Support in Tough Times16 Aug, 2010 By: Doug McPherson Response
No doubt the economy has left a good-sized dent in DR, but some believe support services can help smooth out at least some of the damage.
Tony Sziklai sees the problem as clearly as an HDTV picture — and part of the solution is coming in pretty clearly, too.
The problem? It’s well documented. “The economy has definitely impacted the direct response industry, no doubt about that,” says Sziklai, who’s with Moulton Logistics, a fulfillment firm in Van Nuys, Calif. “While there are still hit shows out there, many marketers are getting fewer orders and experiencing more attrition, such as cancellations, credit card declines and returns.”
These are all valid problems. And while there’s no quick fix, Sziklai and others in support services say part of the solution is right behind marketers — on the back end with fulfillment, call centers and payment processing. “I’m starting to see more and more marketers looking to improve support services and customer service, and it can pay off, especially in a bad economy,” Sziklai says.
On the fulfillment side, for example, Sziklai says marketers are paying closer attention to details. “They [marketers] want same-day shipping so that customers get their packages faster and are less tempted to cancel. They want bi-coastal shipping so that freight costs can be optimized. They want technology to ensure that orders are packed correctly, in the right-sized box, and using the correct shipping method — anything to reduce returns and reverse logistics costs.”
That’s a lot of wants, and that’s precisely what experts say can lead to savings in the day-in, day-out grind of DR and its back-end workings.
“Today we’re all challenged to do more with less and to make the most with the dollars we’re spending. You must hold vendors accountable,” says Shari Altman, president of Altman Dedicated Direct, a DR consultancy in Rural Hall, N.C.
No One Big Thing
It’s first important to have the right set of expectations on what you can save and what you can’t via back-end support, Altman says.
“There’s no one big thing you can do to save money with vendors, but I believe there are a lot of little things you can do to get the next few pennies,” Altman says. “You constantly need to be tweaking at every turn. All the small items — what are we doing to upsell better, maybe it’s the offer, maybe the script can be improved, always tweaking.”
To Altman and other consultants, that ability to tweak often comes down to picking the right vendor to begin with.
Lisa Valentine, a marketing manager with PowerPay, a payment processing company in Portland, Maine, agrees and says to look for a partner who’s willing to consult with you to identify potential issues before they happen.
“Appreciate [those] who ask lots of questions about your business related to how they can best service and partner with you on driving a successful campaign,” Valentine says.
Once you find the right vendor, Altman says to get actively involved with them in their work. “You can’t just hand off a campaign to a vendor; you know your product and customers better than anyone else,” she advises. “Yes, vendors may know their business, but you know what can’t be replaced. Put your brain power together with them.”
Bryan Sweeney, vice president of operations for JH Direct, a DR product marketing company in Vista, Calif., agrees. He says developing a working relationship with his fulfillment company, Thill Logistics/Customer Service Direct in Neenah, Wis., has been critical. “They’re an extension of my operation, a true partner,” he contends.