How to Manage Successful Vendor Relationships
Understanding both your organization’s and your facility department’s goals is a huge step towards cultivating vendor and contractor relationships. Here's what you should know.
Upholding relationships with the vendors and contractors your organization chooses to do business with can make or break your facilities program. If you ever have the opportunity to be in charge of choosing which business you work with, like everything else in our jack of all trade’s profession, you must take it very seriously in order to have success. The right candidate should be chosen based on fit, just like choosing an employee to hire. There may be a company that every other organization uses just because they have the biggest company with many employees, but that may not be what your organization needs. You may want a more intimate approach. And let’s be honest, using what’s popular may be something the organization you work for cannot financially afford.
To establish optimal vendor relationships, there are some key questions that need to be asked. Understanding both your organization’s and your facility department’s goals is a huge step towards cultivating vendor and contractor relationships. Here are some questions to consider whenever choosing a vendor or contractor to work with:
• Is your organization seeking long-term business relationships with other companies and organizations, or will this potential vendor be a one-off for the facilities program?
• Is the potential vendor interested in just doing work, making some money, and leaving it at that? Or are they interested in doing great work together, figuring things out together, making mistakes together, and developing a very compelling business relationship together?
What’s smart to keep in mind is that while the work is important, cultivating relationships, being on the same page by keeping very open lines of communication, being flexible for that relationship, and doing great work in the process are what are crucial for success. Keep that kind of mindset on repeat toward every single organization you work with. There must also be an understanding that all of this will take time. You’ll go through some vendors and say to yourself, “Yeah, no. This isn’t going to work.”
Facility managers need to be flexible yet very particular at the same time. So if something doesn’t feel right, it most likely isn’t right and your department should act on that. As you develop a groove with building the simple but to-the-point criteria about the vendors you choose to work with, this area of facilities management will be something you can confidently check off within your program.
Take the case of a particular organization’s relationship with an HVAC company. The HVAC company was doing what they were supposed to be doing according to the agreement and everything looked as is if it was all okay. But with this company, there were a few things happening that should not have been happening, including:
1. The two-man crew was doing the scheduled preventive maintenance work for all of the supplemental HVAC systems in two hours, but then leaving for the day. They were going to grab lunch and then having the oblivious facilities coordinator sign the ticket that they had worked for eight hours.
2. The equipment was having issues — belts came loose, old humidifiers that were never replaced started to give out, filters were a murky charcoal color, etc. With all these things happening, the company would have to be called back and paid to fix the issues that should have been taken care of during the scheduled preventive maintenance visit.
3. The fee to be paid from having preventive maintenance done on the systems was four times what the normal price was from other companies.
4. The sales rep or field operations manager were out of communication for a very long time. You should always expect vendor representatives to reach out and see if you’re satisfied with how the business is being handled and so on. It shouldn’t be the other way around.
With this current company doing bad business and portraying themselves as if they were untouchable, it was decided to start moving forward to use other companies’ services. When confronted with all the ways the vendor was failing its customer, it made excuses instead of making things right: “Well, it’s in our agreement that we do this, and not that. We’re not too sure that we understand or can even help with what you’re asking of us. Plus, you can’t cancel this agreement we have anyway.” Now, does that sound like great customer service to you? Does it sound like a great line of communication to make the situation a win win for everyone?
Eventually, a new company was found, and a better contract was signed. The agreement with the previous company was cancelled within a couple of weeks.
Have your criteria for choosing and using vendors and contractors, cultivate that relationship, keep your word, do great work in the process, and keep that on repeat.
Charles M. Thomas (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Facility Operations Consultant with LACE Management Services. He has 10 years of facility operations management experience working among the research, education, financial, and public relations industries, with skills in operations, strategic planning, project management, and office community relations.