4 ways to improve vendor relationships

May 14, 2015

Developing and fostering positive relationships with colleagues is instrumental to an optometry practice’s success. However, relationship building should extend not only to internal but also to external colleagues.

Developing and fostering positive relationships with colleagues is instrumental to an optometry practice’s success. However, relationship building should extend not only to internal but also to external colleagues. Investing time and effort in relationships with pharmaceutical, surgical, optical, laboratory, and electronic health record (EHR) vendor representatives extends a practice’s support network and ensures that staff receive the best value from its vendors. While purchasing the right product is essential to any practice’s success, the team behind the product is just as important. In optometry-or any field of medicine-technology evolves so quickly that staff rely heavily on the company to educate them on product upgrades and new features. In essence, it is not the products that make a practice excel. It is the people.   

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Why good relationships matter

Putting effort into vendor relationships can mean the difference between receiving good service from vendors and receiving stellar service from vendors. Some of the pitfalls of not developing strong relationships are delayed responses to e-mails and phone calls, delays during emergent situations, and delays in shipments and ordering, which all can lead to increased overhead. Most importantly, these pitfalls can damage a customer service program, which directly affects the patient. Build a foundation for your businesses success by following these four steps for fostering and maintaining vendor relationships.

1. Let vendor representatvies inside 

 

1. Let vendor representatives inside

Vendor representatives often find that the most challenging aspect of their job is getting past the front desk. Vendors cannot serve a practice if they don’t have access to it. In our practice, our representatives have easy access to all of our offices. In other words, they stop at the front desk, check in with a front desk associate who has been trained to recognize them, sign them in, pick up a visitor badge, and are free to enter and work. The representatives have all signed HIPAA business associate agreements. They know the reason they are visiting our office, know where to go, and who to speak to. In addition, they are able to meet face to face with our technicians and doctors, and I always take time to have a conversation with them before they leave our practice.

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2. Include vendor representatives in meetings

During our quarterly general staff meetings, we always invite one or two vendor representatives to address our entire staff for 20 minutes of the meeting time. Vendors appreciate our offer and sometimes even will provide dinner for the staff during the meeting. They make their presentation educational and address the needs of the entire staff, not just the doctors.

3. Allow vendors to help you

 

3. Allow vendors to help you

Having established relationships with vendor representatives provides benefits to both the practice and patients. In one instance, a surgeon experienced an urgent need for an intraocular lens (IOL) replacement while the patient was still on the table. We contacted our IOL vendor representative, which happened to be Alcon, who was able to arrange a lens from a competing ambulatory surgical center (ASC) immediately delivered directly to our ASC. This is a classic example of utilizing established relationships to remedy a challenging situation.

In another instance, prior to purchasing our EHR software but after we established a relationship with our vendor, which happened to be ManagementPlus, an EHR representative went out of her way to refer us to a registry to help us recover a government incentive that we had lost.   

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4. Be a giver

It is equally important to reciprocate the kindness of vendors because it makes them feel appreciated. Vendor representatives are on the giving end. They often bring lunches and educational programs to the practice, so I make a point to schedule lunches with vendor representatives as well as suggest impromptu lunches when they are visiting. I receive the investment that I put into vendors back five-fold. Furthermore, we invite them to our holiday parties and other company get-togethers. We also send them holiday gifts. These are all worthwhile investments, but most importantly we have forged lifelong friendships. We treat vendors like they are our family and our employees.

When shopping for any product, it is important to keep in mind that what is purchased may transform into a completely different system over time, for example, after software updates or other upgrades. Therefore, it is imperative to consider the representatives and the company. Practices that do not have a solid, positive relationship with their vendors miss out on the many benefits that will help their patients and their practice.