You say potato, I say zucchini…

potatoBut that doesn’t mean we get to fling vegetables at each other.  Today  I’m talking about gaps in vendor-librarian communications.  Let’s be honest, many librarians and vendors are not on the best of terms.

Librarians see vendors as money-seeking vulchers who take advantage of their altruistic public institutions by locking them into long term contracts that allow for price increases, all the while decreasing customer service.

Vendors cringe at the thought of going to conference, knowing they will have to cope with library staff people only visiting their booth for free swag and not making eye contact with them.  It’s like being a leper in a business suit.

I was a library director at one time.  Let me tell you my pet peeves:
 – getting calls while I’m on desk without the vendor asking “is this a good time?” or, “are you at your reference desk right now?  Do you need me to call back?”
 – launching into a long winded sales speech without pause for a breath so that I cannot take a moment to ask a question or make comment.
 – not being patient as I weigh the pros and cons of prices and features of products.  I once heard a vendor mumble with exasperation “Jee-sus” under her breath as I asked her to help me find different ways to manage a $5000 price increase in a database that my library absolutely had to have.  Ironically, it was a religious database, but I didn’t appreciate her tone one bit. 
 – assuming I’ve got a high level of technical expertise or none at all.  There’s got to be a polite way to ask a librarian what type of technology skills they have, so that neither party is frustrated.
 – dealing with vendors who stand in the aisles at conference practically pouncing on you as you walk by – I am not a mouse and you are not a cat…stand aside and if your booth is informative, I’ll be drawn to it and I’ll talk to you, trust me.
 – vendor websites that are hard to search, informational materials that aren’t informative at all, calling vendors when you want to buy their product and they don’t ever call back…oh the list goes on and on…

Now I work for a vendor – Evanced Solutions – and I can share with you that perspective as well:
– It’s really scary when you sell a library system software and then call the technical contact to check in and see how things are going and they have no idea what you’re talking about. 
– In keeping with that thought, I’ve got two words: project management.  There are libraries that excel at project management – they get software, form committees or training teams and two weeks later they’re using the software and rocking it out.  Then I’ve got libraries that I have to call and beg to use the product, but no one has taken the implementation lead, so software sits paid for but un-used.  In this economy, if you have the luxury of buying software and not using it then you are lucky.
– It’s my responsibility at Evanced to call our customers and check in to see how things are going.  There are times I get a very blunt “I don’t have time for this, goodbye”, even after I’ve made it clear that I just am checking in quickly.  Is saying “Thank you for your call, but I’m busy at the moment, can you call back later or email me?”
– Which brings me to this point: librarians sometimes treat vendors the way really awful patrons treat librarians.  You know the patrons who are especially rude to you, or call you with a question and then tell you that you’re taking to long to give them an answer though you’ve only be chatting for a few minutes?  Yeah, I’ve had librarians be terribly mean to me, practically bringing tears to my eyes.
– If a library does a call for proposals, and we don’t win the bid, please…please…please tell the vendor why they didn’t win.  We can’t become a better company and develop better products if we don’t know why you chose someone else over us.  We take the time to fill out the endless bid forms, please just take five minutes to write us an email telling us how we could have done better.
– And lastly, there’s the cost versus features debate.  Who doesn’t love really awesome software and databases?  I do, I do!  But the cost, oooh, the cost.  At Evanced we look at our product and we realize it’s not perfect.  It really rocks and does cool stuff, but it isn’t quite right for everyone, we know.  We’re working on some major changes to improve the software in drastic and freaking awesome ways.  But the catch is that we’re also trying to not raise our prices (We haven’t raised our prices in seven years for those of you keeping track…)  Recently someone mentioned to us that maybe our software isn’t as good as it could be because we have no competition and therefore have the market “locked”.  But that’s not true.  We haven’t been able to make all the changes we’ve wanted to because it would involve hiring more programmers and technical specialists.  And they have families.  That like to eat and have a home.  So we have to pay them.  And then we’d have to charge libraries for the price increase.  So, for us, it becomes a fight of “Do we make all the changes we’d like to make to our software to make everyone happy?’  or “Do we build and rebuild over time and then save our pennies to finally pay for some positive major changes that don’t drastically increase prices?”  In trying to help out libraries, we sometimes end up being told we’re the bad guys. 

If we’re doing something wrong or you’re mad at us, can you just tell us nicely please?  I know some vendors are rude to you (that’s a whole other post) but some of us are nice and want to help.  Just approach us with the issue and we’ll see what we can do.  And if you’re not happy with the way we’ve worked with you, then you can email me at cayar at evancedsolutions dot com.

**FYI – this is my personal opinion so don’t blame Evanced for what I wrote.  I’m just pointing out some things I’ve noticed and want to share.  Open discussion doesn’t hurt and librarians and vendors need to talk.  Maybe we should hire Dr. Phil….

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One response to “You say potato, I say zucchini…

  1. The woman who mumbled Jee-sus under her breath while selling your library a religious database SHOULD be prayed for. Even though she’s the spawn of the devil.

    Your job, Chris, seems incredibly stressful. I always stop and say hello to all of the vendors at MLA, b/c they often seem lonely and bored. After reading this, I will give them words of encouragement too, while I’m taking candy and other free stuff from their tables.

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