Laboratories are relying increasingly more on automation and unique software solutions in order to deliver quality patient results within an expected turn-around time. As they also struggle to replace empty positions and maintain a cohesive team, few relationships are as important as those that exist between lab scientists and vendors. Developing strong working partnerships with vendors does require time and patience from both parties, but the value it offers is mutually beneficial and well worth the effort.
Establishing a positive relationship with a vendor creates the benefit of having a consistent support system that can be treated as an extension of your direct team. Vendors can have long-term familiarity with your processes and people and can dial in on your staff’s strengths and capabilities. Is your staff capable of completing some minor troubleshooting over the phone? Can they give you some alternative ideas to try before resorting to an on-site visit? Chances are, the more familiar they are with your team, the more likely they are to have confidence in your troubleshooting abilities. In the event they must make a visit, they can normally jump right in and provide immediate help. There is no “getting up to speed” the next time your analyzer goes down or your software crashes – they already have a clear picture of your historical problems, know their way around your laboratory, and have an existing reputation with the staff. All this leads to fewer downtimes and less complicated service calls – the very things that slow down your daily progress.
Creating strong relationships with vendors can also pay off monetarily for the laboratory. Vendors are a wealth of knowledge and usually have the “inside scoop” on the progress of new product development. Some vendors will work hard to leverage purchasing power in your favor when a new instrument or program is on the horizon. Sometimes this may come in the form of cheaper reagents, standardized tiered pricing, or discounted service contracts (the biggie!).
Building a dynamic vendor-client relationship can add tremendous value to your lab in regards to design. Many instrument vendors now provide consultative services that focus on efficiency and lean work-flow analysis. Is there an impending relocation for your lab? Consult your vendor for ideas on how best to move things – perhaps they can lend a hand or provide backup instrumentation in the interim. Are you building or renovating an area with your laboratory? Ask for their design input - they’ve seen it all!
One of the less thought-about benefits of establishing a strong relationship with vendors is the fact that they can, and often will, go above and beyond to help you with situations that aren’t in their “jurisdiction”. It isn’t uncommon for changes in interfaces, temperature and humidity conditions, middleware, and the addition of IT security patches to interfere with how a vendor’s product responds. Though the root of these problems isn’t their fault, a great vendor will go out of their way to work on solving the issue with you.
Though it’s true that building meaningful relationships takes time, trust, and patience, it’s in your best interest to put forth some effort into getting to know your vendors. Your lab can’t afford to miss out on the potential benefits!