Bring your supplier communications out of the noughties

Most of us are aware that we probably spend too much time looking at screens and perhaps instant messaging is creating a whole generation of workers who are adverse to picking up a phone to speak to someone or even walking over to a colleague’s desk to have a chat. I personally believe that instant messaging is a positive addition to the workplace but then again, I’m also good at stepping away from the keyboard and chatting about work by the water cooler or at someone’s desk.

Instant messaging at work

What’s undeniable is that instant messaging has become a universal skill. We are all familiar with the speech bubble interface and readily choose this channel to ask questions or hold full discussions. In our personal lives, group chats are essential for organising any kind of social gathering from a night out on the town to going to a concert to organising a wedding. Even my octogenarian grandma gets involved with the group chat.

It therefore feels easy to adopt this kind of communication in a work environment. Once the app is installed, there’s barely any training needed to show people how to converse with their colleagues over tools such as Slack or Whatsapp. It’s all so familiar!

Here at S4RB, we all use Slack and Asana on a daily basis. We also have regular in-person stand-ups and get together down the pub on a Friday night, so it’s not killed off that face-to-face interaction just yet.

Using communication tools for increased supplier engagement

At our core is supplier engagement and communication so of course we want to roll in our favourite elements from the tools that we use into those tools that we provide for our clients. We’ve recently achieved this with the launch of our Conversations tool (it does what it says on the tin!) within our Affinity™ platform.

In addition to the emails, surveys, self-help and portal-based tools, retailers now have access to this additional integrated method of real-time communication with their suppliers and the ability to bring more than one person into the conversation when needed – hello group chats! Where this really becomes powerful for own brand retailers is the ability to tie Conversations around a single purpose like corrective actions from quality tests.

How might this Conversations tool work in practice?

Picture the scenario from the retail team’s perspective:

You’re carrying out routine quality tests and a packet of cooked chicken pieces is falling below the mark. It’s off-colour and slightly mushy. This means that it fails the quality test and at this point, rather than taking to email, the Conversations tool automatically creates a new conversation between you and the supplier. The specifics of the problem are shared along with all the information needed, like product specs, test results and photos.

All your suppliers are saved in the system and as you type, the tool suggests who you might be writing to. Just like email, you add a subject line plus you have severity options to select from a drop-down list.

This chicken issue is deemed medium severity and as you complete this first screen, you are taken straight into the corrective actions area. You log the problem as an action for your supplier to respond to, set the deadline this needs to happen by, and this is where the extra clever bit happens:

All of this activity has been fired off to the supplier in an email notification but there is the added bonus of being able to chat over instant message about the issue in real time! What’s more, you and the supplier can invite others into the message thread so you can involve all the necessary parties to agree next steps. There’s no need for email back and forth – it’s all handled in the chat window and everything is kept in one place – not spread across inboxes and spreadsheets.

Create a paper trail of your supplier conversations

What’s more, the conversation is linked in the system to the product in question and it’s kept as a record of what’s happened. All conversations are searchable too, meaning that you can re-visit what was discussed in a few clicks and other team members can see the history or access details in your absence.

The same logic allows conversations and corrective actions around other items such as customer complaints, product reviews or other product issues.  But it doesn’t necessarily require a quality failure to strike up a conversation with suppliers. The tool is there to discuss anything and everything with your suppliers, like an uptick in complaints or returns and even NPD issues.

The result is that issues are resolved with less effort and crucially, sooner than they would have been had everything taken place over email, because of the targeted nature of the conversation taking place and the specific action it is linked to. Your team also spend less time collating all the information and talking to suppliers on the phone because there simply isn’t a need for it.

Instant messaging = efficient communication

One of the benefits of instant messaging is it encourages efficient communication. We are encouraged to say more with less characters. It feels right to be short and concise.

We are recommending this mode of communication for our customers as it facilitates retailers and suppliers working together as one team which we have seen reap big rewards for own brand teams. Making yourself easily contactable is great customer service for your suppliers and will ultimately lead to them making you their customer of choice. If you want your suppliers to prioritise your requests – make those requests accessible and dare we say it, bring them out of the communication dark ages and into the bright light of a targeted, secure group discussion!

Our Conversations tool is part of our Affinity™ platform.

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Kelly Cookson

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