How to choose the right contract lab Trinity Scientific
A couple of years ago, I had to choose a new firm of lawyers, as our previous lawyer, a one-man band, was retiring. We don’t use lawyers a lot, but there are times when they are very useful. It was easy enough to make a short list of firms of the right size, offering the kind of legal services that we needed. But how could I choose between the different firms, when what I know about law can fit neatly on to the back of a postage stamp?
The same dilemma can face companies when looking for a contract lab. True, most users of contract labs will know more about analysis and stability than I do about law, but most buyers of lab services will know less than the people they are buying from.
Just as there were some givens when I was looking for my lawyer (a practising certificate, expertise in contract and employment law, location), there are some givens when looking for a new laboratory. These include:
· The right regulatory approvals
· The right equipment
· Previous experience of similar work
· Spare capacity
· Passing an audit
· A satisfactory credit check
These criteria are obviously important, but they serve to eliminate unsuitable providers, rather than allowing us to choose our winner. So how should we choose?
I chose my law firm by having a chat with the shortlist. Whilst I did my homework, I really had to take their legal ability on trust, as I have no way of judging that. However, what I could tell very quickly was whether I could work with them. So during my chat, I was asking myself whether I liked them; if I trusted them; if I could imagine them in front of my customers; if they were effective communicators. I also found out that they have a pharma specialism, and even set up a pharma industry networking group with the local council and Chambers of Commerce. In other words, the purpose of my chat was to establish if they could deliver the customer service that I wanted.
And this is a key fact: without a tangible product, service businesses can only differentiate themselves through the customer experience that they create.
There are two elements to customer service. There’s the measurable side, which for a contract lab includes turnaround times, response times, number of rings before a phone is answered, and accuracy of documentation. For instance, customers expect that certificates of analysis are neatly arranged, promptly generated and contain results and analysis as well as all pertinent sample information. Customers are demanding more here; for instance, 5 day turnaround times for routine testing are becoming standard, rather than something to be charged extra for. All these things are great, and certainly prevent customers from becoming frustrated, but just because they are measurable doesn’t mean that they are important.
The other element of customer service is not measurable, and relates to the quality of the human interactions. Let’s not forget that companies don’t buy from companies; it’s people that buy from people. Creating and maintaining great personal relationships has huge benefits for both sides. It allows the supplier to understand exactly what the customer is looking for, improves communication on both sides, and can open up opportunities that neither side had expected. It is this kind of experience that we really hope for in our business relationships, and the result is a long-lasting relationship that both sides are happy with.
How often do any of us actually come across great customer service? Or even just good customer service? The fact is that decent customer service, whether from a contract lab or any other business, can be very hard to find. In fact, my experience is that dissatisfaction with service levels is rising amongst the customers of contract labs.
This is somewhat surprising; just google ‘customer service’ and over a million pages appear of what seem to be sound advice. Most companies talk about ‘consistently exceeding customer expectations’ (clearly impossible, if you think for just a second). So why don’t companies get this right more often?
There is a simple reason, and it goes back to the idea of people buying from people. Customer service can only be consistently delivered by happy, motivated, empowered employees who want to make a difference to their customers. Such employees do not arise by chance; they are the products of a positive, people-centric company culture. The successful companies of the 21stcentury will be those where the managers seek to create and nurture these cultures, as they will be the ones with the best long-term business relationships.
But in the age of austerity, isn’t pricing important? Of course it is. But let’s go back to my lawyers. I don’t actually want the cheapest legal advice; I want the right legal advice. The costs of your provider getting it wrong are high; with a contract lab, this could result in delayed release dates; products off the market or even recalls.
I chose my lawyers based on whether I could work with them; then I negotiated a fee. I armed myself with relevant information and competitive quotes, and so I’m confident that I’m not paying over the odds. And as the horsemeat scandal shows, you get what you pay for….
Finding the right contract lab probably isn’t the most important decision that a pharma company can make. But it can make a difference to your business; the key is to be clear about what matters to you.