Supply chain data collection season is in full effect. Whether you’re being asked for a conflict minerals reporting template (CMRT), a report on your anti-slavery efforts, or a bill of materials (BOM) regarding the chemicals in your products, you may be suffering from customer inquiry fatigue. Customer inquiry fatigue is a common pain point experienced by companies who sell their products to multiple vendors. Regulatory compliance and ethical sourcing standards require complex supply chain data investigation, and as a result, downstream companies must ask their suppliers (and their suppliers’ suppliers) to populate multiple data points. So, if you supply products to multiple vendors, each vendor could ask you for one or many data points beyond your normal contract information to ensure they are compliant.
If you are a supplier further up the supply chain, you likely are well aware of the constant requests for non-standardized information about your company and products, but you may not have direct access to the needed information. In order to keep in good standing with your customers, however, responding to information requests in a timely manner with accurate data is a must. Here are a few steps and tips to guide you:
Find the right point of contact:
For most companies, information requests are a burden. Why (if above was not enough)? Because the person qualified to answer customer compliance questions is rarely the customer point of contact. Let’s take a look at what the process could look like. Your sales representative receives a customer request, he takes a day or so to read it and realizes he will need company information that he doesn’t know so he forwards the request to five people in your organization. The message bounces around from inbox to inbox until your company determines the right person to fulfill the request. (This takes over a week. Or longer if anyone involved goes on vacation during the process.) After the newly assigned person reviews the request, it takes her over two weeks to fit the task into her agenda. Once she gets around to digging into the request, she realizes she needs to ask for information from the company’s suppliers. But what contact does she have for company suppliers? You guessed it, the sales representative! So, the process of assigning a customer request to the most qualified internal contact too begins. It is understandable then, why multiple customer information requests become time consuming and inefficient.
Tip: When onboarding a new supplier, ask for the compliance contact upfront. Then, store your supplier contact information in a centralized database accessible to all contacts in your organization that will engage with suppliers.
Obtain data from your own suppliers:
After you are assigned to the customer request and have the right supplier contact, you will need to engage that supplier, likely via email first and then phone as a follow-up, to ask for information so you can then roll up data into your company’s or product’s report to send to your customers. The amount of time you have to respond to your customer’s requests will dictate your ability to reasonably collect information from your suppliers. If you receive a response from only 20% of your suppliers, but need to meet a customer one-month response deadline, your report will inherently be missing information.
Tip: Be proactive and create your own annual supplier questionnaire. If any customer request requires supplier information, add a question to your standard supplier questionnaire. Condensing supplier communication specific to compliance will help weed out any noise associated with other company requests and help your suppliers stay organized which means a faster response for you. If you properly manage responses, you may not have to re-engage your suppliers to provide your customers the information they need. To store supplier information in a way that will allow for easy accessibility, try a compliance information warehouse.
Bonus: Supply chain data warehouses are also a great option due to their high-security standards and additional capabilities that aid all aspects of supply chain needs.
Validate the accuracy of your data:
Reporting inaccurate data will essentially be a waste of time. Sending bad data to a customer increases the chances of you being red flagged and losing contracts. Bad data is dangerous, but there are remedies.
Tip: Besides triple checking your work, try utilizing data validation services. These services typically come at a low cost and can compliment your already-in-motion supply chain efforts. A good example of data validation is a smelter verification program for conflict minerals.
The above tips are just a few of the best practices your company can implement to alleviate customer inquiry fatigue. Condensing supplier communication and centralizing supplier information will keep your data organized, clean, and easily reportable to your customers. Readily accessible information up and down the supply chain may seem farfetched, but as more companies spend valuable resources on non-mission critical tasks, it will need to be a reality.