Improving Customer Loyalty in Web Hosting

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Let’s face it – a lot of companies are offering very similar products and services, and that’s especially true in the web hosting industry. Simply do a search for ‘shared web hosting’ and up comes a seemingly endless list of companies whose offerings could meet your needs. There really is nothing in it – many companies offer an unlimited number of websites, unlimited storage, unlimited bandwidth and 24/7 support, thinking that somehow this differentiates them from the next “unlimited” company in the list.

As someone who has been in the Internet field for over 2 decades, I have met a lot of people using web hosting companies. While often people seem to be happy to have an opportunity to bitch about their web hosts, others are fascinatingly loyal to their providers. It is almost as if there is a sense of pride in the fact they have they found a web host that provides the type of service people want.

Whether that’s an indictment of the web hosting industry in general, I don’t know, but I can tell you what people who are happy with their hosts have said to me. Here then is a list of the comments they have made – comments that perhaps you should think about if you are going to make your web hosting company different from the next. As you can see, much of it revolves around customer service.

1. They answer the phone

Possibly some of the most prolific complainers I have experienced have given expletive-laden descriptions of being told their call is important, being told “all our operators are busy – please hold”, and being stuck in a telephone queue ad infinitum. Whether they are fishermen tales, I don’t know, but people have told me they have been on hold for up to 2 hours at a time. My record is 45 minutes. Offering people 24/7 support is nothing more than a cruel joke if in fact someone is placed in a Kafkaesque maze of pressing numbers only to be brought back to the beginning of a process and having to listen to the same song indefinitely. When people answer the phone quickly, it really does make a lasting impression!

2. They answer emails

From what people say, they call a web hosting company when they haven’t been able to get what they want from an email enquiry. Almost invariably people get an immediate autoresponse which explains someone will be in contact shortly. Some of the follow up times I have experienced from web hosts are genuinely appalling, and it seems I am not alone. Without exaggeration, weeks can pass without an email response from some companies, and when one comes, there’s not even an apology for the delay. Obviously, people are happy when responses are given in a timely fashion.

3. They read emails

Ranking up there with phone and email delays is the fact that when people get email replies their queries haven’t been read properly and the only relationship replies have to the questions originally asked is that they both involve web hosting. It seems in the age of the Call Center, people are too busy (too stressed?) to even consider an appropriate answer to a query. Support staff seem to only read keywords in an email, and dump a link to a video or to a page of information in a reply that has virtually nothing to do with what you are enquiring about. When people get the answers they need they find it easier to give praise to a provider.

4. There’s continuity

Once an inappropriate email reply has been received, people write back to their web hosting companies and whereas they were originally dealing with “Mike”, they are now dealing with “Omar” who would like to know “How can I help you?” As a result, the same issue has to be explained again, and if it is not resolved, the chances are that even more people have to get involved to address an issue, raising blood pressure and making tempers boil over. Companies with the top marks appear to have allocated customers to certain staff, meaning there is at least a chance support staff can remember the original issue as it was initially raised.

5. When they don’t know the answer, they don’t just make things up

I once asked a provider why my credit card had been charged for a service that was due for repayment the following month. The answer was that payments are charged up to a month in advance. However, the provider’s Terms of Service suggested that payments were made 10 days before a due date. Once this was pointed out, rather than getting an apology, I got the same email I was sent before with “10 days” added where “one month” had previously been. Obviously this didn’t exactly address the issue I had brought up. Companies with top marks generally give “Can I look into this for you?” as a reply and then follow up in a proper fashion.

6. They speak my language

This is not a problem because their Call Center is in India – as we know, the bulk of Indians have impeccable English. The problem is that India (and the rest of the subcontinent) has the highest proportion of people with Master’s degrees and PhD’s in the world. The result is they get only the best people as technical support and a basic query might end up with an imponderable reply such as “the problem is the native client has a mongrel backend” … Or, at least I think that’s what he said. The bulk of people I know who utilize web hosting services are NOT technical people. They need proper advice, and often would benefit from being talked through a process rather than being given a link to a tutorial they don’t understand. Top marks to people who solve problems using the common touch.

7. They appreciate my custom

The problem for web hosting customers is that when their websites are up and running, and there are no issues, that’s it – they become invisible. Some people I have known have been web hosting customers for multiple years, and except for the occasional email offering a seasonal discount on domain names, that’s all they ever hear from their web host (except when payment is due of course). The people I have known that have been happiest with their web providers have regular contact with their companies. Often they receive deals that have nothing to do with web hosting – a free cup of coffee at Starbucks for having been a customer for two years. That sort of thing. It matters. People talk about it.

8. They offer a good customer experience

Some studies show that customers with the best customer experience of a company will pay around 150% more than a customer who has received the worst customer experience with the same company. That’s a lot, and of course, bad news travels faster than good news. A good customer experience means that signup forms work, that pages load quickly, and information is easily accessible. Good customer experience means that a customer receives requests for payment in a timely fashion and the email they receive offers a one-click experience that leads directly to the page they need to pay for a service again. In short, everything is made as easy as possible for a customer, so they can do what they need to do when they need to do it and execution is effortless.

Although everything I have written seems commonsense, the fact that people complain in this fashion suggests companies find commonsense difficult. Obviously there are costs involved. But what I have written expresses what I have heard time and time again. Smaller margins? Yes, possibly. But returning customers must be where it is at for web hosting companies. And unless you and your staff collectively put your heads together and address what your customers need, the result might be losing out to companies that address their customers’ requirements better than you do.

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