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The Value of Education, Information & Trust in Sterile Processing Vendor Relationships

I still remember the first in-services I ever saw as a young sterile processing technician. Here were these vendors, standing up in front of our department, showing us the new set of orthopedic drills that our hospital purchased or holding up a bottle of the new detergent we would be using in the decontamination room.

Everything was so exciting. The vendors were excited. My little technician heart and head were excited. I tried to soak up every word and ask as many questions as I could before the short exchange of information was up. This kind of meeting wasn’t something I had ever seen in previous industries in which I worked. There was no such thing as an in-service at the supermarket I was hired from. We had no in-services at the landscaping company I worked at in college. The idea that manufacturer representatives would come to our hospital in the middle of Kentucky and talk to us about products and equipment we had already bought was a little mind blowing.

The way it shouldn’t be
As I alluded to above, there is a real temptation to take the exchange of education and information for granted in an industry as comfortable with in-services as we are in sterile processing. However, if you take a step back and look at what actually goes on in these relational exchanges, it’s nothing short of mission critical.

Consider a world where the only interaction you had with a company was prior to the sale of the product or service. Countless phone calls from their VP of sales, big smiles from their regional manager, stacks of white papers and spec sheets all telling a story about how great this new widget will be for your sterile processing team. You finally make the decision that this is the widget that you want. You sign the purchase order, notify your buyer, and in six weeks the shiny new piece of equipment arrives at your department doorstep

And then, silence. You have a question about install, but the regional manager is no longer returning your phone calls. The instructions for use (IFUs) are not quite as clear as they should be, but your emails never end up getting a hold of the VP of sales who used to get back to you in 24 hours or less. You have questions, but you are unable to get any answers. Not only do you become frustrated with the company and new widget, but your staff also becomes frustrated with you because, of course, you are the one who decided to go with this widget in the first place. What once looked like such a good idea is quickly becoming a big regret, and a tangible loss of trust.

Why (smart) vendors do it differently
Sterile processing purchasing decisions shouldn’t end up like this disappointing story and, thankfully, most vendors realize this fact. Instead of ghosting sterile processing customers after the sale, smart vendors understand the critical importance of being present (in person or at least available remotely) to ensure their new technology or product is adequately supported with appropriate education and information.

This decision on the part of vendors to commit to after-sale support ultimately comes down to how they value trust in their relationship with department leaders and frontline users. Like the old adage tells us, however, “Trust isn’t given, it’s earned.”

There is more to the story of strengthening this level of trust between users and vendors which a great many vendor companies miss out on. It starts by taking a larger view of the industry than just the particular customers who have purchased a vendor’s products and services thus far. To do this, smart vendors commit to investing time and resources into educating and informing the entire scope of industry professionals out there in the sterile processing universe. They view the timeline of trust building to begin before anyone ever becomes a customer and continue long after anyone decided to buy their widget (or not). The commitment is to the idea of education, not merely the instance of a sales opportunity.

A case study in trust
Let me close this article by giving a real-life, in-the-moment example of what this valuable commitment to education and information looks like.

Why are you reading this article? Perhaps a better way to pose the question is who made it possible for you to encounter this particular insight about our sterile processing industry? Articles do not write themselves. Newsletters do not appear out of thin air. Emails do not spontaneously send on their own, and websites do not magically pull together diverse perspectives from subject matter experts in the medical device reprocessing world. All of this was done with intention—and done from a commitment to invest in the minds and hearts of sterile processing professionals around the country, regardless of their status as customer, decision-maker, or none of the above.

If you need an example of what trust looks like in our industry, look for those vendors who are actively investing in you and your team right now. Look for who is spending time and effort to inform you about industry news. Look for those folks who work hard to keep you engaged in best practices and up to date on educational opportunities in your region or locale. Vendors who are willing to proactively invest in you in these ways are far more likely to be present for you and your team if and when you ever use their products or services. If vendors are not doing these things for you now, you have no reason to believe they would be there for you in the future.

The best relationships in the world are built on trust.

You should expect your sterile processing vendors to be doing something to earn it.

Feature articles exclusively for Ultra Clean Systems by Weston “Hank” Balch, BS, MDiv, CRCST, CER, CIS, CHL

Weapon of Mass Microbial Destruction * Professional Clean Freak * Podcast Host * Safety Addict * CS/SPD Consultant

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