An article entitled ďHappy Together: How to Foster Mutually Beneficial Librarian-Vendor PartnershipsĒ in the February 2009 issue of AALL Spectrum caught my eye. (hat tip: Library Boy) Written by Devin GawneMark and Sarah Nichols, the article provides an excellent overview of both sides of the librarian-vendor relationship, and the section on ďDeal BreakersĒ is especially interesting.† (My colleague Karen also mentions this article in a recent post.)
For the first time in my career, Iím the one dealing with legal publishing vendors directly.† At my old job, I would deal occasionally with generic customer service lines and our vendors on the library software side, but generally my boss was the one who dealt with the account reps. So, when I took my new job, it was one task that I was both excited and nervous to take on.
I attended most of an exceptionally useful session at the SLA conference last June, and learned tips there that I took with me and kept in mind as I began meeting my account reps. At ďTales from the Dark SideĒ, all the panelists emphasized that vendors are people too, and that a healthy relationship occurs when both the vendor and the purchaser treat each other the way theyíd like to be treated themselves. And thus far, Iíve found this to be the best piece of advice.
I want to share some of my experiences dealing with the big legal information vendors so far. Here are some random thoughts on good experiences, bad experiences, and one or two ugly ones.
Personalization and Courtesy
Shortly after starting my current job, my Carswell electronic products rep emailed to ask if she could take me to lunch. I gladly accepted; she met me at a restaurant across the street from my office, and we had a lovely time becoming acquainted both professionally and personally. She gave me a few key tips to make our business dealings run smoothly, including always including the firm name and account number in the subject line of email orders. She also let me know that she was available to help me make a business case to management if I needed assistance in that area. Right there, she presented two easy ways that we could make each otherís jobs easier, and I really appreciated it.
Similarly, I had an in-person visit from my rep at Canada Law Book, who since then I have consistently enjoyed working with and considered my ally, not adversary. The service I receive from her is always personal, pleasant, and prompt Ė what more could I ask for?
Outstanding vendors are at worst, neutral about, and at best, collegial with and complimentary of, their competitors. Itís refreshing to hear someone acknowledge the hard work of their competitor colleagues. case in point: the legendary Peter Roberts of Canada Law Book, whose recent semi-retirement resulted in overflowing tributes, odes, and thanks for years of excellent service and role modeling from not only his customers, but also from his competitors: fellow vendors.
On the flipside, nothing is worse or more awkward (and not to mention unprofessional) than a rep slamming or insulting another of your reps. I have witnessed both. Obviously, each leaves its own (very lasting) impression.
Dealing with dozens of contacts at a single company is a recipe for disaster and a surefire way to create confusion and frustrated customers. Ideally, there should be one contact person for your account. If thatís not possible, then having different vendors with clearly defined roles is the next best thing (for instance, a rep for electronic products, a rep for print products, etc.).
Marketing Tactics (Unsavoury ones)
One major international publisher clearly employs commission-based sales calls. This is aggravating, as the calls are always from random people who know nothing about your library or work setting. When you ask if you can think about it and decide later, they always want you to call them directly, and not your usual rep. I donít mind sales calls (much), but I would respond much better to them if they actually came from my rep. Iíd also be able to keep track of my orders a lot more easily, and it would save me a lot of time.
With the aforementioned publisher, just when I think I know who our account rep is, an email order goes unanswered and I realise that rep is no longer with the company. How frustrating! I would much rather work with one person who makes an effort to know my needs and who I know I can always call or email.
Recently, Gary Rodrigues wrote a post on Slaw about outsourcing. While his post focuses on legal information databases, I found that his thoughts on outsourcing apply equally well to the customer service side of legal publishers:
“In the past, the publisher sought to identify selected activities that would be suitable for outsourcing when in house personnel were already working at full capacity. The premise was that while it would be preferable to do everything in house, the sheer volume of work made it necessary from time to time to outsource specific projects.
Today the opposite is true. The operating premise is that everything should be outsourced, unless there is a very good reason not to do so.”
I donít have a problem, per se, with outsourcing call centres if the people staffing them are competent and empowered to handle my questions. I do, however, have a problem with calling the customer service line for a Canadian product and being asked for my zip code! Is it really too much to ask?
In a similar vein, a certain small Canadian publishing outfit is notorious for calling lawyers directly and pressuring them into accepting trials of products that they donít actually need. Guess who then has to deal with returning these items (at the firmís expense)? Thatís right, the library. We canít stop publishers from sending blurb to every lawyer at the firm, but we should be able to expect them to respect the libraryís role as collection manage (shouldnít we?).
So, at the beginning of this post, I said that itís a two-way street. What do I do to foster positive relations with my vendors?
- Be polite, regardless of what form of communication
- Say please and thank you
- Use the repís name and not ďto whom it may concernĒ
- Try to remember personal details and follow up on them
- Keep them informed Ė if Iím in discussion with management, I keep my rep apprised of the developments
- As the AALL Spectrum article advises, ďCommunicate transparently about constraintsĒ Ė if we donít have the budget for it, or itís just something we need for our practices, I tell them upfront. That way weíre not wasting each otherís time. A good vendor will respect that.
Do you have any tips, experiences, or horror stories about working with legal publishing vendors? I would love to hear them.