1-800-COMPLAIN — Constructive vs. Petty Criticism: Should You Have a Supplier Kvetch Line?

In the old days of purchasing, supplier communication was a one-way street. And you-know-what rolled downhill. Now, I don't mean to romanticize the past in any shape or form. The days of Ignacio Lopez at GM are long gone (and thank goodness for it). Moreover, I've sufficiently done my own penance, having been one of the early proponents of reverse auctions -- and now avoid suggesting their use for many (but not all) sourcing use cases. As I often like to write and speak about, supplier communication -- regardless of whether it's through an initial sourcing or ongoing relationship management or development process -- is a two-way street.

Yet I question how far some organizations have gone in their goals to present a George Bush-esque (H as in Bush "Senior) kinder, gentler face to suppliers. Just as this failed "senior" in his re-election bid, I think being too much of a softy can fail CPOs in hoping to achieve their ultimate objectives.

Over on Procurement Leaders Blog, my colleague Paul Teague covered the issue in a recent post, noting as a foundation that supplier communications must go both ways. In his words, "on one side of the highway, you have to let suppliers know your company's strategic goals and how you feel they are helping you implement them. On the other side, there should be no barriers preventing suppliers from telling you how easy or difficult you are as a customer."

Paul points to Woolworth's as one example, who is "planning to open a hotline that suppliers can use to report 'malpractice.' Among the goals: helping suppliers overcome their fear of complaining about unfair negotiations practices." But I question whether or not that "giving them a chance to vent will make them feel more like a partner" and whether that is "an important attitude to instill to get the most out of them" through such a means. After all, shouldn't good communication be a true two-way street -- not a chance to anonymously "out" a category manager for engaging in unbecoming behavior?

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all for sourcing sensitivity training. But what about category leads having "office hours" versus an anonymous supplier toll-free line to complain?

In a way, it's the business version of the ancient and sage biblical advice of "do unto others..." You want to critique your suppliers to make them better. Let them critique you too and maybe you'll get better service.

- Jason Busch

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Voices (2)

  1. Anonymous:
  2. Sherry Gordon:

    I question this approach, too, Jason. Providing suppliers with a way to give a company feedback is useful only to the extent that something actually comes of it. I don’t think that just allowing suppliers to vent or complain anonymously makes them feel more like partners, especially if what they tell the customer isn’t used constructively or doesn’t go anywhere. Where’s the feedback loop in this? If a company thinks it needs an anonymous supplier complaint hotline, then maybe that’s a telling sign right there and indicates problems that could be readily found and addressed without asking for anonymous tips. When customers openly address issues that suppliers raise rather than just letting them vent on a hotline, then suppliers will feel more like partners.

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