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What is Customer Service Worth?

The overwhelming majority of our customers come to us because they’re unhappy with their current host.  That’s not really all that surprising – after all, you wouldn’t leave a company that you’re happy with.  But in almost all of those cases, the issue that the customer experienced is one that could have been easily resolved by the host.  So why didn’t the host simply fix the problem and create a happy customer?

It’s no secret that the tech sector has a fairly poor reputation for customer service.  From cellular carriers to Internet Service Providers to electronics retailers to web hosting companies, the general public has a hard time naming a technology service provider that provides outstanding customer service.  In fact, the sector’s reputation is so poor that here at Fresh Roasted Hosting, we’ve actually managed to carve out a successful business model on the simple — and apparently novel — idea of treating our customers with respect.  Because apparently, customers appreciate being appreciated.  Who knew?

And really, it’s not even limited to technology.  I recently switched banks and had to add all my bills into their new bill payment system.  I asked why it took five days for a new payee to show up, and was given the ol’ one-two combination of “I don’t know” and “well, they were added on our end”.

So why is good customer service the exception and not the standard?

Earlier this week, a customer contacted our sales department to inquire about our VPS packages.  As we chatted, he mentioned that his previous provider — whose name I’m going to omit — had left him in the dark during an 18-hour datacenter outage.  Although we do everything in our power to prevent them, site outages can and do happen in even the most redundant datacenters.  Even a mighty Tier IV datacenter can be taken out by fire, flooding, or a single negligent employee.  And as unpleasant as an outage is, most customers are willing to tolerate brief outages, as long as they know that their provider is doing everything to fix it.

In this customer’s case (whom, by the way, gave me permission to relay his story), he received no notice of the outage from his hosting provider.  Not a single email, tweet, blog post, Facebook update, SMS — nada.  Zip.  Zilch.  He didn’t discover the outage until one of his clients contacted him to complain.  When he opened a ticket, his now-former host replied in broken English telling him his site was down.

“Thanks,” he replied, “but that’s why I’m emailing you.”  He told them he already knew his VPS was down, and asked — again — for an ETA on when it would be back up.

The host didn’t reply again until the VPS came back up the next day.  Their response?  They closed the ticket.

I can’t wrap my head around treating a customer like that.  Earlier this year we experienced two large-scale DDOS attacks that temporarily took our datacenter offline, and we did our best to keep our customers informed.  Even though our own website was down, we used Twitter and Facebook to keep customers up to date on what was happening.  Once our network techs wrangled the unruly attackers to the ground, every affected customer automatically received credit for the outage, along with an explanation of what happened and what we were doing to prevent it from happening again.

After the dust settled, the customer emailed his old host to ask for a service credit for the downtime.  Although he did receive credit, it was accompanied by a four-paragraph lecture on how the outage wasn’t the host’s fault, and how they would “aggressively” respond to any negative reviews posted by the customers.

Mind = blown.

Bad customer service is inexcusable, whether you’re a web host, a coffee shop refusing to make a drink, or even a local bank having a meltdown.  Even when you have to say “no” to a customer, there are polite — or at least non-condescending — ways to do so.  It never hurts to be nice.  And in most cases, it can even be profitable.

This customer came to us because he heard we have amazing customer service.  I explained to him that the beauty of going with a smaller host like us is that the owner — the one person who is most affected by whether a customer stays or leaves — is often the one handling support tickets.  It’s in my best interest to make sure my customers are thrilled with our service, even if that means going above and beyond or choosing a more difficult path.

There’s a quantifiable financial benefit to treating your customers well.  Retention is expensive; telling a customer “Sure – I’ll get right on that” is free.  And in spending just a few moments talking to this customer, our revenue stream went up.  More importantly, he’s now joined our armada of happy customers, and is going to tell his friends, coworkers, family members, Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and whoever else is listening just how happy he is with us.

We treat our customers well because it’s the way we do business.  Even without any financial incentive, it’s just how we work.

When a web hosting company needs to tighten its belt and cut corners, customer service is almost always the first to go.  We take the opposite approach:  We do everything in our power — using name-brand bandwidth carriers, locating in high-end datacenters, refusing to overcrowd our servers, and being truthful in our advertising, just to name a few — to help keep your server running smoothly.  Because good customer service means never having to say “we’re sorry”.

After all – the only thing better than having the world’s greatest customer service is never needing to contact them in the first place.

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