How to Better Your Relationship with Service & Product Providers: Become Engaged not Enraged

In libraryland, there is an endemic problem with our relationship with our resource and service providers. As a profession we’ve tended to ignore the popular idiom: “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” In our discussions both with service or resource providers and amongst ourselves, we tend to blame-storm problems and issues being encountered instead of trying to find ways to positively engage with providers and seek solutions to these problems and issues.  It appears that as a profession, librarians sometimes forget we are part of a knowledge community and must act accordingly within the information chain. There are five things we can do to positively shape our interactions with service and resource providers:

  • We are an information seeking and providing profession. What if, when we first encounter a problem instead of expressing immediate frustration with the situation to our colleagues, we take a step back and follow the advice we give to our patrons? Let’s start with investigating how the problem or issue came into being. By taking an hour or less to review press release documentation from the provider, reviewing the company with whom we have an issue or concern, reading news releases in American Libraries or Information Today, trolling & reading e-discussion lists for other librarians’ take on a situation we become more informed about the issue or concern and not just react to our negative impression or experience. We are now informed and may understand better why a situation is being encountered. Now when we talk to the provider, we can engage in an informed conversation about the situation or problem encountered. Example: “It looks like you surveyed a number of undergraduates to develop your new search interface, did you consider that this search strategy may not be appealing to graduate students and faculty?”
  • Instead of immediately posting a frustrated message to an e-discussion list about the problem or concern, what if we contacted the representative that we work with from the provider and asked questions? This could be an account representative or a technical support person. Ask specific questions regarding the situation and use clear language, for example: “When I do X, it seems that Y is happening and I’m trying to achieve Z. Can you walk me through this process so I can see what’s happening?” Be honest with your feelings regarding the situation: “I’m finding this situation to be really frustrating, how can we resolve it?” “Your company X called me out of the blue yesterday, what role should I play in working with you?”  When we indicate that we are willing to work on finding the solution to a specific situation, it goes a long way with reaching a satisfactory outcome.
  • As a profession we are open to being disrupted. This is the essence of reference and patron service in our organizations. However, we tend to react negatively when this same form of disruption occurs from our service/resource providers. Just as we are open to help any constituent engaging with us, we should be open to responding to a resource/service provider. This is not to say that we cannot discourage cold calls but we should be willing to meet and talk with the service/resource provider as a mechanism for providing feedback and concerns about their products and services. It is part of our job to make time and room to be good stewards of the resources and services we are providing.
  • Along these same lines, when we receive an email from a service/resource provider, it should not go entirely ignored. Many of these emails are news items regarding service disruptions or new products and do not require immediate feedback. However, when we do get a message from an account representative or a sales person, we should respond within a reasonable amount of time even if it is to say that the timing of their offer for a visit, a trial,  and/or for a training session on product X will not work at this time.  We all dislike it when we feel our emails and attempts to contact someone are not responded to in a reasonable amount of time and we should share this same courtesy back.
  • Lastly, offer to be a beta-tester or to serve on a library advisory group for the service/product provider. Indicate that you feel strongly about the resources being offered and that you’d like to support their on-going development or be able to give input on the cost model being utilized. There are benefits to being in on the ground floor of development and new practices with the resource and service providers such as reduced cost and helping to shape the eventual outcome of the service/resource provided.

3 Comments on “How to Better Your Relationship with Service & Product Providers: Become Engaged not Enraged”

  1. Tony Greiner says:

    This is good advice, and at times I have been guilty of all these things. However, I will take issue with the beta-testing suggestion. I have had the misfortune to be involved in several beta-tests, and they always end up with the library devoting a huge amount of staff-time to the product, which improves only marginally. The vendor makes up for our efforts by charging full price, and the library administration, judging that the library has made a big investment in the product subscribes to it, even though we all know it is a turkey.

    If the vendor wants to roll-out a not ready for market product, they should pay us to test it.

    • Jill Emery says:

      My experience with beta testing has been to negotiate free access for 1-2 years either during the beta test or immediately post beta test. In other cases, I know of librarians who have negotiated additional database access an/or content access for being beta-testers. In our industry it never hurts to ask these questions upfront and ask for them in writing.

  2. I’m having a hard time following these principles this week. 😛

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