I was thinking about how frequently my phone rings this time of year, and how anxious my vendor friends are to come visit me! I totally get that, and try to accommodate, as much as my time will allow. I am sure they feel that its a great opportunity to combine a work visit with a spring training baseball game or a game of golf in the sunshine.
While having these thoughts, I was reminded of an article I wrote some years ago about what I look for in a vendor partner, and decided to pull it out to see if it still rings true. I was not shocked to find that it still does.
I thought I would include a few of my points, perhaps you might find them useful.
When choosing a vendor, I certainly rely heavily on first instincts. Was I, and my time, treated with respect when first contacted? Nothing kills my enthusiasm faster than to be contacted by my CFO regarding a vendor that skipped right over top of me to try and gain entry via that route. I also appreciate agencies that acknowledge these types of decisions take a long time, and it is OK to just develop a relationship while waiting for the right time to make a change.
After that all important decision has been made, I am always looking for a partner that lessens my work – not adds to it! How many times have we all been told “this will hardly take any of your time at all to install this new product” only to find their definition of hardly any time at all is vastly different from mine. I would strongly recommend that as a company, you constantly fine tune that process, and find ways to minimize the impact of the change – and day to day processes – on the provider. We will definitely share that feedback among our peers when asked about our experience.
After the vendor solution is in place, I turn my attention to customer service. As a vendor, many times you are serving two masters – the provider AND the patient. I am sure this can sometimes be a difficult position to be in, as we all want results without the customer service complaints. For instance, in my bad debt agencies, I want to be able to dictate to some degree the tone the collection call will take on my behalf, without tying your hands from collecting. The patient always considers the agency as a representative of the hospital, and I have to feel proud of the work you do.
There are times that the provider will need to be your customer. I want to feel confident that when I contact you regarding an issue, it will be handled promptly, and to my specifications. We each have to trust the other that a request to close an account would not be made, unless it is the only way to resolve an error, or serious customer service issue. We want you to be able to earn the commissions for your effort, but there are times that we never should have referred that account, and have to retrieve it to correct our error.
The last area I am constantly aware of is information sharing. I look for an agency that can give me the feedback I require regarding performance, collections, closed and returns, etc., in a format I can easily use. By the same token, as a provider, I must make information readily available for you to obtain to be able to obtain excellent results.
To be successful, the relationship between provider and vendor must be a partnership, with the same goals in mind. Make sure everyone vocalizes these goals and expectations during the negotiating and signing process to avoid disappointment and disillusionment later.
There are no great hidden secrets to a long lasting partnership. As in personal relationships, there must be mutual respect, trust and commitment and continual open and honest communication. Sounds like a great way to keep our business family together, doesn’t it?
I must now return to enjoying the sunshine out my window (I may be in Florida, but I still have to work inside for a living!) I do appreciate all you all do – every day – either as a provider or a vendor partner. Have a great March…and spring is on the way!