The Future: Supplier Service in Supplier Management

CONTRIBUTION BY STUART EMMETT – freelance independent trainer and consultant who trades under the name of Learn and Change

Organisations are well versed in customer service principles; indeed the customer is the business for many. This was not always true, but now, the growth and acceptance of the importance of customer service is well recognized, (if not always, well practiced). At the other extreme, conceptually, from customers, we have suppliers; so what about supplier service?

This concept presents interesting and possibly controversial views, as does supplier management; however we expect supplier service will become as well recognized as is customer service.

The supply chain is also the supply-demand chain and also the supplier-customer chain. The supply chain can also be visualized as a series of connected links of suppliers and customers with many and multiple supplier / customer connections in most supply chains. Such connections can be internal or external ones, involving internal departments in an organisation, or, external suppliers or customers; for example; the passing on of paperwork to the next person, the passing on of a sub assembly on an assembly line or the supply of component part from an external supplier.

Of course, and to state the obvious, suppliers have customers and customers have suppliers and additionally, one maybe a customer in one transaction, but are then a supplier in another transaction. Suppliers will also, naturally and normally, view the next connection link as a customer. However, rarely will customers view their suppliers in the same way as they do their customers.

Yet in the supply chain process, they are both connected interdependently.

Therefore, if buyers would see suppliers the same as they see customers, then not only would supply chain relationships (SRM) change; overall, the end service to the ultimate end customer should be “perfect.”

This is therefore what we call, supplier service. Whilst we do not really want to add to the multitude of jargon that already exists in our profession, it is our belief that seeing suppliers in a similar way, to how we already see, customers will bring a paradigm shift in our thinking. And, it is how we think that drives what we do.

Seeing suppliers as we see customers, will mean that the following rules and actions have to apply with suppliers:

  • Believe that suppliers possess good ideas;
  • Gather supplier feedback at every opportunity;
  • Focus on continual improvement;
  • Actively solicit good and bad feedback;
  • Don’t spend vast sums of money doing it;
  • Seek real-time feedback;
  • Make it easy for suppliers to provide feedback;
  • Leverage technology to aid your efforts;
  • Share supplier’s feedback throughout the organisation;
  • Use feedback to make changes quickly.


Definitions of Supplier Service

Supplier service can be variably seen and the following five views represent some different definitions:

Supplier service is seen as a need satisfier where “Supplier Service is a function of how well an organisation meets the needs of its suppliers.”

Supplier service is seen as taking care where “Supplier Service is a phrase that is used to describe the process of taking care of our suppliers in a positive manner”

Supplier service is seen as keeping promises where “Supplier service is the ability to provide them with feedback in the way that it has been promised”

Supplier service is seen as adding value where “Supplier service is a process for providing competitive advantage and adding benefits in order to maximize the total value” and “Supplier service is the commitment to providing value added services to external and internal suppliers, including attitude knowledge, technical support and quality of service in a timely manner”

Supplier service is seen as all of the supplier contact where “Supplier service is any contact between a supplier and a company, which causes a negative or positive perception by a supplier”

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Stuart Emmett is a freelance independent trainer and consultant who trades under the name of Learn and Change. Stuart believes that in times of change, it is only those who consciously learn, that will inherit, a successful future. Stuart has operational and strategic experience in varied commercial service industries - gained in the UK and Nigeria – and is particularly interested in the “people issues” of management processes, as well as logistics and supply-chain management. He has worked on 6 continents, in over 30 countries and delivered to over 50 nationalities. Stuart has written 30 books on supply chain and leadership/management topics.