Partners and Suppliers in a Digital Age - How Should You Manage Them?

What is the best way to make sure that you are connected the digital dots?


It was really difficult to come up with a title for this post. Mainly due to the fact that my message relates to any organisation or group outside your organisation that form part of the Customer Experience – so not just the traditional supply chain – but every single organisation that has some responsibility along your customer journey.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about the importance of the supplier, partner or provider as a key audience within the customer journey cycle.

Often I am faced with a perception that becoming customer centric is all about understanding the customer in order to increase the value of their experience and your engagement with them. Without question, this is a key part of becoming customer centric but understanding and collaborating with the supplier/partner ecosystem involved in creating the most relevant and meaningful customer experiences requires equal thought and attention.

The digital age has brought with it an unlimited supply of possibility in terms of technology; from apps, to open source through to predictive analytics and social business elements beyond just social media…and the list goes on and on…

As digital opportunities increase, the reliance on suppliers and partners to provide specialist tools and services also increases. Many organisations even look towards outsourcing as many areas as possible as a strategic business objective.

All this against a backdrop of the Internet of Things only points to a move towards multiple and complex working relationships with people and organisations, which are outside the traditional four walls of business.

Yet, given all this, businesses often look to supplier and partner relationships in a traditional way that limits both the value and innovation which could be afforded with a more collaborative and integrated approach.

So how should you build valuable and effective relationships with service providers and partners outside the traditional controls of the internal business?

Mindset, Visibility, Adaptability and Resilience.

It is most important that just as the people you work with within the business need to have a team fit and personality fit, so too should your partners and suppliers. In an ever-complex world where the customer journey is a series of touchpoints that are controlled by different organisations, a mindset fit is vital. Though the ultimate customer responsibility might fall to you, those suppliers and partners that deliver service, product and experience to your customers must be like-minded enough to support that seamless customer journey. Furthermore, with the customer landscape becoming more fragmented the need to maintain visibility of all your customers across all touchpoints at all times becomes a science in itself.

The advance of data and analytics have possibly been one of the most important breakthroughs to enable a single customer view, the ability to analyse, engage, understand and better serve the customer throughout their journey from discovery through to loyalty and advocacy. But when the customer travels through the different touchpoints that are owned, created or part responsibility of a third party, it’s vitally important you don’t lose full visibility of data – we have to find ways to ensure that no gaps exist across all those customer touchpoints.

This is not always easy and should be something which forms part of the contractual negotiation right at the very start of the business relationship – and even cited within any contract agreements. Data is the key to unlocking optimal value and insight in the search to create the best customer experiences and achieve business goals. Don’t throw that vital element away just because of the lack of attention at the first hurdle. Having full data visibility within the boundaries of compliance and security is a must with all partners and suppliers.

When you put mindset and visibility together you have the component parts for a solid collaborative working environment. And as the concept of design and innovation becomes less about a siloed R&D department in the darker levels of a business and more about the open, integrated collaborative environment where suppliers and partners become an intrinsic part of product and service development – we need to ensure that we either choose or consciously build this environment with all our suppliers and partners. To ensure both mindset and visibility are focus points for your supplier partner relationships is hugely important to deliver innovative and effective end to end customer experiences.

Adaptability. Customer demands are in constant flux, a new app or social platform can take off in what feels like a matter of hours, in particular with the younger digital generations. And as new features and functions are added to more established digital platforms and products, the consumption habits of the audience changes as a result. What this means is that the whole supply chain needs to be able and willing to adapt to changes when relevant and meaningful to the customer experience. Equally, your partners and suppliers should have a good enough focus on the advancement of technology within their specialist area to continually provide the most valuable contribution to the customer lifecycle. Adaptability is going to be an increasingly important part of supplier partner relationships when it comes to the full customer lifecycle in a digital age.

Resilience – this word is often more likely to be used within the manufacturing context or the more traditional supply chain area of logistics etc. However, in the digital age having a sense of resilience between all partners and suppliers is really important. Why? Well, the concept of test and learn, the idea of experimentation takes resilience to achieve. There will be tension across the whole customer lifecycle when experimental and concept elements are put in play, but the reward is, as we are increasingly finding, far greater than the risk.

With changing technologies, with increased connectedness, the increasing demands and expectations of customers all point towards a need to test and experiment more in the name of innovation and ultimate delivery of relevant and meaningful customer engagements and experiences.

For some time now we have helped our clients understand that beyond the customer there is an audience landscape that requires focus in order to achieve real customer centricity and that’s what we all want right? The employee, the supply chain and the stakeholder all should have a seat at the table. So do start to think about your suppliers and partners with our four guiding elements to help you stay in control and better able to provide the best possible products and services to your customers in the most relevant, meaningful and timely way to achieve your business goals.

But before I sign off, it would be remiss of me not to mention one other audience which is fast becoming a valuable strategic asset to many an organisation – that of the crowd. Cost efficiencies, User Testing, Collaboration, Co-design, Build and development, even funding; just some of the areas where tapping into the crowd can massively help the business achieve their goals…but that’s a story for next time.

Planning on yellow small

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