So you’ve spent squillions on branding. You have a top agency, your brand identity is beautiful, everything is designed to within an inch of its life, and your PR and marketing and various digital platforms are vetted and checked at every possible point. Sorted, right?
Wrong. Your internal communications need just as much work, or you’ve wasted a whole lot of money. They can just as easily damage your brand.
How? Let me give you a recent example. I was approached to do some work for a big, well-known South African company last year. I quoted, in writing, and had a quote signed and returned by the person who approached me. The quote stipulates that the signatory agrees to my payment terms.
Next, I needed to be loaded as a supplier. I dutifully jumped through all the hoops as best I could, and submitted my documentation. Nothing happened. After a couple of weeks, I enquired as to the progress of my application. It turned out that something additional was required, but no one in the accounts department had thought to inform either me or the person who’d hired me. So I jumped through a few more hoops.
In the process of applying to be loaded as a supplier I noted that the company’s standard payment terms were in conflict with mine. The documentation they sent to me advised that should this be a problem, I could contact a particular person, which I duly did. This person assured me that my payment terms wouldn’t be a problem, and he would mark my invoice in accordance.
So I enquired of a third person, as to what the problem was. After many emails to and fro, I was informed that the first person was not authorised to approve my payment terms, and nor was the person the company had designated to do so in their own communication. It would take another two and a half months of wrangling to sort this out, and an admission from the manager that their system needed some refinement.
So how does it affect their brand? Well, suppliers are also consumers in their private lives. I have been well and truly put off that company because of the way they treated me. I’m not afraid to tell others about it . And suppliers are also hooked into a network of other similar suppliers – I’ll probably be warning my colleagues about what they can expect if any of them mentions they’ve been approached by this company. A reputation is much easier to lose than it is to build, and word of mouth spreads pretty quickly.
The problem I encountered wasn’t one of accounting and invoices and statements – it was one of communication. The accounts department should’ve contacted me when they needed additional information. My point of contact shouldn’t have approved my quote if she wasn’t authorised to do so – I still don’t know if she wasn’t authorised, or if she hadn’t been told what she could or couldn’t sign off. Again – that’s communication. Putting out information to potential suppliers that there was someone to contact about differing payment terms creates an expectation – and it created the wrong one in this case. And that’s without the very many emails that were simply ignored for weeks on end – which is nothing other than bad manners.
None of it reflected well on that company; all of it stemmed from poor internal communication creating huge confusion and frustration.
I’m not naive – I’ve been doing this for two decades. I know that many accounts departments are incentivised to pay as late as possible and keep money in the company’s coffers. That’s a discussion for another day. But had the internal communication been more efficiently managed, it would have made for a lot less time wasted – mine included – but also on the part of employees who had to deal with my increasingly irate emails after I had delivered my work on time, and in good faith.
And as for the small external communications component – it is not only unprofessional, but downright rude of employees to ignore emails from a supplier, however uncomfortable those emails might be to answer. And no amount of money thrown at ad agencies to handle your branding, will fix the damage that those employees do to your company’s reputation.