The Love Affair between Suppliers and Customers

“Love” – the unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another – Merriam Webster, 2015

Do you ever have instances where the person you deliver to in your process is both a supplier and a customer? These types of relationships exist in our society more often than we realize. For example:

· When you hire an outsourcing provider, you outsource the work to them (here they are the supplier), and then you need to provide them with feedback on how they are running the service, so that they can provide you with a better service (at this point they become the customer of your feedback).

· In a catering business, if you hire cloths from a laundry supplier, you use the cloths as part of your process, and then return them back in a good enough condition to be re-laundered (at this point they become your customer).

From my experience, this is the type of relationship where you need to have a feedback loop. Most of the time it gets ignored. This feedback loop is essential for the supplier and customer to maximize the potential of their relationship. Most can’t see, let alone understand the duality of their roles, and often this is due to a lack of understanding of the end-to-end process.

What happens if you can’t get the feedback loop right?

The process breaks down! Inefficiencies start to build up and stakeholders within the process don’t get what they want! You might be thinking: “that’s what our process already feels like!” If that is the case, here are some thoughts to get you back on track:

1. Map out your high level end to end process, starting with your suppliers, then the inputs they supply to you, the process steps, ending in the outputs that the process creates and who those outputs go to (your customers).

2. Consider what dual roles exist in your process. Which stakeholders in your process are both your supplier and your customer? When you work this out, you and your supplier will be on the path to a shared understanding about what you need from each other.

3. Talk to your suppliers – explain the mutual benefits of working together. At the end of the day they want your business. Whether they realize it yet or not, they want to know how they can work with you better, supplying you with what you need, when you need it, and how you need it.

4. Listen – a fundamental part of any relationship is the ability to listen and take feedback on board. Sometimes it might not be what you want to hear but sometimes it could be exactly what you need to hear.

5. Work hard at it – A great relationship doesn’t just happen by itself, it takes time and effort to build the trust you need. Once you’ve worked out your feedback loops, build in a way to monitor how your relationships are progressing on an ongoing basis.

Of course, not every supplier is a customer, or vice versa. But the ones who are will surely thank you for embracing them with love rather than distancing yourself from your shared process woes.

Let me know if this sounds familiar to you, and also how you’re dealing with this in your environment!