All hands-on deck… – why good supplier relationships are so important

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There’s never more absolute confirmation that you have partnered with the best suppliers than when you get the ‘drop everything’ email as you arrive in the office and it’s all hands-on deck.

Regardless of how exceptional your RFP (Request for Proposal) was or how much procurement triumphantly bang on about the costs they’ve saved, it matters not one jot when there is an assignee emergency and it’s down to the organisation to resolve it. (Obviously when I say organisation I mean Global Mobility – procurement are certainly nowhere to be seen at this point!!)

Expat Academy All hands-on deck... - why good supplier relationships are so important

Working in Global Mobility we find that our relationship with the employee goes beyond the office doors as we deal with people’s lives and the issues / relationships that matter to them the most. When sitting in an office thousands of miles away from the emergency there’s never a starker realisation that it’s down to the relationship you have with your supplier that’s going to deliver the support your assignee needs on the ground.

I have worked with some fantastic Global Mobility professionals who have such relationships and know that the help they need is only a phone call away.

Whilst working in house, there was such a call one morning from an assignee whose pregnant wife was almost full term and had just lost their baby. Straight away on the phone that morning my colleague spoke to the suppliers who helped arrange counselling in a language different to that of the host country as both the assignee and his wife were, understandably, incredibly upset. As the hospital did not provide meals or aftercare, she arranged with the supplier for a private nurse. The hospital that was looking after the assignee’s wife was not in the international medical supplier’s network so she arranged for it to be added to their network so the assignee did not have to pay for anything. Finally she tapped into local HR who had an excellent relationship with the local airline and arranged for the assignee’s mother in law to get a ticket on the next flight to the host country.

So why do those supplier relationships work so well? It is because they are just that – relationships. They aren’t an anonymous face at the end of a generic email address. They aren’t an anonymous voice in a remote call centre. Yes, all those things may enable a supplier to share resource across clients and keep costs low but it comes at a price – no loyalty on either side to go above and beyond the bare minimum of the service agreement. A great supplier relationship is a two-way relationship resulting in both sides benefiting. How can any supplier invest time in the relationship when they are solely focused on the bottom line? If the supplier has enough margin in the pricing structure to invest time in the relationship, then they will be able to go the extra mile when needed. An assignee emergency is certainly going to put this to the test.

Whilst procurement look at the costs provided in the RFP on paper, it is essential for procurement to understand GM and to be aware of the unseen costs to the organisation of choosing a supplier entirely on price. A couple of hundred pounds saved on a 40ft container shipment, a family international medical cover or a visa initiation might end up costing more in poor service and downtime for the assignee and ultimately the organisation. Certainly, an assignee emergency, handled badly, can result in the greatest downtime and cost to the organisation.

Whilst a full RFP is the right thing to do, and procurement should be involved to challenge the contract figures, the relationship between the GM team and the supplier is the most important part of a successful supplier partnership. Those relationships take time to build and it is important that all the suppliers at RFP have had the chance to build that relationship and fully understand the organisation they could be working with and the challenges they may face. A one-sided relationship, either way, is never going to produce a successful supplier relationship.

Our Expat Academy members have a wide range of experiences with suppliers and I’m sure would share their own stories! Why not join them at the next network huddle in January 2018 to discuss current issues, challenges and receive expert advice and input from Expat Academy and the network sponsors.

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