What to Do When Supply Chains Break Your Heart

Six helpful tips for what to do – and what NOT to do – when supply chains and supplier partners end up breaking your heart.

By Anthony Clervi | February 14, 2023


We all know that supply chains can be fragile entities. Particularly in an era of Just-in-Time (JIT) supply management where businesses keep costs down by minimizing inventory, a supply chain only works so long as every link functions smoothly.

Things do go wrong, however. A supplier’s machinery may break down, human errors are frequently made, or the suppliers’ suppliers may let them down in turn. And let’s not forget, a global pandemic impacting our every move.

Supply chains and heartbreak

Sometimes your business may be able to absorb the fallout from not receiving crucial goods or services from a supplier. For example, you may have some inventory in stock, or it may mean you simply have to delay the implementation of a project. In many cases, your business can suffer significant financial and reputational impact as production grinds to a halt or customers look elsewhere when your product goes out of stock.

But what can you do if – and when – a supplier breaks your heart? Here are six tips on what to do (and what not to do) when they let you down.

Supply chain heartbreak is inevitable. It's best to plan ahead to the best of your ability, avoid making any rash decisions, and maintain relationships whenever possible.

Activate your supply chain backup plan

First, risk management 101 in procurement involves having a network of backup suppliers for when disruption occurs. Having a contingency plan in place is vital, as you don’t want to waste valuable time on supplier discovery when your organization needs a replacement product or service delivered as soon as possible.

Try to ascertain how long your principal supplier will be offline and arrange a backup source of supply to cover that period. When it comes to future-proofing your organization’s supply chain via robust contingency planning, there are a few important factors to consider:

  1. Supplier risk: Different vendors have varying degrees of risk so take the time to fully understand their vulnerabilities. You’ll then be able to work with them to mitigate those risks or identify alternate suppliers.
  2. Inventory: Consider how you’d increase or decrease production given certain disruptions. Is it time to move away from a JIT model to a Just-in-Case one, instead?
  3. Contracts: It’s imperative that every aspect of the negotiation phase with a supplier is put into writing, and then conduct regular audits to ensure contract terms are being met.
  4. Logistics visibility: Gathering and analyzing data is the only way to mitigate supply chain disruptions like canal blockages, border closures, and delays or surges in consumer demand.

Avoid a knee-jerk reaction

Second, strategic procurement involves focusing on the long game. Even though the problems caused by a supplier letting you down can seem all-consuming and extremely frustrating at the time, make sure you don’t make a hasty decision like canceling the contract or firing off an angry email that will damage or end the relationship.

Instead, look for ways to resolve the situation (which is hopefully a one-off occurrence) in a professional and measured manner.

Check the contract

Assuming you have a service level agreement with the supplier, it’s likely it includes a clause laying out the actions that should be taken when goods or services are not delivered. Check this first before beginning discussions with the supplier about penalties or compensation.

You can be sure the supplier will be checking the contract at their end, as well. Ask a legal professional for help if you’re not sure you understand the contract terms.

Seek compensation

When a business suffers a loss as a result of a supplier failing to deliver, that business is under a duty to mitigate its losses.

The steps involved are:

  • First, ensure the supplier admits fault for the disruption
  • Next, check the contract and analyze how much the fault has cost your business
  • And finally, request the supplier credit your business the appropriate amount

Assuming this is a one-off event, most suppliers will agree to pay compensation because they know there is more value in preserving the relationship and keeping your business.

Be sure to keep thorough records of all communications with the suppliers about the disruption, and escalate the complaint to the supplier’s sales director if appropriate.

Change suppliers if necessary

If a supplier is a repeat offender and there’s a high risk they will let you down again, procurement has little option but to terminate the relationship.

This can be done by:

  • First determining that the situation cannot be otherwise resolved
  • Making the case internally for terminating the relationship
  • Arranging an alternative supplier(s) before terminating the relationship
  • Checking the contract for a termination clause
  • Calling the supplier to explain the facts, and putting the conversation in writing via email
  • Being compassionate and professional

Don't burn bridges

If you’ve communicated well up to this point, the termination should not come as a shock to the supplier. Keep in mind that losing your business could be a huge setback for the supplier, as well. Do your best not to burn any bridges.

You never know when your organization may need to interact with that supplier once again in the future. For example, you may give the contract to a competing supplier but will need to retain the original supplier as a backup in case of disruption.

In the end, you are hopefully free of supply chain disruptions. But if it so happens that a supplier breaks your heart, following the steps above will minimize the damage involved.

Get in touch with Una to discuss how being part of a group purchasing organization can help minimize the risk of supply chain disruption. 

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