Effective communication during times of crisis took the centre stage during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some leaders were praised for their communication styles: demonstrating empathy, providing clear guidance and being concise. But, no matter the crisis or the leader involved, these situations provide us with good examples of what to do, or what NOT to do when it comes to communicating effectively. Why, then, does a lot of this understanding fall to the wayside when companies need to communicate with suppliers?
Given the number of issues that are impacting supply chains around the world: the microchip shortage, the energy crisis, inflation, the Ukraine War, the drought in Africa, the earthquake in Syria and Turkey… need we go on…? The need for companies to be able to clearly and effectively communicate with suppliers about how an issue might impact them, their response to it and what it means for achieving long-term objectives is essential. Done right and it can help to forge stronger relationships with suppliers and reinforce your customer of choice status with them.
But it’s not just about addressing a topic head-on, it’s about doing it in a way that helps to achieve an optimal outcome. We founded Supplier Day with the fundamental belief that how you communicate determines whether or not you achieve your goals. Below are our top tips for communicating with suppliers in a crisis:
Clarity is Key:
It’s especially difficult to make sense of a complicated situation, or one that is still unfolding. Take, for example, the speculation right now that we are headed for a recession. Some companies are taking decisive action to recession proof while others are waiting to see what happens. Whether you are planning a cost-cutting exercise or you have a positive outlook, communicating this properly to suppliers will improve the confidence they have in what the future of working with you looks like. This means that they will be able to plan appropriately for your business and you’ll receive stronger, more relevant business plans.
So, how exactly do you do it?
- Present your message in a way that is easy to understand. Use simple language and avoid jargon or technical terms that people may not understand.
- If there is a very specific issue to address, help your suppliers to understand what is happening. Wherever possible, provide them with actionable information about what they should do.
- Set clear expectations with your suppliers about what you need from them and what they can expect from you.
Communicating with suppliers doesn’t just allow you to come out the other side of a crisis unscathed, it’s an opportunity to build stronger relationships with them. When unprecedented events occur, like a pandemic, or something that has far-reaching or personal implications like the Russian invasion of Ukraine or the earthquake in Syria or Turkey, there is a human element to it all that we’d do well to remember. There is a need to acknowledge the human experience and doing so can help your suppliers get to know you and your needs better and improve their willingness to work together to find solutions to any problems that arise.
So, how exactly do you do it?
- Be honest: People will trust you more if you are honest about what is happening, even if the situation is difficult. Be transparent about what you know and what you don’t know, and avoid making promises that you cannot keep.
- Be empathetic: People are likely to be anxious or stressed during a crisis, so it’s important to show that you understand their concerns. Listen to their questions and concerns, and respond with empathy and compassion.
- Be respectful: it goes without saying to treat your suppliers with professionalism but go beyond this by acknowledging their contributions to your business in a meaningful way.
Think about how
It’s much easier to apply our first two tips when you already have an established method for communicating with suppliers. When we have designed a regular sequence of events for our customers, they’re able to use them to respond to whatever current issues are at the top of their supplier’s mind in a way that is natural, without requiring a lot of additional work for them. The forum and format are already designed, all they need to work on is their messaging.
Here are a few additional things to think about:
The longer you take to address an issue that impacts your supply chain the more you allow for uncertainty and speculation to creep in. This can distract everyone from responding to the real issue at hand.
Provide feedback and follow-up
Your initial response will be important but how you follow up and feedback to your clients will reinforce their confidence in you and the actions you need everyone to keep taking.
Use technology and multiple channels
Think about your message and what the best tools are to deliver it.
Communicating during a crisis isn’t easy and particularly so when you’re needing to ensure business continuity at the same time. But, being able to improve how you communicate with your suppliers will lead to better understanding and collaboration, improved problem solving, increased trust and cost savings.