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Journal of Supply Chain Management

"One on One: An Interview with Susan Feiner" By Jill Schildhouse, Fall 2005, Vol. 41, No. 4, p. 2

One on One: An Interview with Susan Feiner

Journal of Supply Chain Management Copyright © November 2005, by the Institute for Supply Management, Inc.


Jill Schildhouse
Interview by Jill Schildhouse, writer for Inside Supply Management®

Susan Feiner is vice president of relationship management within global procurement for American Express Company. In this role, Susan leads the relationship management as well as the training and change management functions for the department. Susan is responsible for creating the strategy and developing the framework for building partner-based relationships with business unit stakeholders to drive customer satisfaction. The platform that her team has built ensures alignment with the business units' strategic goals so that the global procurement team can formulate procurement, e-enablement and change management solutions in support of their requirements. Prior to taking on this role in 2003, Susan was vice president of global procurement and led sourcing and operations activities across several commodity categories. Before joining American Express in 1996, she was director of purchasing at MasterCard International, where she spent 12 years in a variety of leadership roles in supply chain management.

The Journal of Supply Chain Management: How did relationship management become a department within procurement at American Express?

Susan Feiner: Toward the end of 2003, we decided that to sustain the sourcing success we've had in this organization we needed to make sure that we engaged our internal customers to work with us more effectively, and that they understood that we were easy to work with and understood our value. Hence, the relationship management department was formed.

The Journal: What are the key work areas your department handles?

Feiner: The first is our customer satisfaction (C-SAT) program. The second is account management responsibilities. We have portfolio alignment within our group where we have a relationship leader aligned with each business. The account management team, along with the change management team, helps our internal business partners understand our tools, strategies and processes. The third is value creation, the process that enables us to leverage our buy-side relationships to help the business mitigate risk and drive additional revenue.

The Journal: What does your customer satisfaction program entail?

Feiner: Our C-SAT program measures internal customer satisfaction. Initiated late in 2003, this program provides objective measurements to help us gain insight into the sources of key customer dissatisfaction. We capture the voice of the customer through directional baseline surveys, targeted surveys and/or customer forums. The idea is to make sure we have as much information as we can to drive action. We then put together an action plan to make sure we have results based on the customer's needs and priorities. What makes this unique is that it's not just about information gathering — we truly have an end-to-end plan, which is statistically valid, to drive results.

The Journal: How does the C-SAT program work?

Feiner: We reach out randomly to American Express customers globally via a 20-question survey to obtain directional information on satisfaction on our people, processes and tools. We map those answers back to key dimensions in satisfaction — ease of use, expertise, quality, timeliness, value and functionality — and then we map those questions back to the functional areas in procurement that we believe can create action. For example, a question on the survey is "Are you satisfied with the timeliness of global procurement?" We believe that the operations group can action that for several reasons. They are responsible for payment, so they can analyze our payment cycle time, and they are the ones who answer the telephones for the help desk. Basically we map it back to a functional area, not because that's the only group that can action it, but because it's a key group that can drive the change. Then they put together an action plan. This can include a more targeted survey, or customer forums to gather more information. Once those plans are put in place, we do a postcheck survey to measure improvement. If we have not taken the right actions to drive the needed change, we reevaluate our action plan.

The Journal: Do you share the results of the postchecks with your customers?

Feiner: Yes, we publish those results in our procurement newsletter so everyone in the organization knows what changes we are making. We also share this information with business unit leaders, which enables us to work with them to drive change. Sharing our results, both good and bad, helps us build credibility with our business partners. If we have scored particularly low within a business unit, we sit down with that senior-level executive and ask how we can work together to drive change. This is a top-down and bottom-up approach. Those at the associate and administrative levels are the ones who use the tools and work each day with procurement. They have the best understanding of what the gaps might be and help us pin them down. So, we are using our customer base to help drive and prioritize improvements.

The Journal: How have your customers responded to this approach?

Feiner: We have had significant increases in customer satisfaction. We realized that our customers needed to know how to work with us, find us easy to work with and understand the value we bring. We've always said that if we're easy to work with, people will come to us. If you don't have to take the effort to convince people to work with procurement, it will be an easier engagement.

The Journal: How did you set your initial goal?

Feiner: We benchmarked with internal and external sources and set a very aggressive target for improvement, one that we knew would be a stretch. And we did this for two reasons: so our business partners understood that we were very serious about driving satisfaction and so our procurement people understood that they needed to strive to these high levels of satisfaction to be viewed as successful within our organization. We are always looking for ways to continue to drive this improvement and build upon what we've already done.

The Journal: What type of feedback have you received?

Feiner: The feedback has been incredible internally and externally. Other organizations within the company now come to us to understand best practices. Clients of American Express are coming to us to learn how to measure and manage customer satisfaction and have it not be a mutually exclusive event from cost savings. They want to know how to use it to drive business plans.

The Journal: What does the future hold for customer satisfaction and relationship management?

Feiner: I look at this as the future. Procurement now touches more business partners than ever before. As companies become more involved in the complex world of procurement, they need to make it easier for their business partners to work for them. If we don't take the time to figure out how to do this, we'll be losing a great opportunity to succeed.

The Journal: What advice can you offer other companies looking to follow your lead?

Feiner: My group is really a team of change agents and that's part of our success. Our focus has been to drive change and satisfaction within the business. One thing we have learned is that in order to achieve this we needed to put more emphasis on changing the behavior of our own GP employees. This is a new concept for them, and we found we needed to spend more time teaching and helping people with their action-planning process. It's a different way to work and it takes some pain and some change. We learned a lot along the way and are always looking for ways to improve.

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