Effectively Communicating to Navigate the Supply Chain Crisis


As news reports and political commentators have discussed for several months, there is a crisis happening within the global supply chain. While some large retailers have taken proactive steps to lessen the impact on consumers, every aspect of the supply chain will be further scrutinized as we approach the holidays.

While world governments and the private sector will need to work together to fully address the industry-wide crisis, individual businesses across the supply chain should leverage their own communications efforts to prevent an industry-wide issue from becoming their own reputational crisis. By empathizing with customers, increasing how often they communicate and always keeping the end-user in mind, businesses can weather the coming storm and ensure they don’t become a scapegoat for issues outside of their control.  

Lead with Empathy in All Communications

This is not a new concept when it comes to communicating with customers and with the public, but it is especially important when things are operating outside the norm. No matter where you fall within the supply chain, your customers are likely dealing with some form of stress because of the crisis.

In every communication you send out, acknowledge that you understand what your customers are going through. This is even more important if you have to deliver bad news. In that situation, deliver your messages in a way that takes their feelings into account and provides as much information as possible about what you’re doing to address the situation and when they can expect their product or another update. Showing customers you care about them and their well-being can go a long way to strengthening your relationship and building trust in the future, even if you need to navigate some bumps in the present.     

Don’t be Afraid of Over Communicating

When business interruptions take place, it’s important to communicate more frequently rather than less. When things are operating normally, only communicating when there’s new information to share is fine. However, this changes when issues come up. During times of disruption, provide your customers with frequent updates – even if those simply say the delay is ongoing and you’re still working to address the issue – so they can turn around and communicate as effectively as possible with their own customers.

Also, never sit on bad news. While customers won’t be happy to hear if there’s an additional delay, they’ll be even angrier if they find out you knew about it but chose not to tell them. Hiding information from your customers or lying to them will almost certainly result in long-term damage to your reputation.

Don’t Forget About the End User

When problems happen, it’s easy to put on blinders and focus only on the specific issue. Wanting to solve the most pressing concern for you and your customers is a logical reaction. But there’s also someone at the end of the supply chain who is planning to buy or has already bought the final product, and it’s important to not forget about them.

Their ultimate experience with the product (and how they were communicated with from the moment they placed their order to when it finally arrives at their door) will reverberate back up the supply chain. If they have a good experience, there’s a strong chance demand for the product will remain steady or even increase. However, a bad experience and the resulting negative reactions could lead the manufacturer to discontinue the product, and you may end up losing business. Remembering those end-users in every communication will ensure they’re able to get the information they need about the status of their order. This level of consideration also reinforces your reputation as a good partner and helps further your customers’ trust in you and your brand.

There’s no question that businesses up and down the supply chain are about to experience some of the most challenging months they’ve ever faced. However, those challenges don’t need to turn into avoidable reputational crises. By frequently and empathetically communicating around any issues that may come up and doing so in a way that ensures the best possible experience for the end-user, businesses will be able to make it through the holidays and into next year relatively unscathed and with their reputations fully intact.