Procurement Strategies: Follow-Up Reminders

During a purchasing round where more than one item from one supplier is procured, it is best to keep call or contact records and call-back reminders in a simple pop-up, time-based alert application. Because there is a high likelihood that several calls will be made in one day, some portion of those initial contacts will require follow-up conversations.

When a distributor tells you that it will call back in an hour, it is very easy to let two or three hours go by while you are working on something else. By the time you remember that you were going to be called back, it is now 2:35 p.m. Pacific Time, and the promised returned call was going to be placed from New York. Here is where you convince yourself that he or she may still be in the office and ready to provide the much-needed information.

You say a few things under your breath and decide to give the recalcitrant responder the benefit of the doubt. So you dial the long-distance number, wade through the telephone message menus, and finally you're connected to the relevant contact person's phone where you hear, “I can't come to the phone right now. I am either away from my desk or not anywhere where you can find me.” What has happened?

You lost a day and have just given yourself another “to-do” item for the following day. Things really go south if it is Friday and you had to have the job wrapped up by… Friday. If this happens with more than one supplier during the same day, you will find yourself repeating many of the current day's activities, because you now have to make up for lost time and poor results.

Here is a good way to reduce these incidents of repeat poor results. When you call, have an application open on your computer like MS OneNote or Outlook where you can set an alert reminder tied to a specific action. As soon as the person answers the phone, record the date and time of the phone call. Be sure to get the contact's name, extension number, and, if possible, a mobile number. Getting the direct number or extension will save you the hassle and delay of the phone menu system. And, if you have the cell number, you can reach the person even if he is on his way home from the office.

Indicate in your notes the gist of the call and any agreements or price quotes and quantities discussed. If the contact says he will call you back in one hour, you say to him something like, “It is 10:30 a.m. my time. I will expect a call from you at or around 11:30 a.m. If I haven't heard from you by 12 noon, I will call back to see what progress you have made towards getting our answer.”

Then, be sure to get his buy-in on the call-back time, and tell him you are entering the time into your call-back alert system. Now, he is accountable to return the call as agreed upon. Also, be sure to tell him to call you even if he does not have an answer yet. This will adjust your own expectation for the open item completion time and will allow you to reset and record the new call-back time.

This practice seems somewhat intuitive, and each individual may have his or her own telephone follow-up procedure that works equally as well, but if you haven't got a system to manage the many daily phone calls, something as easy as setting a clock alert to remind you of a promised return action or call will save you much aggravation and delay.

Sometimes our own best-practices help others stay on their toes as well. It is easy to understand and excuse a situation where the contact person did not get the answer from his resource. It is very difficult to accept the fact that he did not call back to tell you that he does not have the information yet.

Today, I called a distributor and ordered a part from a Web application telling me to call the distributor for a quote. I called and asked for availability and pricing because I knew the part had gone to end-of-life status this past January. They had 40 of the 50 pieces I needed in stock, but the inside salesperson had to wait for someone to come back from lunch before she could quote a price. She said, “He's at lunch right now and should be back in an hour or so.” I said, “Please call me as soon as you have the information. I will call back at 1:00 p.m., if it is OK with you.” She said, “Fine.”

I called back after about one hour and fifteen minutes, and she apologized for not having called and said she did not yet have the information. We reset the call-back time, and when she called as scheduled, she gave me the price and an additional apology for taking so long. I placed the order and am now waiting for the promised email confirmation order acknowledgement.

I don't know whether her resource came back late or whether she just failed to remember to ask. It took two phone calls on my part to make sure the job would be done. It was a good thing that I had set myself a reminder; otherwise, I may be still waiting to place the order. We all need reminders from time to time. How much better is it to have a reminder on the backburner all of the time? It tightens up business and helps avoid time-critical information vacuums.

6 comments on “Procurement Strategies: Follow-Up Reminders

    October 23, 2012

    I would not do business with a company that did not “do what it said it would do” and as such would not go to too much hassle setting reminders to chase others.  

  2. dalexander
    October 23, 2012

    Flyingscot, I agree that one shouldn't have to go through the hassle but in the real day to day, things often turn out less than optimal. The example below is an excerpt from an email I just received today. I had to have all parts in kits by the 30th. Two weeks ago, the longest lead time quoted was 10 days. Sometimes purchasing people have to use sources that are not optimal if that source is the only vendor with stock on hand or readily available. In the case cited, the bare PCB is completed and assembly can start as soon as the kit is audited. All parts were to be in by now. You and I both know “stuff” happens. Read the reality below and consider that I have a week left before an emergency option becomes an impossibility. I bought myself a week by checking in on the order status as a reminder to myself. JG0-0024NL – parts are on my shelf 31-71052-10RFX – I misquoted the lead time – these have a 4-5 week lead time. CYP15G0101DXB-BBXN – these are taking longer than expected from the OEM. I anticipate their arrival by next week. They have to go through customs. 88E1121RA0-TFE1C0N – parts are on my shelf MT41J64M16JT-15E:G – parts are on my shelf XC6SLX45T-2FGG484N – these still have to go through customs. They will also be here next week. I apologize for any inconvenience Doug. Please let me know if you would like me to ship the 3 parts I have on my shelf. I will ship to you at No Charge to you. Thank you

  3. dalexander
    October 23, 2012

    Flyingscot, I just received this from the Distributor after asking how the errors were made? “Doug It was an error on my part. It happens sometimes even with big distributors. I looked at the wrong line when I quoted it to you. I apologize.” That was their entire explanation…human error. Now I have got to get busy and find the part that now has a 4-5 week lead time that I need next week. I probably will not use this distributor again. But, the individual did take responsibility and so that means something too. It was an employee that screwed up and so does that put the Distribution in jeopardy of ever getting my business again? I would like to hear what our readers would think and do in this or a similar situation. Please comment.

  4. Barbara Jorgensen
    October 23, 2012

    Hey Douglas: In general I'm OK with human error (in spite of being infallible myself.) Stuff does happen. Taking responsibility is also good, but the distributor could have done one step better and tried to find those parts for you. Sure, they may have to call a competitor, but it is better to give a competitor a small sale than to lose a customer. I suspect it would have been easier for the distrbutor to find those parts than you go out and re-create the wheel. That is what i consider to be service above and beyond and that's what would keep me coming back.

  5. dalexander
    October 23, 2012

    @Flyingscot, Happy Ending. I found the parts that were quoted for 4-5 weeks. The errant distributor is not off my hook, but I am off my client's hook having found out in time that my original schedule was in danger as a result of the human error at the distributor center. FYI, The replacement distributor, Powell Electronics, said they had the parts, not in local stock, but at the Amphenol factory in Illinois. I asked Powell to check with the factory and confirm the stock. The factory responded that they had the parts and they would be drop-shipping me today or tomorrow, so hopefully, if nothing else goes wrong, I will have the parts in my hot little hands by the end of this week and in time for the scheduled build on the 30th.

  6. dalexander
    October 23, 2012

    @Barbara, you have described exactly what makes one distributor better than the next. The second effort that makes the customer believe that the distributor identifies with both their errors and the customer's needs, will lead to future guaranteed business. The distributor that says “Sorry Buddy, but we did the best we can,” should not anticipate additional business. In this case, the distributor offered to ship the other parts on the purchase order, free of charge. That's shows some identification with responsibility, but it took me one phone call and about 10 additioanl minutes to find the parts through Powell Electronics, confirm the factory stock, and place the order via a credit card. So, you are correct. If I could do that, so could have the errant distributor. In the end, it is the buyer's responsibility to make it happen and the distributor's responsibility to win the buyer's confidence. In this case, my confidence in this supplier has slipped a few notches.

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