9 ways to improve supply chain communication

November 9, 2021

Poor communication within your supply chain often becomes apparent only when it's too late. How confident are you that communication across your supply chain is of the standard it needs to be?

Improving your supply chain communication is a vital step to building supply chain resiliency and mitigating procurement risks.

The better the communication lines across your supply chain, the better you can:

  • Manage supply chain disruptions and bottlenecks
  • Avoid stock shortages hitting your sales and profitability
  • Maintain high customer satisfaction levels

Here are nine ways you can do just that.

1. Encourage transparency with your procurement and sourcing teams

Poor communication across a supply chain network is often a consequence of the same problem being present internally. If you don't fully brief your procurement and sourcing teams on what is happening with your supply chains and their role in risk management, how can you expect them to be effective in their roles?

Encourage your internal supply chain leaders to improve their communication, and that of your teams with your supplier network will follow.

2. Agree metrics with all providers and stakeholders

Ensuring all stakeholders, from your internal teams to your provider and distributor network, are all on the same page is an easy win when it comes to communication.

Whether you're setting metrics around lead time, supply chain sustainability, or optimisation of a specific process, doing so is a vital step to enhancing communication and your entire supply chain operation.

3. Manage your entire supply chain proactively

Remember what we said about poor communication becoming apparent when it's too late? That happens when businesses manage their supply chains reactively rather than proactively.

When you're proactive, you can have open discussions about potential supply chain issues, whether there's a potential warehousing problem on the horizon or you need to look at outsourcing a process elsewhere. Taking this step also means your suppliers feel comfortable about coming to you with issues too. It's a win-win!

4. Embrace technology

Supply Chain Traceability by Serai

Technology is vital to supply chain communication in the modern world.

Things like traceability software can open communication lines while also providing a real-time overview of your supply chain performance. Integrating supply chain software into your existing ERP suite is also a positive step to take. Elsewhere, using communication technology like messaging tools can ensure you have a channel for priority communications that can't wait for a meeting or an email response.

5. Prioritise your suppliers and supplier relationships

How do you feel if the only communication you ever receive from your customers is negative? Chances are, your suppliers feel the same way.

Instead of only speaking to your suppliers when something goes wrong, make efforts to nurture your supplier relationships at all times. Take the time to check in on them and schedule regular reviews. If you have to miss a meeting or haven't spoken to someone in a while, even sending them a message on LinkedIn is a positive step to building and maintaining rapport and takes a matter of seconds to do.

6. Meet suppliers and distributors on a regular basis

Building on the last point, it's vital that you regularly have scheduled meetings. Your supply chain will consist of many moving parts, so try and get both your suppliers and key distribution partners together at least once a quarter, if not monthly. You can also schedule shorter "huddle" style meetings on a more regular basis.

Modern technology means you can easily facilitate meetings online, but if you're doing in-person audits on things like supply chain sustainability compliance, you can hold your meetings during these projects.

7. Standardise communications by knowing your inventory

It isn't necessary for everyone in your business to know each product you sell on your e-commerce platform inside out, but they do need to have a working knowledge of your inventory. This will help you communicate your requirements to suppliers while also helping you understand what they're telling you if they're reporting shortages or bottlenecks themselves.

The best way to standardise communications is by using a catalogue and referring to part numbers. This approach means you can be specific. For example, telling a supplier you need to ensure a supply of EB9374 is better than saying you need more purple t-shirts. What if your supplier provides 15 different purple t-shirts to other e-commerce sites?

8. Ensure clear accountability for communications

Communication within your supply chain will instantly improve if all stakeholders are clear on what they are accountable for within your communication chain.

Create a service level agreement type document that details, for yourself, suppliers, and distributors:

  • Who stakeholders should communicate specific issues to
  • Mutually agreed to timelines for a response and/or a resolution
  • The escalation process in the event of no or an unsatisfactory response

Ideally, you will never need to use the escalation process, but having a transparent communication chain on all sides will ensure confidence in your processes.

9. Respect your suppliers and don't micromanage them

Whatever is in your contract with your suppliers, make sure you respect it. It's easy to find news stories about companies that tried to squeeze supplier margins or change their terms of business mid-way through a contract. If you have a problem with the contracts you signed, that's on your procurement team, not your suppliers.

Respecting your suppliers extends to how you manage them and how you interact with downstream suppliers, too. While it's healthy for you to work with your suppliers on improving their internal processes and how they work with their own suppliers - your downstream suppliers - there is a fine line between collaboration and trying to micromanage and run your suppliers' business.

Make sure you don't cross it.

Better communication = better supply chain management

Effective communication is a "must have" when it comes to your supply chain strategy. While some business processes can work and get by without being underpinned by excellent communication, your supply chain isn't one of them.

Spend time evaluating how you can improve communication across your supply chain, whether you need to streamline decision-making processes, find a new technology to use as a communication tool, or optimise your comms in another manner. You'll gain a competitive advantage for your business and see a positive impact on your bottom line.

Discover how Serai can help you improve communication across your supply chain network.

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