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Is personal touch in the supply chain still important?

Author : Chris Johnson, SMB Bearings

10 August 2022

With global supply chains still facing disruption as a result of the pandemic and shortage of components such as semiconductors, choosing a trustworthy supplier is more important than ever. Here, Chris Johnson, Managing Director of SMB Bearings, explains why you should consider the importance of personal touch when selecting suppliers.

30 percent of UK businesses in manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade reported supply chain disruption in the wake of both the pandemic and Brexit. In the bearings industry, in particular, we’re seeing supply chain pressures due to long delivery times from manufacturers in Japan, lockdowns in China and increasing freight costs, in addition to reduced sea and airfreight capacity leading to longer transit times.
As a result, many bearings suppliers are keeping higher stock levels in the UK to try to meet customer demand, but with lead times continuing to extend across many industries, it is getting harder for businesses to maintain their supply chains. So, it’s more important than ever to select suppliers you can rely on to act in your interest and support you through any disruption – those with a personal touch.

The meaning of personal touch
Personal touch means people dealing with people. The concept manifests itself in multiple ways, whether it’s as simple as ringing a helpline knowing you’ll get through to a real person who can answer your queries, or having a supplier prepared to go the extra mile to solve any issues with your orders. 

Essentially though, personal touch is about providing a reliable product and service through effective communication, trust and empathy between both parties. While these concepts have long been important in maintaining successful supply chains, we are seeing more and more purchasing choices driven purely by availability. 

With so much uncertainty surrounding component lead times, this prioritisation makes sense. But, where availability is similar between two suppliers, SMB Bearings suggest making personal touch the deciding factor.

Why? For suppliers, personal touch represents a way to grow and maintain business relationships as well as win repeat orders. However, there are an equal number of benefits for purchasers.

Benefits to customers
Thanks to the prevalence of online shopping, it’s the norm to not bat an eyelid at completing an entire purchase without speaking to a person. However, the more communication there is between buyers and suppliers, the better suppliers can anticipate buyers’ needs and act proactively on their behalf. This is especially important in the current climate as lead times continue to extend. SMB Bearings is currently buying some EZO brand bearing models for delivery in winter 2024, because it knows these will be needed by its customers. 

When you build a relationship, you grow from being just buyers and vendors and become collaborators. One example of such a collaboration is the specialist ceramic rowing bearings SMB Bearings produced and designed with Transatlantic sailor and mentor Duncan Roy.

Bearings for rowing boat applications, in particular the boat’s adjustable seats, must deal with harsh marine environments, be able to resist seawater corrosion and cope with high loads. At the same time, weight is crucial to give the boat the best speed advantage. Duncan was able to explain to SMB Bearings the specific challenges he faces, and the SMB factory was used to create bespoke bearings designed to overcome all these difficulties. These bearings are now used by dozens of transatlantic rowing teams. 

As a result of SMB's personal relationship with Duncan, it was able to understand his problems and solve them. While customers may not always require a new specialist product, even a slightly greater understanding of the end application can make a big impact. For example, through providing advice on the best model, material and bearing lubrication for a customer’s application, the resulting product or system will run more efficiently and require less maintenance due to bearing wear.

Supply chain disruption is a serious challenge for manufacturers today. Delays in shipments can have a significant knock-on impact on production, logistics and ultimately profits. Through careful selection of suppliers and relationship management, manufacturers can ensure that disruption is minimised and any problems are resolved as quickly as possible. 

Personal touch can be difficult to quantify when choosing between suppliers, but when customers can take advantage of benefits such as strategic purchasing, collaboration and innovation, it’s worth making it a priority.

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