Critical incidents and supplier satisfaction - investigating tipping points in a seller’s market

Kim Janssens*, Cees J. Gelderman, Jordy Petersen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Purpose: The main purpose of this research is exploring the tipping points for a radical shift in supplier (dis)satisfaction. This study identifies triggers and links them to consequences for the buyer–supplier relationship. Design/methodology/approach: The Critical Incident Technique (CIT) was used to interview Dutch supplier representatives in the infrastructure sector, resulting in rich descriptions of 29 critical incidents, extracting first-hand information. Findings: Safety issues, technical disputes and recruitment of supplier’s technical staff have been identified as tipping points for suppliers to become dissatisfied. Implementing performance-based contracting is another critical incident that caused irritation and disappointment. On a more operational level, dissatisfaction was provoked by tender errors and price discussions with the buyer. This study also identified tipping points by which dissatisfied suppliers abruptly turned into satisfied suppliers. The effect of a solution-oriented buyer intervention appears to be most powerful if this behaviour transcends prior expectations. Practical implications: Consequences of misunderstandings and discussion between supplier and buyer may be manageable or repairable, depending on the causes and triggers that influenced a supplier’s dissatisfaction. An early warning system could prove its worth, so that buyers are not faced with unpleasant surprises. Originality/value: Despite the growing number of studies, processes of how antecedents lead to supplier (dis)satisfaction are not well understood. Antecedents are predominantly investigated by cross-sectional survey data, giving little insights into micro-processes and actual interaction between buyers and suppliers. Although CIT has been applied in many disciplines, the technique is hardly used within the context of purchasing and supply management research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)154-165
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Business and Industrial Marketing
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Critical incident technique
  • Seller’s market
  • Supplier satisfaction


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