What Should You Expect from Your Service Bureau?

What price do you place on a business relationship? Is the association motivated by profit alone (and can it in fact be considered a true relationship if it is that one-sided)? Or is it motivated by a higher calling, one that allows the business owner to earn a fair wage at a fair margin while offering a service or commodity that more than satisfies the needs and wants of customers and clients?

These questions are relevant to just about every business. But for now let’s look at how they relate to the list service bureau industry. After all, basically what service bureaus offer are commodity services. But those providers that treat these services as more than commodities—and their clients as more than faceless consumers of said commodities—are at a competitive advantage because they are focused on creating business relationships.

To determine if your service bureau has forge a productive business relationship with you, answer these questions:

  • Does “it’s in the queue” strike a familiar (and hardly pleasant) tone when you’re crunched against a deadline to get your merge/purge results? Does this happen because your client services representative must stand in line in his service bureau to gain access to the queuing system or perhaps is not directly involved with the NCOALink and merge/purge processes and must defer to a production team?
  • Are you suffering recency erosion because of long processing schedules? Does your schedule (or the ability to meet deadlines) suffer because your client services rep will not run the next stage of the process until he gets your sign-off even though it is obvious to all parties involved that the pre-merge/purge counts are an exact match to the expected input quantities?
  • Does your merge/purge stand for just that: merging and purging? Or does it offer you more value? Are you provided with a means to select the best names from which to mail? Are you able to use your merge/purge as a pseudo-database because you’re able to gain visibility to the prospect records you may have mailed even more times than your best buyers?
  • Do you get the feel from your service bureau that it is the department next door? That it’s a 24/7 operation? When you consider the level of service you’re given by your service bureau, do you feel like you’ve just stayed at a Motel Six or at the Four Seasons Hotel while paying Motel Six prices?
  • Would you like to receive an invoice that is simple to understand and is only a few lines of detail?
  • Does it really cost your service bureau twice as much to process 10 million records as 5 million records? Are you sustaining processing fees each time you request your service bureau send a file to a database c-oop for use in a model? Do you feel you’re getting dinged for each and every move you make?

So much for the relationship breakers. But what makes a business relationship work? It’s the attitude that what’s good for the customer is good for my business. And what’s good for the customer? Faster, better, and cheaper services:

  • Faster–your client services rep should be intimate with your merge/purge and its surrounding processes. In fact he should be the one running those steps, taking total control for the outcome in terms of quality and time and providing consultative feedback to you.
  • Better–getting the most of your merge/purge is the name of the game. It is the one opportunity where all the pieces of the process come together and can be evaluated to extract maximum benefit. With a merge/purge that combines state-of-the-art matching logic with prospect database capabilities and scoring of each record in the process, your merge/purge experience should enable you to select the best names from which to mail.
  • Cheaper–today’s merge/purge computing world calls for a “time and materials” pricing paradigm. The price per 1,000 paradigm should go the way of the dinosaur. The simple truth is that, all things remaining equal, the same effort must go into running a 2,000-record merge/purge as a 5,000-record merge/purge – no more, no less. Furthermore, do you fear the ring of the cash register each time you e-mail or call your service bureau with a reasonable request? A bounty should not be sought for the completion of a simple task. In fact, if it takes longer to figure out what fee should be charged for some routine work than the actual completion of the task, that’s a telltale sign no fee should be charged at all.

In this increasingly Trumpesque world, “It’s not personal, it’s just business” might fly, but that attitude should not have a chance to get off the ground in the world of service bureaus in the direct marketing industry. Making your life easier is a big part of what your service bureau should be all about.

Jack Sturn is vice president of client services for I-Centrix, a Boston-based data management firm.

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