Customer-Supplier Relationships For Lean Six Sigma
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Written by Tony Jacowski   

A case in point is the sending out of mailings to customers about new products by a certain company. Now, the mail house entrusted with sending out the mail had been cleaning up the mail file of the customer-company for years, without them knowing about it.

During one such mail out, a new employee handling it used the initial address file to send out the mail, which resulted in thirty percent of the mail being returned because of the addresses being insufficient. A query from the customer's side brought to light the file cleaning, which resulted in the inadvertent mistake, which caused mail to be returned. When asked what they would like the customer to do, the suppliers gave a clear-cut response for a fresh address file to be prepared in a way that would help eradicate the problem. Had this been done earlier, it could have saved the wasted time and money for both.

In another case, a printer informed the customer after a long time about the additional charges that he had been applying for converting the three color red, green, blue pieces, which he had been getting, into the 4 color CMYK version.

Customer-Supplier Links

In both the cases, the company was also a supplier. It supplied electronic files, containing the artwork to the printing company, and the addresses to the mailer. This resulted in the printer and the mailer assuming the customer's role. These roles are reversed when the mailing is sent out or printed material is supplied. Therefore, in most instances of such customer-supplier situations, one being unaware of the requirement of the other, they maintain whatever is supplied as standard, even when the change would not require much cost or effort - resulting in loss to both.

In a customer-supplier situation, if you are aware that the product you get will be sub-standard if the raw material is poor, and your supplier relies on you to supply the input/raw material, and check for flaws in the raw material, then it is important to find out the exact requirements of your supplier. Your focus should be to identify everything that would help minimize the chance of error, the time of supply and the cost of your job. If required, make suitable changes in your processes, which would speed up product delivery with minimum risks.

Use A Checklist

A checklist is necessary to know input requirements. In your role as supplier, make sure you have such a checklist. In case you do not have it, determine the input requirements from your customers and create one, keeping the objectives of benefiting your customers, along with the reduction in risks and time required for meeting their needs, and helping them save money. Take your supplier's suggestions on ways to help him do a better job for you, and guide your customers to give feedback on the product, so that it can be designed to suit their requirements.

Mastering the art of switching roles in your dealings with your customers and suppliers allows you to lead and follow according to situational demands. Even though it requires time and effort, it will result in greater profits by generating more business and contributing to savings.

Tony Jacowski is a quality analyst for The MBA Journal. Aveta Solutions - Six Sigma Online ( ) offers online six sigma training and certification classes for lean six sigma, black belts, green belts, and yellow belts.

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