One of the most important aspects of the customer-vendor partnership is keeping your vendor aware of their standing with you. The last thing you want is to surprise your vendor by telling them you have been unhappy with their performance for the past month, quarter, or, worst of all, year.
We all have systems in place that evaluate our vendors by the numbers, and these are extremely important. Vendor performance scorecards are an ongoing, critical ingredient to having a solid customer-vendor relationship, but as important as those are, they are just numbers—cold, hard facts. I’m assuming all companies have those. Programs like ISO, AS9100, and others demand that companies have an organized rating system, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
If you are serious about having a great relationship with your PCB vendors, you have to develop a fair rating system and talk to them. You have to give them verbal feedback so that they’re aware of how they are performing as your trusted PCB vendor, as well as how you feel about how they are doing. The key to this is ongoing communication. Here are five ways to ensure that you and your PCB vendors are on the same page when it comes to how both of you are doing as working partners.
- Regular calls: people say they always talk to vendors, and the chances are good that they do. However, it still makes sense to set up a time, perhaps once a week, to have a quick phone call to check in with each other to make sure that everything is going in the right direction. Have a set agenda of the topics you want to cover. The call does not have to be formal, but it does have to cover these topics. Then send a summary of the call to make sure you agree on what you discussed.
- Monthly reviews: These are more structured meetings where you review the vendor performance scorecard and discuss what went right and what did not. This is the time for the customer, and the vendor, to review what’s going on in each of their companies as well. This meeting is critical to a successful relationship.
- Regular face-to-face meetings: No matter how much you use email, phone calls, or other communication tools, there is nothing better than a face-to-face meeting. I’d recommend alternating sites. Have the vendor tour your facility one time, and in turn, visit the vendor and tour their facility next time. Touring a facility to get a true firsthand impression of what is going on is important.This is also a great time to sit down with the rest of the team members who work hard on your customer-vendor partnership. When you visit your vendor’s facility, make sure to say hello to their customer service/inside sales team, their engineers and quality people, and even people in the shipping department; it’s good to get to know them and thank them for all the good work they are doing for you because they are all your vendors.
- Participation in your annual meeting: Ask your vendor to take part in your annual meeting. Ask them to come in and talk to your entire team, giving them an update of what is going on at their company, how their year went, and what their plans are for the coming year. This is also a great time to exchange ideas about upcoming challenges you are going to face together in the next year from an increase in your demands to more technology or stricter quality requirements. This is an all-important time to educate your vendors on what your needs for the coming year are going to be.
- Recognition for Good Service: Everyone loves recognition. Implement a vendor recognition award for great service over the previous year. Give your best vendor an award for great service. Of course, be sincere about it. The award has to be earned, so make sure the award is supported with the facts of a great performance. An award like this is a very serious expression of how well your company feels that this vendor has performed.
The most effective way to present an award like this is to visit the vendor and present it at an all-hands meeting if the company is small enough to make that manageable; if it is a large company, then have a meeting of the vendor’s team made up of the people who work on your account. Make sure that the award acknowledges everyone on the vendor’s team who worked on your account (by the way, supplying lunch for that team wouldn’t hurt either).
The ideas mentioned here might take a little more time than you would like, but, in the end, they are all an investment for a great cause. Having a productive and successful customer-vendor partnership is what counts.