Are our attitudes as customers to blame for poor supplier engagement?

If something falls below the standards we expect as customers, what would most of us do?


Driven by our knowledge of consumer rights – both legal and moral – we’re driven to restore the balance of power. We are the little consumer standing up to the faceless corporation who did us wrong.

A little dramatic, maybe.

But the underlying sense of rights and entitlement as a customer is there.

Developments in the world of social media magnify this trend. We all now have a platform to publicly shame our way back to balance. But is true balance what we’re after? Or as consumers are we always looking for the scales to be tipped in our favour?

I’d be interested to explore whether our attitudes as consumers carry over into the office. After all, we are still technically customers. Does that same sense of entitlement, rights and tipping the scale in favour of the customer affect how we interact with suppliers?

I’m not sure.

But I do think it’s an interesting lens to analyse our own behaviours by.

If even slightly true, there is an important difference to recognise. When we are customers in the most common sense – doing our weekly shop say – we are the ‘little man’. And that having the scales tipped in our favour now and again is little sweat off the backs of most companies.

However, when we are the customer of our suppliers – they are often the ‘little man’ of the two. Those same attitudes applied by the ‘faceless corporation’ to the consumer within this context could be perceived as bullying. Layer on a ruthless cost-oriented culture and this will almost certainly be the case.

Unless we return balance with one thing.

In previous blog posts I've stressed the importance of recognising that your suppliers are made up of individuals - individuals just as equally driven and fickle as your customer. We are social beings and I’d like to think that the vast majority of us wouldn’t intentionally bully another person. However, the most moral of us all can be driven astray within a toxic environment. And the free market economic relatives of retail can often create those.

I believe that the most powerful remedy to this is empathy.

For anyone in leadership roles within any function that interacts with suppliers, facilitating ways to grow empathy with suppliers should be at the top of your agenda. Else consumer backlash could significantly impact your brand perception - and in turn - commercial performance.

Growing empathy with suppliers needn’t be abstract nor fluffy.

In fact, many of the tactics you can use to grow it can in themselves help drive sales for your private brands. After all, empathy comes from understanding. And understanding itself is key to leveraging your suppliers which is what I wrote about in Five tactics to leverage suppliers to drive private brand sales.

Tags: Supplier engagement, Consumer trust

David Taylor

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