Category Archives: Customer service

Suppliers as customers

Recently I organized a meeting with one of my key suppliers to discuss the next steps in building the business. In all the points we discussed the one that bothered me the most – and still bothers me today – is how this company’s employees were being treated by my company. I heard several stories about how these employees were routinely denied access to systems and inventory data that they needed to do their jobs, and how in some cases the retail employees simply ignored them. And these were people who had come into the store to help manage the inventory and merchandising of product!

What is interesting about this is if my company’s employees had treated a customer or another employee in this manner, they would have been disciplined. But somehow it was OK to abuse a supplier. I guess the policies governing proper associate behavior apply only in certain cases. Not very professional, in my opinion. Respect for the individual indeed!

Your suppliers deserve the same treatment as your best customers. You can’t do business without them. Abusing them isn’t going to help you in the long run. And all the talk about respect for individuals goes right out the window if the policies are not applied consistently.

I have been managing suppliers for major retailers for nearly 20 years and consistently I have been impressed with their willingness to support my business, even when we ask them to do outrageous things. My experience tells me that most suppliers really want to be good partners. They depend on others to distribute and market their products. So why can’t companies collaborate so both sides win?

I believe too many companies still see suppliers as a cost center and not a partner who also wants to grow the business. This attitude will undermine the relationship every time. If you see your suppliers as competitors for your profits, you won’t collaborate.

Want to grow your business? Take some time and really get to know your suppliers. Let them educate you about their business. Let them show you how they can better support you and offer you insights into their industry.

Want a competitive advantage? Be the company that your suppliers want to support. Treat them well so that when issues come up there will be no question that they will go out of their way to support you. I can tell you from experience that treating your suppliers well, knowing what they can offer, and giving them the chance to shine in supporting your business will build the kind of loyalty that your competitors will envy.

Your customer doesn’t care about your supply chain issues

While we might be tempted to explain customer service failures based on supply chain issues, in the end your customer doesn’t want to hear this.

I can say this from experience. Here’s the story:

I recently took my Toyota Echo to a local Toyota dealership because the A/C was not working well. I left the car with the dealer and expected to hear back from them within a day or two. After three days I called the dealership to see what was up, and I was informed that the mechanics hadn’t been able to find the problem. So nothing had been done. I got the car back because we needed it and I took it back several days later. Little did I know that I would not see my car again for nearly two weeks.

During these two weeks the mechanics tried several fixes. None of them worked. Turns out Toyota does not stock the compressor clutch that I needed, so the mechanics tried to build one out of parts. They did this three times, and each time it burned up. At $400 a crack that was expensive. Throughout this time I could not get an answer from the dealer as to what was happening.

In the end the dealer shipped in a new compressor and clutch was able to solve the problem. It only took three weeks, give or take a day.

But the issue was not the mechanics or the dealership. It was a decision on the part of Toyota to carry fewer parts in fewer locations in order to save money. In the end it cost them nearly $1500 in parts, shipping and labor – and most of my goodwill.

The lesson here? I really don’t care about Toyota’s supply chain or inventory issues. If they want to sell cars and service them, they need to invest in the inventory that is required to do this well. And if they can’t fix something in a reasonable amount of time, they need to keep the customer informed at all times. Not knowing what is happening – or, in this case, not happening – with my car was quite upsetting.

So remember that your customer doesn’t care about your supply chain issues. Right or wrong, they expect service and timely communication about how you are solving their problems.

And yes, I still do allow this dealership to work on my cars. They are in the process of redeeming themselves.

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