NEWS ANALYSIS: Online sales houses counter accusations of poor service - A lack of understanding permeates the online ad industry

Inevitably, scathing criticism of online sales houses by agencies has sparked intense debate (Media Business, last week).

Inevitably, scathing criticism of online sales houses by agencies

has sparked intense debate (Media Business, last week).



The complaints focused on the levels of client service offered by the

sales houses, which were deemed ’arrogant and unhelpful’. Nobody would

name names, but you’d be pretty obtuse not to realise that they were

referring to the large operations like DoubleClick, 24/7 and Real

Media.



As the smoke clears, it becomes apparent that the service issue is a

problem for the whole industry. John Owen, head of Motive Digital

Services, says: ’It’s easy to throw bricks at the ad sales networks, but

individual media owners are just as bad - even those that run perfectly

efficient offline sales operations. There is a general lack of

understanding of deadlines. We recently launched a product through six

media owners, and only one of them started the campaign on time.’



Ed Ling, media manager at I-level, warns against starting a witch hunt

against the sales houses. He believes the speed of the industry’s growth

means agencies, clients and media owners do not get a chance to discuss

strategy.



’We don’t spend enough time briefing media owners,’ he admits. ’We need

to sit down together and discuss how to improve service. New media is

not a child any more, it’s a confused teenager. It needs to become an

adult.’



Mark Nall, sales director at 24/7, says: ’The industry has grown

incredibly quickly and like every teenager, it has a few nasty pimples.

This is one of them.’



24/7 has recruited extra staff to handle traffic and client service.



It is also commissioning a survey among advertisers to determine how

they rate the service.



DoubleClick’s new managing director Eric Stein, seems unperturbed: ’High

client retention indicates they are happy. There is a very high

expectation of how quickly things can be turned around online. But

that’s fine - if people have high expectations, we have to make sure we

meet them .’



Stein says DoubleClick came top in a recent survey of client service

levels in the US. Like 24/7, it now wants to carry out its own survey

among UK clients.



And the clients often bring problems of their own. Those new to the net

sometimes find they require higher levels of service than they accepted

under their original contracts. These more tentative advertisers also

spend less, so sales people are forced to devote a lot of time to them

for little reward.



On the agency side, although specialist outfits like Motive Digital,

I-level and Profero represent the most experienced face of the market,

sales people claim many traditional operators are still struggling to

adapt their skills.



So perhaps sales people are not entirely to blame for poor service. But

if the industry is to gain the respect it deserves, it must shrug off

this adolescent angst and take on adult responsibilities.



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