ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition — December 2002

In this Issue
Customer-Supplier Communication Systems: 360° Communications Loops
Get Off the Island!
Bridging the Gap at Work
From Our Readers
Letter to the Editor
FISH! The Book and the Video: A Review
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Our Readers Say...
Editorial: From Our Perspective
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Our Readers Say…

Members of AQP were recently surveyed to determine if their organizations had an official process for managing intercompany communications with customers or suppliers. Despite the fact that it’s clearly essential for customers and suppliers to exchange information regularly and to ensure that the right people in their organizations obtain the right information at the right time, only 42% of the respondents’ organizations had a system in place to make sure this happens systematically. Details and other information from the survey appears below.

Is communication between your organization and its customers and suppliers managed by a formal process or left to informal practices? This question formed the basis for this issue’s AQP member survey.

Management of Intercompany Communications

Three specific communication aspects were addressed in the initial survey questions, as shown below:

  • Does your organization have an official process for managing intercompany communications with customers and suppliers?
  • If it does, does the process cover e-mail messages, too?
  • Does your organization have an official policy/ process regarding archival of intercompany communications that are sent to or received from customers or suppliers?

The following table recaps the data for these questions.

Category Percent of Respondents
Official communication process exists 42%
Process covers e-mail messages 38%
Archival policy/process exists 40%
53 Respondents
 

It’s interesting to note that only 26% of the members’ organizations had both communications management and archival processes. Additionally, 13% of the organizations had archival processes without having communications management processes.

Distribution and Understanding of Customer and Supplier Information

The next two questions asked, “How does your organization ensure that information received from customers/suppliers is distributed to and understood by all appropriate employees?” We looked at the responses to these questions in two ways: the nature of the process used and who was responsible for applying the process.

Almost one-third of the survey respondents (32%) reported that their organizations had comprehensive communication systems that involved databases, focus groups, surveys, and other more formal processes that included planned distribution lists and documentation. Phone- and e-mail-based processes were used for 23% of customer communications. Only 17% of the members reported that their organizations did not have a process. Regardless of the process used, recipients were most frequently responsible for transactions. Management, marketing, and administrative personnel also were mentioned having responsibility for distributing customer communications.

In the case of supplier communications, 22% of the participants commented that no formal processes existed for these communication areas, which tied with the 22% who mentioned that their processes relied on telephone and e-mail distribution. Approximately 20% of the members described more comprehensive systems. Once again, recipients were most frequently responsible for transactions. Purchasing, supplier management, managers of other departments, quality systems personnel, and administrative personnel also were mentioned. Clearly, organizations are more likely to invest time and effort into developing formal processes for customer communications than they are for supplier communications.

Significant Issues

Our final question addressed members’ perceptions of intercompany communications issues with customers and suppliers. Figure 1 shows the top 80% of the categories mentioned.

Figure 1


The most commonly reported issues involved performance problems with the currently defined approach. These ranged from the process not being fully developed to it not being applied routinely in all appropriate circumstances. All the common issues with process development and management were mentioned: poor documentation, ineffective measurement, lack of management/leadership support, conflicting priorities, poor integration with other processes, etc.
The next two most commonly described concerns were related to the timeliness with which communications were disseminated and the people to whom they were distributed. Getting the “right” information into the hands of the “right” people at the “right” time is definitely a challenge for most organizations. This difficulty is exacerbated by the sheer volume of communications between customers and suppliers; organizations must decide whether screening communications and limiting distribution based on the nature of them improves focus or diminishes comprehension.
The problems with process management, timeliness, and distribution were summed up by one member who stated, “The fact that some people get useful information and many others don’t is partly a result of not having a well-defined process for communication and partly because there seems to be so much to communicate.”

Of course, many comments were received regarding the quality of the actual communications. What can an organization do if the message isn’t accurate, clear, or complete? What if a particular message isn’t delivered consistently to multiple people in the organization? All of these factors reduce the likelihood that the recipients will understand the communication well enough to act on it appropriately.

Another issue that was mentioned several times seems worth sharing. It involved the engagement of the people who receive the messages. As one member commented, “With so much going on today and people so overloaded, the most significant issue is people caring about what is communicated.”

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