Getting the most out of vendors is a challenge facing all who are active. There are techniques that you can use whether you are trying to get the best service at the local print shop or detailed information on a flowmeter. You will certainly be able to use your own experience to add to the tactics presented here.
Before you even think about calling the vendor, you need to determine what it is that needs to be done. For example, if a flow measurement is not stable, you may want to observe the effect(s) of putting the control loop in manual. This ensures that the valve operates smoothly. You may also want to observe other measurements (such as pressures, temperatures, and flows) that affect the flow through the flowmeter. Vendors are trained to do certain things well, but troubleshooting your proprietary process or addressing internal politics is usually not among them. Vendors should know about the equipment that they sell, but even the best will stumble when asked to solve problems outside of their areas of expertise. Further, they potentially risk legal consequences if something should go terribly wrong.
Who should you call once you have determined that contact with the vendor is needed? Try to determine who has the information or who controls the resources that you need and call that person. If you do not know who this is, try to determine who would know who that person is and their contact information. This may be your local representative, but it could be your supervisor or a technician who previously needed similar information from the vendor. For example, significant delays can be avoided by directly contacting the factory person who schedules field technical service instead of leaving a message for your local representative who is only in the office for two hours on Friday and will return the call during the next week.
Understand what the vendor does and does not do. As previously mentioned, vendors should know about the equipment that they sell. Do not expect them to solve all of your problems. They may know a lot about widgets and have extensive related experience, but they sell products and they do not work for you. If you force vendors into the position of solving your problems, they may (reluctantly) do so, but their solution will usually entail the minimum of their effort and the minimum of their cost to successfully sell their product. For example, an instructor related a story about a contactor that had a 10 horsepower motor for installation on a fan that only needed a 3 horsepower motor. The instructor (who taught motor efficiency) knew that the energy consumption of the 10 horsepower motor would be higher and made him install the 3 horsepower motor. Installing the 10 horsepower motor was the easy way out for the contractor because he could “unload” a motor that he would probably not be able to use — and he was not paying the electric bill.
Be sure that you completely and honestly communicate with vendors in a clear straightforward and respectful manner. Vendors are indispensable in solving certain problems, so not acting in this manner today may return to haunt you tomorrow. Given the comments above, there is nothing wrong with respectfully asking a vendor for referrals to find people who might be able to help solve the problem at hand.
As a last resort, carry a stick. Sometimes vendors (like all of us) need a little push. Over the years, I reluctantly called a few supervisors and contacted the factory for information that was not forthcoming locally. There is always the threat of curtailing future sales, but with certain products, this approach can be a double-edged sword.
In summary, vendors are people who should be contacted and used to perform work that supplements your work within their areas of expertise. You and the vendor should work together respectfully, and the vendor should not be asked (or forced) to perform your work.
This article originally appeared in Flow Control magazine (August 2004) at www.flowcontrolnetwork.com.