We’ve recently had some service issues with one of our local fulfillment providers regarding a particular type of background search. I pieced together communications and strange results from the previous two weeks—something was definitely going on with our supplier. And it wasn’t the fault of the source, as their staff were telling us. So, I called my main contact at the supplier and told him I’d rather he hear the issues from me than from a large, unhappy client of his. I told him that I understood I wasn’t in the top-tier level of volume and appreciated that he took my call so quickly. In response, he told me that his staff have always been instructed pay attention to our account at a higher-volume service level because of the type of relationship we have. I’ve worked with this supplier for many years. We’ve spoken frankly with each other all those years. Also, we have a mutual consultative relationship between our two companies.
What do I mean by “mutual consultative relationship”? Sure, we probably want all our suppliers to provide more than just data to us. We want them to let us know when they know something about the background searches we buy from them. We want them to inform us of changes in laws, of changes in ordering requirements, of changes in perception of a product. We want them to tell us when we shouldn’t order a particular search or when a search really isn’t all it’s thought to be. We want their guidance to help us take care of our clients and to sell their product. Those are all hallmarks of a consulting relationship.
But a mutual consultative relationship is bi-directional. It means you help your suppliers as much as they help you. You inform them of things that go on in their areas, which can be law changes or changes at the source. You provide them links to interesting articles that may benefit them. You offer them help with the knowledge you have.
Sure, this is going to benefit your competitors, but in my experience, helping my competitor, especially in such an indirect way, can be extremely beneficial for my business. As my example earlier illustrates, one of the easiest ways to be top of our suppliers’ minds (in a good way) is to be kind and helpful. When you help your suppliers with their businesses, they often recognize that at many levels of the company. This can translate into a higher level of client care, better pricing, and better two-way communication. I’ve had several experiences where my good relationships with my suppliers have resulted in new business for me. It also helps protect the reputation of your suppliers, which in turn impacts your reputation. Just as a rising tide lifts all boats, a sinking lake strands them all.
Here are some of the specific things I do to help my suppliers:
- Share the expertise: I have learned a great deal in my decades in the screening industry. I’ve let my suppliers know I am happy to spend time with their staff answering questions or teaching them about specific things. When I come across an article about a legislative or data protection change in their area, I send it to them. If I see an article about something one of their competitors does, I may forward that. When I first started at ClearStar, I was horrified to learn what background screeners outside of the U.S. were buying from vendors in the U.S. for U.S. criminal record searches. As baffled as we are by criminal record searches outside the U.S., when you look at the fragmented system here in the U.S., it is difficult to understand. So many companies were buying “National Criminal Checks” at an exorbitant price and thinking they were getting a fully comprehensive U.S. nationwide criminal check. One of the first things I did was offer to teach a session on U.S. criminal checks to my suppliers. This wasn’t done so that they would buy these checks from us; we didn’t even offer them as wholesale services at the time. It was done so that my suppliers would have a reputation of providing the very best to all their clients. Our suppliers come to us with requests for insight and advice on a regular basis, and we are honored to be thought of so highly.
- See both sides: If an error appears to be made or you have a special request, try to understand the issue from your supplier’s point of view. What may seem like an inconsequential request may be difficult for your supplier to do. Perhaps their systems don’t support it without major (and expensive) changes. Maybe their operations flow does not support a customized request. Resistance to a request may be due to their concern they will not be able to manage that request comprehensively and consistently. If it looks like an error has been made, consider anything that may have been done on your side that created or amplified the issue.
- Don’t yell: If you are upset about service issues or errors, you may have better success addressing the problem with a conversation. Mistakes will happen. Continual mistakes can point to bigger issues, but even then, unless you don’t maintain a deep connection with a supplier, work together to try to find the cause and solution. I have had clients scream at me because of late global searches. When I’ve researched the issues, it’s not been uncommon to find part of the problem was created by the client. Unfortunately, when clients are screaming, they aren’t listening and the situation is likely to repeat itself.
- Keep your suppliers up to date about service problems and successes: You have a view into your suppliers’ businesses that they may not have. When an error was made or a procedure was not followed, the supplier’s management may not even be aware of it. The same is true when your supplier has a process that works extremely well. Touch base with them every now and then and let them know what is working and what is not. When a stellar staff member is working on your account, let the management at your supplier know.
- Follow up on your commitments: Number one is to pay your bill on time. Your suppliers are not a bank, and they have bills to pay also. If you agreed to provide a reference, then do so. If you agreed to provide some training, then do it.
Our company is lucky that many of our clients ask us for help and in-depth knowledge. One of my clients and I engage in regular discussions about data protection. I learn more from these conversations than she does. We share information and helpful hints about this difficult and ever-changing topic. Working with this client is extremely satisfying, and I look forward to any call, even if it’s a complaint.
Last thing—I hope you noticed one thing in this post, and that was the lack of the use of the word “vendor”. Without them, we would not be here. A vendor relationship seems very one-sided. The suppliers who help us take care of our clients are true service partners. I am interested in more than just a product from my service partners; I want them to help me care for our clients, and I want them to be successful.
|Kerstin Bagus – Director, Global Initiatives
Kerstin Bagus supports ClearStar’s Global Screening Program as its Director of Global Initiatives. She has more than 30 years of background screening industry experience, working for a variety of firms, large and small. Kerstin is one of the few individuals in the industry who is privacy-certified through the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) for Canada, the EU, and the U.S.
Kerstin is a passionate participant in the Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA, formerly NAPBS) and is a current member of the Board, in addition to participating on several committees. She also participates on IFDAT’s Legal Committee, with a primary focus on global data privacy.
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