Collaboration: How can we improve vendor - client relationships?

April 12, 2017
Emily Baldwin

Growing up as the inquisitive middle child in a large family, Emily learned early on how important it is to show initiative and employ logical reasoning. As such, she became the resident technology expert in her family, setting up all media players, cable connections and generally anything employing wires or batteries. Having worked in publishing and the legal sphere prior to joining Vable, she enjoys combining her innate and learned skills while working with clients to assess their needs and identify solutions. When not working, Emily is likely to be exploring new cities around the globe or catching up on her Goodreads list (depending how much time is available, of course).

It often takes a crisis to highlight client-vendor relationships. A revolution in legal tech is currently unfolding before our eyes; agile is actually happening right now. Do you have the right solution to meet your clients' demands within a changing environment?  Do library and information professionals know what clients will need next week, next month, next year?!

vendor feedback is important

What we do know is that we all have to work together.  It’s safe to say that the ultimate goal of every organisation is to maximise the efficacy of online resources and systems while keeping overheads to a minimum.

So how do you do just that?

Vendors want you to succeed!

One of the best ways to make the most of the resources you have is to build relationships with your vendors. This might sound obvious or unpleasant, depending on your previous experiences, but it’s a sure-fire way to get the most out of your resources. The best relationships, whether in business or in life, are built on open and honest communication.

Your vendors want to help you succeed, and this is far easier for them to achieve when they know your organisation’s goals, challenges and requirements. While these should be established at the onset of on-boarding a new product or resource, it’s always good to keep your vendors in the loop on any developments, projects or changes in your organisation that might overlap with the role your vendor is filling.

Additionally, a trusted vendor likely has valuable insight into your industry which you may not find elsewhere. By keeping your supplier informed of your needs and goals, you can allow them to act as a trusted advisor - working with you not just for you.

Your vendors want to help you succeed, and this is far easier for them to achieve when they know your organization’s goals, challenges and requirements.

Part of building a relationship is familiarity. It can be of enormous help to assign specific individuals as the primary contact points for and with your supplier. This allows both you and your vendor to keep track of the big picture, the specific requirements needed to achieve that end and an understanding of the processes involved in fulfilling those requirements.

Start with a plan

When engaging a new vendor, a well defined and documented project plan can keep both you and the vendor on the same page, and ensure that expectations are aligned. If you are unsure of the best practices for ramping up with a new product or service, ask your vendor for their advice - after all, they have experience in that department.

join the conversation on linkedin

If you have your own plan already outlined, be sure to provide this to your vendor and discuss it before getting started. This will ensure that your expectations fall in line with the services, resources and obligations of your vendor.

Help your vendor help you

When encountering a problem, it can be tempting to hand it over to your vendor and expect them to take over from there. However, you will find that solutions to problems often are achieved in a more efficient and satisfactory manner when you understand what role you play in problem solving, the vendor’s processes and what information you can initially provide for solving that problem.

For example, does the vendor request that you report issues, solicit changes and communicate feedback through outlined channels? If there is a specific method of contact that is preferred - whether it is a phone number, a specified email address or via in-app tools, this is likely designed to ensure that your needs are met in a timely manner with the proper protocols in place to aid in assisting you.

Your vendor will likely be happy to explain their process should you have interest in knowing more.

Be specific when providing information about your experience, problem or requirement. For software solutions, often it will be essential to provide the system or browser details for the individual device experiencing the issue. There are helpful tools such as http://supportdetails.com/ which can both analyze your device on your behalf and send those to your vendor.

When a screenshot would prove useful, there are a variety of quick and easy methods to create these on a PC, outlined here by Digital Trends, or a Mac. You can even use free tools like Screencast-O-Matic to record your experience.

If you are sending an email or leaving a voicemail, it can be helpful to include the best time and method to reach you should the vendor require more information to assist you.

Avoid the blame game

While problems inevitably arise with any service, allow your provider to investigate and respond. Technology can be complicated, as systems from multiple vendors will rely upon each other. Sometimes it’s not always immediately clear to you, or possibly even the vendor, where things have gone wrong.

Give your vendor the opportunity to assess the issue and resolve it if found to be on their end. If the problem falls outside their domain, you may find they are able to suggest resolutions or point you in the right direction based on their knowledge and experience.

Provide feedback and set expectations

In Bob Ronan’s opinion piece on optimising vendor relationships, he points out that:

“It may seem easier to replace people or products that are not working than to confront the issues, but it is often more difficult to make changes than expected. If you have built a great relationship with a vendor these discussions do not need to be confrontational, and you may be surprised how creative a good vendor can be in solving your issues.”

A vendor who values your business should work hard to meet your needs and provide you with excellent service. However, it’s important to be reasonable with your expectations and understand that you are not their only client. If every wish list item is reported as a critical need, it makes it hard for your vendor to decipher what is actually urgent.

And if you love your vendor, tell other people!

Vendor-client partnerships should be mutually beneficial. Vendors love to know that they are fulfilling your needs, especially when you believe they have exceeded your expectations. What better way to show your appreciation than to help them grow their business by agreeing to be a reference, providing a case study, or even expanding your business with them.

While we can’t speak for all vendors, here at Vable our focus is on providing the best tools backed by reliable, above-and-beyond service and support. Our goal is to empower our clients to maximise their value and ROI within their organisations through our technology and expertise. We are here to help, so get in touch!

Check out more useful resources for librarians