How to Handle Complaints

Gary S. Vasilash

So what happens if you're a supplier and you don't think that your customer is being fair?

So what happens if you're a supplier and you don't think that your customer is being fair? Chances are, you keep your head down, grin, and bear it. If you're a supplier to Toyota Engineering & Manufacturing North America, you might actually let your grievance be heard—well, in an anonymous way so as to avoid potential retribution. So explained Sigmund Huber, assistant general manager, Purchasing, Supplier Relations, TEMNA at the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminar. According to Huber, there is a "voice of the supplier" box, into which the complaint goes. It is then routed to a subcommittee of the Bluegrass Automotive Manufacturers Association (BAMA), an organization consisting of suppliers to Toyota. The impact of the complaint is considered: Is it just germane to one particular company (in which case it gets routed to Huber's organization, and he becomes involved in trying to deal with the problem in as measured and fair a way as possible, he says) or if it has supply-base wide implications. If the latter, then the BAMA subcommittee performs a survey of the supply base, and the results are then forwarded to Huber. He then makes a determination of what functional department head within the organization should have responsibility for the issue (e.g., Purchasing, Quality, Production Control). That person then has to report at the quarterly meetings of BAMA what is being done to rectify the situation. What's more, the BAMA members actually grade the person who is making the report, based on such factors as the amount of resources being dedicated to dealing with the issue, as well as depth of analysis and short- and long-term timing for resolution. That way problems can be handled in as fair a way as possible.

Huber said that enhanced supplier performance leads to better quality, which leads to better ideas and technologies being deployed by the supplier, which leads to a better cost of parts. . .which leads to vehicles that have higher customer satisfaction, and then that leads to increased sales. So this means the supplier wins, the customer wins, and, yes, Toyota wins.—GSV