streamlined communication method. Doing so makes it easier for customers to contact you (making them happy) and helps you prevent similar issues in the future (making you happy).

Multi-vendor portals not only benefit customers, but vendors too

Portals give vendors all the necessary tools needed to provide the best customer experience possible; however, this only happens when they’re actually used. So how can vendors get customers to start using online portals and proactively reach out when a question or concern arises? Simple. Don’t expect them to use separate modes of communication for every vendor they use. They are much more likely to participate if they can interact with several vendors through one centralized portal.

When asked if they’d use a standardized portal to view all their vendors’ invoice information, ask questions and make payments to several vendors from one location, 85 percent of restaurant owners said they would – a marked difference from the 3 percent who currently access individual vendor portals. These centralized portals allow each customer to manage all their invoices from one location, which results in disputes getting resolved faster, payments being made more quickly, and relationships remaining stronger than ever.

Online portals have been around for years, but have struggled to gain traction as vendors have continued to ignore the fact that no matter how key they are to their customer, they’re not the customer’s only vendor. By giving customers the ability to manage several of their vendors in one centralized online portal, however, the adoption rate skyrockets and customer satisfaction remains high.

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.

Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson is the CEO and founder of TermSync Inc., a cloud-based, post-sale management platform. Over his career, he has always focused on process improvements as a way of not only reducing costs, but also increasing efficiency and improving internal and external relationships. After seeing first-hand the amount of corporate waste due to outdated invoice and payment processes, Mark built on this knowledge and his prior successful startup experience to form TermSync. To further streamline the invoicing process, TermSync created a portal called CustomerConnect, which businesses can use to manage any vendors’ invoices that participate in the program. Free for restaurants, it is designed to improve relationships between vendors and restaurants.

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