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Exploring the Negative Reputation of Service Providers

Exploring the Negative Reputation of Service Providers
Institutional leaders are more interested in entering long-term strategic partnerships with service providers than with a one-time purchase of a product or service.

Being responsible for the virtual classroom environment for a wholly online institution brings its own set of challenges when working with vendors and service providers. Taking calls and responding to emails from new companies seeking to sell their technologies, wares and services is never the highlight of my day. Meeting new service providers, especially educational technology vendors, brings on the same uncomfortable feeling as shopping for furniture or a new car. A few companies understand higher education, know what their products need to do and have done their homework before approaching my institution. I like working with these partners.

Vendors, especially those in the educational technology sector, need more experience and insight into higher education. Far too often, I have seen technology designed for primary and secondary education or corporate and government training presented and marketed as ready solutions for higher education. I have sat through demonstrations of middle school social studies and high school mathematics tools and had to ask if they offered more age and academic level appropriate material. I have had demonstrations of software tools from the private sector that lacked even a single example that would apply to an educational setting other than the campus bookstore.

Educational technology vendors also need to keep up with legal requirements for online material and services. I am still surprised by how many sales representatives do not know if their products fully meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. Other vendors offer ‘innovative’ technology that still relies on Adobe Flash. It is unfortunate because so many students now use mobile devices that cannot display content built in Flash.

Vendors and service providers can make it easier for academic administrators if they conduct a little research before getting to their sales pitch. This may apply more to online programs and institutions than those on-ground. Our virtual classrooms do not need whiteboards, desks or comfortable chairs. Our virtual labs do not require computer workstations, beakers or safety equipment.

As a consumer, I am looking for a relationship with my vendors and service providers, not a one-time sale like at the furniture store or car lot. Building a partnering relationship takes work on both sides. Vendors can start by understanding more about their prospective customers, the higher education industry and their needs. It will end up saving both of us a lot of precious time.

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