Communication lessons from vendors

by Susannah Tredwell, Lawson Lundell LLP, Vancouver, Canada

We can learn a lot from how publishers meet (or don’t meet) the needs of law firm libraries and use that knowledge to better meet our clients’ needs. Below are a number of ways in which these lessons can be used to improve library services.

Is [the library/research/material] of value to the person you are giving it to?
My law firm is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, with offices in Alberta and the Northwest Territories. We do not do a lot of work in Ontario, the most populous province in Canada. As a result, books and other materials that are Ontario-based are generally not very useful for my library. Despite that, I have had a conversation more than once with a vendor that goes “but all the lawyers in Ontario love this.” Yes, but mine don’t.
Lesson: Don’t tell the people you are speaking to how wonderful the library/product is for others; let them know why it is wonderful for them.

Build relationships
The client representatives who are most valuable to me are the ones that have spent time with me, who know my collection, and who know what I would be interested in. The ones that work with me to solve my problems? Those are the ones that I buy from.
Lesson: This should be obvious.

Don’t waste their time
I love the it when publishers tailor their promotional emails so that I only see products that are relevant to what my firm does. These emails are even more useful when kept succinct (so I can scan them very quickly) and which include links to the publisher’s website, so that I can find out more information on any product that interests me.
Lesson: Don’t make your lawyers work to figure out if the information you are sending them is useful. Make it as easy as possible for them to see the value of the work you have done for them.

Don’t waste your resources.
Publishers send multiple flyers in multiple formats, so I end up binning the duplicate copies of these materials. Printing and postage of these promotional materials add up, and I’m pretty sure the costs are factored into the prices we pay for products.
Lesson: Lawyers are paying for your time and library resources. Don’t make them think you’re squandering them.

If you offer a product, make it easy to find
Periodically I will realise that there is a gap in our collection that needs to be filled, and I will set off on a hunt to fill it. I will troll through publishers’ catalogues, both online and in print, contacting my representatives if I don’t find it in the catalogue. There are several vendors who make it very difficult to figure out if they actually have the kind of resource I am looking for, and the more difficult they make it to find, the less likely I am to buy it.
Lesson: Make everything the library offers easy to find. This may mean you offer multiple ways of finding materials (e.g. listing them in the library catalogue, having practice group-specific resource pages). If a lawyer cannot find a product, he or she can’t use it.

Take feedback
When I give a publisher unsolicited feedback about a product, it’s because I am actually interested in the product and I want it to be better. If I had no interest in it, I wouldn’t be spending time on giving the feedback. I appreciate when a publisher says “we’d love to do this, but…” and then gives a reason that makes sound business or technological sense. (“Everybody else wants it the way we are currently doing it” does not count.)
Lesson: If a lawyer gives you feedback (negative or positive), listen. It can be incredibly hard to get any kind of feedback about what the library does. You may think that the comments are unfair (and they may well be) but this is your chance to improve what you are doing or clarify lawyer misconceptions, so take it.

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