The 'Short Walk' (Process Improvement)
The fastest way to lessen the possibility of theft would be to reorganize the flow of paperwork once it leaves the sales manager's hands. Instead of multiple copies being sent to two different departments, the single set of paperwork can be sent first to the AR department, who creates an invoice, and then on to the service manager who enters the contract into the service system. By changing the flow in this manner, you ensure that a customer does not receive service who has not first been billed for the contract.
The downside of this solution is two fold: first, this will slow down the process of the customer receiving service. Many service contracts are active immediately after being signed, especially if the hardware being covered is old and not currently covered by a different service vendor. By making the process serial instead of parallel, it will take longer for the contract to be active. This could cause a customer satisfaction issue, if the wait is overly long.
The second issue here is that theft is still possible, but the sales manager, AR and service manager all now have to be in on the theft. If all three are complicit and collude to steal, then this solution will fail to stop the problem. This solution may work in the short term, but eventually a dishonest group of people will find a way to steal, if they really want to do so.
The 'Moderate Walk' (Process Re-engineering)
Sales functions almost always require direct communication between the sales team and the customer. Because of the many cultural and language differences within Europe, it is usually best to have a sales team that is local to the country, if not different parts within the same country. But managing the service contract and billing functions are generally the same throughout the western part of the continent. These functions could be consolidated into a single processing and management center at the corporate headquarters.
By moving the billing and contract management functions out of the countries, the ability for collusion to occur is greatly diminished. It also can speed up the process of contract entry as it is possible that a smaller number of people would be needed to enter the same number of contracts. This efficiency would occur because the contract entry team can focus solely on that one job. If this company also has a product division, the AR services for the two divisions could possibly be combined, resulting in even greater savings for the company.
The 'Long Walk' (Systems Project)
This is the most costly and time consuming way to resolve the issue, but each of the in-country billing and service systems could be removed and a single system could be implemented at the corporate headquarters. The contract could be entered a single time in this new system, which would then create a bill that is sent to the customer. This solution is nice because the contract is only entered a single time, instead of twice with the previous scenarios, and you can then provide service and billing functions with a single user role.
As a long term solution, this can seem especially attractive, especially if you combine this solution with the process re-engineering steps from the previous solution. You could conceivably make the cost of such an undertaking look even more attractive if the system included call center and service fulfillment capabilities. A single system for all service related information could also make outsourcing of functions to a lower cost country an option as well.
So how did you do? Would you have done anything different?