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How not to service your customers

Monday, 12 March 2007 technology

Customer service is always at the forefront of somebody’s mind when choosing hosting. Price and features are very important but when your server comes crashing to its knees and you need to contact somebody to get it back up again as soon as you can, it’s the quality of customer service that will decide how large a migraine you suffer.

I’ve been quite lucky as far as CS goes. I’ve been with a few hosting companies and usually on the lower-end shared packages, so I never really expect any special treatment over other customers — just that my issues get sorted when they arise.

I stumbled onto the ASPnix hosting site today and was astounded by their prices. Hostek — who I’m with — are excellent value to the point where I doubt I’ll ever leave them, but ASPnix is the first company that’s made me think twice about staying here when I could save considerable money and get more features.

That was until I checked out their forums… Most companies opt to suppress their customers’ voices in favour of direct support so I thought this might be the Dreamhost of the ASPNET world. This is their customer feedback section today:

ASPnix Customer Feedback

There were some happy people but the majority of voices in the forum were barbed with torches and pitchforks.

There is something raw about public support between a company and its customers which you don’t get to see when a hosting company fails to offer an official public outlet for the customers. Testimonials can help but 99% of the time they just look like they’ve been mocked up.

The only reason not to give voices to your customers is if they get unhappy and/or your support isn’t up to much. One thing I gleaned from the forums while looking around was the only official on the ground was a guy called Roma and his customer service skills leave plenty of room for improvement as this thread demonstrates. I’m paraphrasing for space.

RobertLair: The website indicated 24x7 support, but looking at some of these responses, it almost sounds like this is a one or two guy outfit, which raises concerns as to whether this is the hosting company for my client.

Roma: Robert, don’t be conserned. We work very fast here.

Conserned? Sorry… I’m a spelling-Nazi at heart.

Tommyweather: In any case my VPS is down again… it is to be expected because it has been a month since it was last down and two months since it was last down before that. I don’t understand what is so hard about keeping my VPS up and running?

Roma: It’s called Windows Update. Restart once a month.

Tommyweather: Thanks for imparting such wisdom oh wise Roma. Since it has been under a month since the VPS last went down needless to say I’m not thrilled with your answers nor am I thrilled with your tone.

Wow. So what lessons can we take from this little PR debacle? Firstly putting somebody who can just fix issues in a forum is not good enough. There are going to be times when that person has to answer all sorts of questions and it’s important that they keep an official tone. Letting somebody use sarcasm — at least that’s how it seems from here — at customers in a public place just seems idiotic.

There were also reports of moderators (read: Roma) nuking posts and editing things up. I discussed editing blog comments with Tyme of 9rules several weeks ago… But when is it okay to edit comments when customers are involved: Never-ever-ever. This makes you look like you’re hiding thing from potential customers and makes your existing customers irate. Not a good situation for a service company.

I know I may have just caught them on a bad day/week/month/quarter/year/etc but forums are visible to your prospective customers too. They can show people both sides of your business and you really need to be on top of your game if you expect them to paint you in a good light.

If you’re on the same side of the fence that I was on, always be sure to scour the internet for past and present customers’ opinions of the company you’re about to get into bed with. Support is very important so it might be worth giving their support a run for their money too before you’ve even signed up.

I’m pinging an email off to ASPnix to see if they have a response. I try to be fair here so I’ll let them have their say and edit in the response, if they so wish.