Cost cutting can’t compromise customer service

Mike Kadish is an independent broker/consultant and an affiliate of Network Direct Inc. His business practice is primarily in assisting clients to identify and evaluate new teleservices vendors. As such, he is intensely involved in evaluating the operational, organizational and training/quality skill sets of call centers around the country.

After negotiating final agreements between clients and vendors, Mike’s role becomes that of a consultant/adviser to both parties to make sure the relationship remains strong.

His current clients include Crate & Barrel, Infogest, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Care-Pay Systems and On-Track Marketing of Australia.

GR: Mike, let’s begin with a general observation about the ways in which your clients are strategizing in these tough economic times.

MK: That’s easy – plan for the worst and hope for the best.

GR: Let’s focus on the hope for a moment.

MK: Well, my clients are in two categories – catalogers and direct response. The catalogers are hurting because discretionary income has become so tight. On the other hand, direct response is still fairly robust.

GR: What accounts for the difference?

MK: It seems to be a matter of whether the purchase has to do with products or services having to do with personal well-being or with quality of lifestyle.

GR: With quality of life as contrasted with quality of lifestyle, perhaps?

MK: Exactly. If physical well-being can be significantly improved by a purchase – the consumer is still buying. If, on the other hand, the issue is whether the table should be graced with new wine glasses – the buying decision is easier to defer.

GR: How are the catalogers dealing with these economic circumstances?

MK: Everyone is looking for ways to cut costs. That not only means internally, it also means asking vendors to share the pain and help their clients get through this difficult time. But that does not mean that quality can be sacrificed; customer service is as important, perhaps even more important, now as ever.

GR: The customer is more valuable, more contested, and perhaps more critical of the service they receive.

MK: All true. So the metrics having to do with customer service – time waiting, call management, anything having to do with keeping the customer happy – are very important.

GR: Do the difficult economic conditions tend to work in favor of the outsourcing model?

MK: Not always. I have a retail client with a large, well-managed internal customer service operation. The service that operation provides would actually cost more to outsource. But in most cases the outsourcing model makes sense.

GR: With the caveat about keeping quality of service up to the highest standards.

MK: That’s right. Whatever else may be sacrificed it cannot be at the cost of the brand reputation with the customer.

GR: What role do RFP’s play in the selection of call center partners for your clients?

MK: My highest priority is matching the call center to my client’s needs and brand personality. Sometimes, if those criteria are outside my personal familiarity with potential call centers, I will issue an RFP. It helps to formalize the criteria by which a call center is selected but an RFP is a tremendous amount of work both to create and to respond to, so when it is not necessary I avoid it.

GR: Based on your experience, how are RFP’s judged. Is the process as disinterested as it attempts to be?

MK: My experience is that value is still the primary consideration, not merely price. What is under consideration is a working partnership that should stand the test of time and that means one that requires mutually beneficial conditions.

GR: Mike, thanks for sharing your experience with us and our readers.

MK: You’re welcome!

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