When Good Service Goes Bad

In the quest to simplify our lives, we busy media buyers often turn to big-name media properties when planning our online campaigns, hoping to save ourselves a few headaches. We assume that the internationally branded search engines/portals/networks that woo us with their flashy offline ad campaigns and interactive media kits know a thing or two about their businesses. We suppose, most rationally, that it is their proficiency in Internet publishing and ad sales that have secured their status and produced their celebrity. We expect them to be well-oiled machines that make our job easy.

It doesn’t take long before we realize, however, that high expectations can breed disappointment. As tempting as it may be to correlate a strong brand name with good customer service, expensive branding campaigns and millions of dollars in annual revenue do not the ideal media property make. And the big sites on the block are quickly gaining a reputation among media buyers for being unable to provide the level of customer service that their clients are looking for.

It’s not that the value placed on customer service has diminished, though reps at the big-name media properties have become order-takers, with very little time to put together customized proposals, suggest media strategies, or even simply answer a buyer’s questions. Quite frankly, they’re overwhelmed. Residual scepticism about online advertising has many advertisers seeking security and aligning themselves with the seemingly stronger and more stable online brands. As a result, these properties are experiencing a slight resurgence in business. This trend, coupled with a shortage of employees produced by the dot-com layoffs, has left these firms struggling to meet customer service demands.

But that’s not the worst of it. Perhaps due to their heavy workload, many of the employees who are left seem to lack a thorough understanding of their products. Buyers rely on sellers to be site tour guides — to showcase their inventory as a real estate agent might showcase a home. We need these sellers to know their properties inside out. They should be aware of new features, the logistics of campaign tracking and reporting, ad format specifics, under- and over-delivery policies, and so on. Yet many reps turn a blind eye to the technical aspect of their trade, passing buyers off to the “tech experts” for the most basic of questions. This isn’t to say that reps are expected to know as much about the technical side of their business as the specialists, but in the interest of efficiency the ability to answer general questions is crucial.

So what does this degeneration in customer service mean to media buyers? It means that working with the bigger properties can actually make our jobs more difficult. Understaffing and misinformation can lead to delays, and delays affect campaign results and upset clients. It’s enough to make a media buyer swear off big-site advertising for good.

If only it were that simple. The truth is that buyers need these sites as much as the sites need our business. Although we may get consistently better service from the smaller properties that have more time to dedicate to each individual client, the dominating properties can offer the vast audiences and brand recognition that the smaller sites can’t.

But if we must regularly rely on these sites, we can do a few things to ensure our buys go smoothly. When working with a new rep, quiz him. Ask him how long he’s been with the company and how much he knows. If he’ll be relying on the advice of a senior account executive, then you could save valuable time by working with the senior rep directly. If you’re lucky enough to find a rep that does know his stuff, hang on to him; don’t settle for being passed off to another because of department restructuring or territory adjustments.

You can also simplify big-site buying by helping to alleviate your rep’s workload. By all means, go to your rep for the information that you need. But if you’re searching for answers to questions that you can tackle yourself, don’t waste his time. Familiarize yourself with the property on your own and compile a comprehensive list of questions for him. You’ll both save time by avoiding telephone tag.

In the meantime, a helpful hint to all those big-name sites out there: Take a moment to see things from the buyer’s perspective. If you can find a way to step up the quality of your customer service, relieve the pressure that’s put on your reps, and train them to better understand your product, you’re sure to see an increase in sales volumes — and a few more happy media buyers to boot.

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