Customer-Supplier Relationships for Lean Six Sigma

Lately I've noticed that too many suppliers are willing to deal with all of their customer's mistakes to get the job. Which ends up costing them both more money.

Recently, we sent out a mailing to our customers about some new products. Little did we know that our mail house has been cleaning up our file for the last several years. This time, however, a new member of their staff pulled the address file just the way we sent it to them resulting in 1,500 returned mail pieces due to insufficient address.

Shouldn't they have caught it just by looking at it? They had in the past.

Shouldn't they have caught it during the run? Probably, but they didn't.

When I asked what went wrong, they explained that they had been cleaning up our file, but had failed to do so this time. I asked what they would like from us instead and got some clear requirements about how to provide an address file that would minimize the chance of this happening in the future.

The same thing happened with our printer who finally admitted that he'd have to start charging us for preparation work if we didn't start sending our color artwork as CMYK (four color) instead of RGB. Otherwise he has to convert them all before he prints.

Suppliers are Customers Too

In both cases, we supply our suppliers with electronic files (addresses and artwork). They become our customers for this part of the transaction. Then they supply us with printed or mailed materials.

If I know what suppliers want, I can usually give it to them without much extra effort on my part, but I need to know their requirements. Most don't even have a checklist of criteria for a job.

Clean Up Your Own Act

You know from experience that flawed raw materials will produce a poor quality product. Which of your suppliers rely on you for some sort of input before they can begin?
What are the flaws in your "raw materials?" Find out your supplier's requirements. Ask: What will help minimize the cost, time, and chance of error for my job?

Change your processes to deliver what they need. This will accelerate the speed with which your job can be completed and minimize the risks.

Train Your Customers

Do you have a checklist of requirements for input from your customers? What would it take to create one? How could you position it as a way for them to save money, reduce risk, and reduce the time required to meet their needs?

Learning how to dance well with your customers and suppliers means learning when to lead and when to follow. Ask your suppliers how you can help them do a better job. Train your customers on how to work with you more effectively. It will take some time, but the savings are worth it. And savings translate into more business and greater profits. What have you got to lose?

Rights to reprint this article in company periodicals is freely given with the inclusion of the following tag line: "© 2008 Jay Arthur, the KnowWare® Man, (888) 468-1537,"

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