June 5, 2018

Building and Maintaining Great Agency Relationships

Over the past four-plus decades, AB&C has worked with some of the most premier healthcare systems across this country—large and small—and we greatly value those relationships. But great agency-client relationships just don’t happen; they take true commitment by both parties to be successful. And over the years, we have learned what makes a great working relationship and want to share that knowledge with you, because agencies, while a source of expense, are also an investment, and have a key impact on your organization and your ability to meet patient and provider needs, delivery quality care and build your brand.

Here are some tips for improving this important vendor-partner relationship.

Make an Effort

This may sound obvious, but many organizations simply don’t take the time to get to know their agencies on a personal level. As Bob Ronan writes for CIO.com, “Taking the time to meet socially with agencies will help you build relationships that will make your work interactions better.” It’s not easy to connect on a personal level with a dozen or more revolving agencies as you continually shop for the best deal or leverage one vendor against another. That’s why Ronan also recommends keeping as few vendors as possible. “It is hard to have ‘special’ relationships if you have many agencies providing similar services,” he says. “Smaller numbers allow you to spend more money with each vendor and build strong relationships which will result in better service.”

A $6B client with more than 30 staff members involved in the daily interactions with our agency recognized the variability of workflows. We jointly hired a management consultant to interview the staff members and identified key areas that needed improvement—on both sides. This small investment enhanced our relationship and improved the quality and timeliness of the work.

Mutual Respect Builds Mutual Trust

It’s rare to have a completely conflict free vendor-partner relationship. Sometimes agencies underperform, under-deliver or just fail to meet expectations. Sometimes purchasers pay late, refuse to pay at all or are just overly demanding and difficult. While these situations can damage and even ruin an agency relationship, they can also be opportunities to strengthen relationships if they are resolved effectively. An executive-level discussion can often smooth things over and build familiarity with senior-level people from both organizations. The key is to focus on mutual understanding and respect.

A community hospital brings our teams together to hear about their strategic plan and next year’s marketing priorities well in advance of campaign launches.

Common Goals and Teamwork

Jarie Bolander, writing for The Daily MBA, points out that, “A mutually beneficial relationship requires both parties to understand what each one brings to the partnership. Having a keen insight into why a particular vendor or supplier wants your businesses will make the deal easier to do.” Similarly, Bolander argues that it’s beneficial to customize a presentation for your agencies about your business goals and specific needs. “Talk about the problems you have that you don’t know how you are going to solve. You may be surprised at the result.”

Another client believes in “Project Autopsies.” Whenever we complete a major campaign, we discuss what worked well and what didn’t, in an effort to improve the relationship.

Agencies are just one of the many stakeholder relationships a healthcare organization needs to manage, and while the relationships you have with patients, providers and employees may take center stage, you shouldn’t underestimate the importance and potential benefits of a strong vendor-partner relationship.

Have you found ways to strengthen relationships with your agencies? Share here!