Great expectations deserve effective communications. Let’s review some of the common and recurring hiccups, and sometimes large problems, which develop between two ready and willing parties. One primary rule is for each participants to know the other’s business. Failure to do so is likely to result in misunderstandings, failed expectations or, worse yet, serious misrepresentations and added costs.
Without a history of previous dealings or extensive background checks, it is a good practice to inquire of your peers or conduct professional reference checks on prospective suppliers and customers as well. This, of course, falls in the category of common sense, but can, and does, occur as a result of aggressive/smooth sales pitches or time pressures.
A second, and much more subtle, issue that surfaces is a failure to adequately communicate expectations on both the buying and selling sides. One way to better understand this point is to view the customer/supplier interaction as a partnership. This term has been greatly overused and muddled in the process over past decades, so understand that all partnerships are not equal and, in fact, probably carry several levels of commitment and responsibility. First, a generic partner supplier, today, must provide high-quality products, competitive pricing, on-time delivery, reasonably anticipate customer demands and keep the customer informed about product changes and new products. This defines the new generation entry-level supplier.
A second, higher-level partner may be a “standard” supplierthat offers the preferred product brand unless another brand is specified, usually at additional cost, justified by additional inventory and other administrative requirements. This level supplier should never fail to supply the customer’s volume demands or service requirements. In addition, the supplier may participate in cost saving cooperative promotional, advertising and development programs. A textbook example of this relationship is the “standard” components that are listed in many truck manufacturers’ data books.
A third, even higher-level partner needs to be very informed and responsive to the customer’s business operations and goals. This supplier thinks in terms of “what’s best for” or “what will hurt” the customer’s everyday operations. This supplier thinks beyond the primary customer to the next level customer and fully understands how a supply or quality issue will affect both the first and second tier customers’ business, reputation and cost/expense structures. This supplier is committed as “one stop shopping” partner who would simply handle all of the customer’s issues for specific product types.
For example, offering new tires, batteries, retreading, wheel refinishing, etc. It would not be unreasonable for the customer to expect this level supplier to purchase and furnish a different comparable brand item to address emergency quality or supply issues. This may actually benefit the supplier’s long-term interests since it can keep the customer from seeking competitive sales calls and proposals. Reciprocally, customers should not expect this supplier to offer prices that may not ensure a fair profit.
There are many different levels of customer/supplier relationships differentiated primarily by the degree of commitment, responsibility and related details on both sides. Without clear, effective communication and understanding, misunderstandings are almost certain.
Both parties must know and accept their responsibilities and commitments. Keep the relationship fresh with periodic dialognever make assumptions. There are many professionals in our industry who are there to help fleet managers, don’t be shy about seeking them out. Effective communication helps assure cost containment and long-term competitive success.