Supply Chain Expertise and Technology Blog by TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson

8 Ways to Identify Providers That Make it Their Business to Stay Aligned

How do service providers keep pace with customers that are constantly on the move? This must surely be one of the toughest challenges facing suppliers in today’s unpredictable business environment.

The answer, of course, is that service providers must understand where their customers are headed and change accordingly to stay in alignment.

A recent course change TMC has made is to create my new role – Director of Customer Relations. The role has three main areas of focus: to ensure that the appropriate customer relationships as well as the required support are in place, to make certain that we stay aligned with customers’ evolutionary paths, and to help maintain and develop our account management talent.

The role requires a deep understanding of what it takes to keep two organizations in lock step. As mentioned, it’s a tricky balancing act, so here are some pointers that will hopefully help shippers choose and work with service providers that can keep up with them.

1. Will you outgrow them?
It is crucial that suppliers have the resources and geographical reach to keep pace with your growth plans. If not, are they willing to make the required investments?

2. Are they innovators?
In order to stay competitive these days companies must innovate, and a key source of ideas is your supplier base. Try to get a sense of how good the provider is at innovating; are they open to new concepts and do they encourage the flow of ideas both internally and externally?

3. Cultural fit
Make sure that the cultures of respective organizations mesh. On a day-to-day basis it’s important that the personalities of team members are compatible at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. Keep in mind that conversations on the first two levels are likely revolve around issues such as quality and service consistency, whereas higher-level interactions can involve questions about resource allocation and strategic plans. Matching respective corporate cultures is also important. Are your business philosophies and ways of working in synch?

4. Technical fit
Can the provider’s IT systems and software solutions engage seamlessly with your own?

5. Talent fit
How effective is the provider’s talent pipeline? This might not appear to be an issue that merits special attention, but their skills base must keep pace with your changing demands.

6. Responsiveness
Does the provider team really listen and respond to your input? How often do they take the pulse of the relationship through check calls? Failure to stay in touch on a regular basis should raise a red flag. Also, how easy is it for the provider team to obtain the internal resources they need to maintain service levels?

7. How they present themselves
Is this the kind of company that you would happily allow to interact with your customers, suppliers, and vendors? In strategic relationships the provider functions as an extension of your organization, so it’s important to make sure that they present an acceptable face to your customers and other trading partners.

8. Location
Although today’s communications technology makes the close physical proximity of suppliers less critical, if you value lots of face-to-face time with providers then their location is a factor worth considering. And the importance of location is not necessarily restricted to their domestic presence. The chances are that you have operations in multiple countries, and might need regional access to a provider in all or some of these geographies.

A service provider that constantly strives to be a true collaborator – and not just a supplier that does the absolute minimum to meet their contractual obligations – is a highly valuable resource.

Taking the time to find and nurture these collaborators can pay huge dividends in both the short and long terms. In terms of the latter, this type of relationship tends to be long-lasting because it evolves and adapts as respective organizations change over time.