When you hear the words "customer service," what comes to mind? Most likely, frustration. Too often, paying customers run up against convoluted voicemail systems, long wait times, and, if they're patient and lucky enough, disinterested phone reps who may or may not care about the issue, may or may not be able to fix it, and may or may not speak their language.
That's not to say that there aren't good customer service reps. There most certainly are. Unfortunately, it's the negative experiences that tend to stick in our memories more than the smooth and positive ones. Good businesses are aware of that, and take steps to ensure that every interaction with a client goes as smoothly as possible.
Needless to say, that goes double for the business of web hosting, where time is measured in milliseconds, and every millisecond of down time is a potential drain on a client's income. A paying client deserves stability and security, but more than that, he or she deserves to know that, should any issues ever arise, customer service will be on the job at once.
How It's Done
To ensure that the dozens, hundreds, or thousands of active clients all receive the attention they deserve, a worthwhile provider uses both live, 24-hour technicians and a system of automated monitors. The automated system keeps constant watch, always on the lookout for anomalies of any kind; should one ever occur, the system notifies the live techs at once with a chain of alerts and notifications. With this system in place, a client rarely has to call in at all.
Treating the Client Right
On those occasions when a client does call in an issue, there are certain expectations of professional courtesy that every rep and technician should meet. A worthwhile web hosting provider treats each client with respect, not only as a paying customer and as an individual, but as someone who's entrusted a part of their livelihood, sometimes a critical part, to the provider's care. Whatever the issue might be, a web hosting provider's customer service and tech support departments have the professional and ethical obligation to guide the client toward a solution, and to do it in a friendly, approachable manner.
In a perfect world, we'd all associate customer service not with frustration and disappointment, but with hardworking, courteous professionals who'd help us out right when we need it most. For now, what we can do — right here in this business, where customer service is crucial — is work toward that ideal by setting an example every day.
When choosing a web hosting provider, it's tempting to go with the cheapest possible option. After all, why pay anywhere from $10 to $40+ a month when you can pay five bucks or less?
Well, several reasons.
Since the early days of the internet, fly-by-night providers — and even a few of the larger, more established ones — have been offering ridiculously low prices, often packaged together with impossibly lofty promises (check out the earlier entry on "unlimited" bandwidth). Before signing on with that kind of deal, here are a few things to consider:
What Rock-Bottom Prices Really Mean
- A provider's hardware budget comes, in large part, from their hosting fees, or lack thereof. A provider who charges pocket change isn't likely to have much more than pocket change for maintenance, upgrades, or overhead. It's not uncommon for budget providers to host their clients' sites on ramshackle custom-built machines, machines that often fail, without enough redundancy in place to keep their clients' sites up when they do go down. It goes without saying that even a few hours' down time can cost an e-commerce site hundreds, thousands, or more in lost business — much more than they "save" on hosting fees, and that's if a few hours is all it takes for the site to come back.
- On a related note, a provider who skimps on hardware isn't likely to spend much on customer service either. When it comes to e-commerce, tech support has to be decisive, effective, and immediate — and more than that, a paying client has the right to know that it will be. Sadly, there's an entire genre of stories about poor customer service, much of it online. A fly-by-night provider might take hours, even days or longer, to answer back, and may or may not be able to solve the problem. In the worst cases — they've been rare, but they do happen — entire websites have been lost.
Bargain-bin rates are certainly eye-catching, and they may appeal to your pocketbook, but be aware of those long-term costs, and always read the fine print.
When you invest a little extra, you're investing in better hardware, ongoing upgrades, higher security, capable customer service, and, above all, reliability. What it all adds up to is peace of mind, and that's something more valuable than any discount.