As I was looking at my schedule for the day, I noticed that I had three meetings with representatives of suppliers and manufacturers. I already knew that one of them would try to get our business because his company’s products are cheaper than those of the company we are currently using. I hate those types of meetings, because they focus on the one element I don’t want our customers to focus on—price. I like to view relationships with industry partners in the same way that our clients view our veterinary services, with a focus on excellence in our services and value in areas like customer service, reliability, transparency and ethics.
So how do these things look in practice?
Customer service is defined as doing what is possible so the customer has the best experience interacting with your business. This is very easy to say and very hard to do. For example, we have an excellent DR system that had some technical issues, like all of them will. It required several phone calls to get to the bottom of the problem. At the beginning of each phone call, we always got someone new on the company’s end, and we had to recount our history each time. That person, in turn, would ask us to repeat the troubleshooting steps as if we had never done them before. Eventually we would get the problem resolved, but not until we had wasted a lot of time and were treated as if we were idiots each time, turning the unit on and off to see whether that made a difference.
Great customer service should be delivered in the same manner that you would like to be treated. A company that truly demonstrates customer service is invaluable.
Reliability is simply expecting a company to do what its representatives say they are going to do, when they say they will do it. Again, that sounds simple, but it often gets lost in translation. We make decisions based on the information we receive from our industry partners; yet we look like fools when the shipment didn’t get shipped or the wrong thing was delivered. I hate to think of all of the money we have wasted chasing after orders or rescheduling appointments. What seems cheap at first often becomes very expensive.
This leads to transparency. I would rather someone tell us the truth even if we don’t like the news than be surprised when something isn’t done when scheduled. Whether it is repairing one of our trucks or hearing about a back order, it is better if the company tells us in advance rather than have us learn the bad news after that company has “dropped the ball.”
Finally, we want partners that are ethical and that support veterinarians. For example, we were offered a great price on a blood analyzer once. When I asked for references, the company gave me a list of trainers who had purchased its units. That was unacceptable, and we did not buy that unit. We complain about lay practitioners, so why shouldn’t we expect our industry partners to understand that?
Communicating this to potential industry partners is challenging, and part of the blame rests on the shoulders of equine vets. Over the years, we have trained manufacturers and distributers to give us the best prices at our annual convention, or we will go to the competition and get a better deal. Year after year, we tell them price is paramount; then we are surprised when that is all they can offer us. Something has to give when their profit margins are cut, and that is usually customer service, reliability and transparency. We would be no different to our clients if they kept forcing us to lower our prices.
The next time a sales rep comes to visit you, instead of asking for the best price, ask about the things that are important to your business. Tell him or her that you want to do business with someone who has an interest in your business over a long period of time and is not just looking to make a sale. You might pay a bit more up front for a piece of equipment, but in the long run, the value you will get from the company will make the initial cost savings seem meaningless.