Five Ways to Improve Communication with Suppliers

12 Aug 2019 TIC 101

Five Ways to Improve Communication with Suppliers

The relationship between a supplier and client is an essential one. A breakdown of correspondence between both parties can create and build avoidable problems. Good communication can make or break operations in manufacturing. Here’s how to improve communication with suppliers.

By Bureau Veritas Technical Services 5 minute read

1.Set Clear Expectations

Setting clear expectations can help avoid grief, especially in the early stages. Clients must help their suppliers understand their requirements. If suppliers aren’t made aware of what’s expected of them, they won’t deliver the desired results.

When setting expectations, clients must make several decisions:

• The responsibilities of both parties.
• What information they require throughout the supply chain.
• How should information be given to them, e.g. detailed emails following any verbal discussions and meetings, emails followed by phone calls in urgent cases
• When information should be communicated to them.
• The frequency of meetings. Meetings should be regularly held, and preferably, in person.
• How problems should be handled by both parties.

Once the client makes those decisions, they will need to meet with their suppliers to establish a communication process. During these discussions, a few decisions need to be made:

• Choice of a platform or system where data and status updates can be seen by all parties. It makes inventory and delivery tracking easier and more transparent.
• What information will be shared on this platform.
• Shared documents, e.g. a centralized QC checklist.

If there are changes, ensure expectations are implemented accordingly. Clients also need to hold their suppliers accountable to updates in future. At the same time, clients also need to hold themselves accountable to the same updates going forward.

2. Establish Tangible Benchmarks

Once expectations have been set, it’s important for clients to determine how results will be evaluated. They need to establish standards against which the supplier’s performance can be unquestionably assessed.

Benchmarks should have the following characteristics:

• Unbiased measurability
• Quantitative
• Results-driven
• Simplicity
• Goal-focused

Clients may want to choose the following as their benchmarks:

• On Time Delivery Performance.
• Inventory Under Min Performance.
• Inventory Over Max Performance.
• Cost Performance (how well the supplier can keep costs to an agreed amount).
• Quality Performance (Defective Parts Per Million).

Clients should always perform a quality check on each production batch as a good practice of communication. New and unexpected quality issues can arise at any time. These problems can then be communicated between all parties, leading to improvements.

3. Plan before any discussions

Before clients discuss any matters with their suppliers, they should already know what they want to discuss. Even taking a little bit of time to gather information and organize details can help avoid miscommunication. Knowledge and organization not only reduces the time required to discuss details, but also increases progress by allowing more issues to be covered during discussions.

In addition, clients should limit the number of people contacted on the supplier’s side. When more people are involved, the likelihood of miscommunication increases. Information will be scattered between people and not communicated correctly between people. Often, these details aren’t shared between them either. In the end, time will need to be spent on clarification. Lastly, clients should keep meetings structured.


In a partnership, it’s important that both parties maintain civility. So, clients should remember that their suppliers are their partners and be mindful of business etiquette when dealing with them.

Here are points to bear in mind:

• Don’t send late-reminder emails unnecessarily. Give suppliers sufficient time to handle issues.
• Be conscious of how often suppliers have been contacted within a timeframe.
• Be precise and concise.
• Condense what needs to be communicated. If the point can be made in a few words, do it
• Keep it simple. Complex messages lead to confusion.
• Follow up with a phone call if an email or call hasn’t been returned. The supplier has other clients to address.
• Be aware of cultural norms when dealing with non-local suppliers. For example, in China, people don’t actively ask questions due to potential loss of face. As a result, clients need to be more proactive about prompting questions.
• Pay bills on time.
• Clients should have the same expectations of themselves as they have of their suppliers. They should perform tasks within a timeframe which gives the supplier sufficient time to do their part. Only make urgent requests under extreme circumstances.
• Clients should constantly check to ensure they’re being a fair customer.
• Admit mistakes when they are made, and resolve them.

Generally, clients should remember the golden rule of relationships: treat others as you want them to treat you.

5. Be Quick and Accurate

Clients need to communicate in a timely manner. However, they should also be aware of the costs of rushing things when they’re not ready. Rushing things can lead to mistakes, which can be costlier in terms of time, money, and reputation. So, it’s important to act fast, but not at the expense of accuracy.

A supplier-client relationship built on respect, trust, and transparency can lead to a fruitful partnership which can last for years.

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