Three customer service lessons procurement can learn from Uber

Paul Snell is managing editor at Supply Management
6 May 2015

Procurement should focus more on the needs of its business partners, and could look at car service Uber for tips on becoming more customer-centric.

According to Chris Sawchuk, principal and global procurement advisory practice leader at The Hackett Group, told a conference last week: “The first thing we have got to do is stop using terms like stakeholders or business users – they are customers. Think about the way you interact and you work with your customers, or how you treat a customer, it’s a different kind of thinking. A lot of time we have to call them customers because it forces us to think differently.”

Sawchuk drew on his experience as a user of Uber’s service, and the control it provides to end-users, to provide three lessons procurement could learn to improve relationships to delegates at the Procurious Big Ideas Summit.

1. Expectations are clearly set. Uber shows you where drivers are and how long it will take them to reach you. “We often do stakeholder surveys and we ask organisations ‘what do you like about procurement?’,” said Sawchuk. “The biggest complaint we get is not procurement hasn’t saved enough money, or not driven enough value. It is that you are too slow, it’s cumbersome, it’d difficult to work with.” Why not provide customers with estimated time of completion, he suggested.

2. Clear pricing. “It’s all visible. When you go on Uber, it will tell you how much it’s going to cost. If it’s a busy time it will have the uplift in pricing on there. You get visibility up front in terms of making some choices and you have control around that,” he said.

How can this be applied to procurement? “You put it in your customers hand, the idea of true self-service. Giving them control and visibility,” Sawchuk said.

3. Feedback. “If you don’t like the ride, you have the ability instantaneously to provide feedback on that,” Sawchuk said.

He also urged greater consideration of who procurement’s customers are. “We spend a lot of time understanding our suppliers, doing segmentation of our supply base. At the same time, we’re not necessarily applying the same kind of techniques and thinking to our customer base.”

He also highlighted the announcement that Amazon has launched a business-to-business service, as an example of the power of an easy end-user experience.

“Why do you think Amazon is coming into the B2B space?” he said. “Even e-procurement vendors talk about we’re going to make the experience Amazon-like. Guess what, Amazon saw that - people have been saying it forever – and they are now doing it.”

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