Many moons ago I signed up to become an affiliate with JustHost.com to earn money from referring customers to them. They gave me a test account because when I write reviews I at least want to have seen and tested their environment. I think if you are honest when reviewing products and services the reader will feel it and it makes you more trustworthy. [Read more…] about How not to do customer service (real life web hosting example)
Sometimes the web hosting market rather looks like a farmer’s market or a zoo. Hostgator, Host Monster, Shark Host, and FatCow + many many more mainly smaller web hosting companies decided to use an animal as part of their business name. While Host Gator is around for a long time, the other companies are mainly newcomers to the web hosting scene over the last 2 years maybe. Initially it might look funny or silly seeing a hosting company calling itself something like Fat Cow, but in the long run I think it is not such a good move. Initially the silly name might attract attention of customers, but what about the time when the interest fades away. Starting off getting attention is a good thing, but as with every startup at one point you are no longer a startup company. You have become part of the establishment no matter how hard you try not to.
The next issue I see is the market these webhosts are trying penetrate. A business name like Shark Hosting or Fat Cow is not really something I would consider a good choice when in the market for web hosting as a small business owner. Business owners need stability and reliability, but do silly company names for web hosts have a high trust factor? I doubt it and a couple of business owners I talked to would never sign up with such a company.
If you pick an animal name for you web hosting business (or any business whatsoever) and you want to grow big you need to establish a brand name. A brand name is not just your business name that is around after 2 years or so – a brand name is much more. This was the route Host Gator has taken and they have really taken web hosting to the next level. These guys can get away with a silly company name and silly company logos and banners. Others still have to prove them self and need to spend way more resources on building up the trust factor compared to web hosting providers that decided to work with a more conservative name as their business name.
A recent discussion on Web Hosting Talk featured a topic that was quite interesting. A smaller or newer web host asked if cutting the cost to offer support would be a good way to make the business more stable. While initially cutting cost might look good on the balance sheet, the impact to the quality of service and the reputation of a business is a different story. Why?
Well, the answer is fairly easy. If your support response time and quality start suffering, you might lose existing customers and might not gain many new ones if this spreads via word of mouth. Cutting cost and eventually reducing the quality of your support offerings can put you out of business really fast.
Instead it might be more beneficial to change how you offer support and to actually increase your support quality with faster and better responses. Support is a great sales tool. The better and more heroic your support is, the more your reputation among customers will increase. Combine this with great uptime and super features at a low price and you will eventually be able to withstand the tough economy. See it as a way to separate yourself from your competition.
If you pay support technicians on a hourly base you might want to switch to a performance based payment structure. Offer pay based on number of tickets each technician works. Offer a low base salary and combine the 2. Now add a twist and offer a 2-tier structure. If tickets are responded to in a very fast manner and solved within minutes after being opened you could offer a higher pay per ticket. You get the idea. Other ways to reduce support cost is to remove the live chat feature and maybe add a support forum instead. Be creative and always think about the impact a major change could have – short-term and long-term.
The best Exchange Hosting for Small Business
A friend of mine owns a small business. Small is relative so to speak as his business is growing and he is already at employee #12. The employees are spread out over 3 different locations in Canada and the United States. I am doing the web hosting for their website and provided email services. He is a great customer – always pays on time, understands what services I am able to provide and trusts my advice. He recently asked me about group features for email. He meant stuff like Calendar Sharing, public folders, and the ability to accept meeting invites via Outlook and use all the features only Outlook and Exchange can provide. The size of his business does not justify a dedicated Exchange environment as it would be way too expensive to a) purchase and b) to maintain. He asked me for advice trusting me that I would not try to rip him off.
At a certain point you know that a customer will eventually move up to a provider that grow with his needs. I am not a full-time web host and administering Exchange would go beyond of what I want to provide. My strengths are in different areas. But I knew that if I help with finding a good solution that I a) would keep his website hosted with me and b) a happy customer will always recommend your services to others. And as I am mainly hosting small business websites that is a great way to advertise my business by word of mouth. One thing I always recommend: Drive customers to your site through a variety of online marketing solutions.
Anyway – I checked out a few Exchange web hosting providers and then decided to test drive 1 & 1 Exchange web hosting. These guys are pretty big and just celebrated their 20th anniversary. They currently have a special with 50% off for a few months. Their normal Exchange hosting costs $6.99 per month and comes with a ton of features. Now with the special the price came down to $3.50 per month per account. That price is pretty hard to beat in my opinion. The feature list includes a full version of MS Outlook 2007 with each account which makes the Exchange hosting virtually free of charge for over a year. Anything you would expect from an Exchange web host is included and they offer a full 1 GB of mailbox size. Outlook is able to connect from anywhere to your mailbox at 1&1 and so this would work great for the 12 employees. We tested this with 3 accounts and after a week my friend was sold on this solution.
If you are interested in using Exchange 2007 and to receive a free copy of Outlook 2007 at the same time, I would give 1 and 1 a try – especially now with the current prices slashed in half. They do offer a 90 day guarantee so that this is a risk free trial for anyone willing to upgrade to a real email account that offers more than just normal POP3 or so. Go to 1&1 Exchange Hosting’s web page now.
APF and BFD – Products to avoid
When securing a web hosting server a Firewall and Brute Force Detection protection are critical pieces a server admin needs to look at. Two products were recommended by us in the past, but we have several reasons to step away from these recommendations. Security is an evolving topic and what is secure today might be at risk tomorrow if security does not grow with the risks out there on the Internet. APF (Firewall) and BFD (Brute Force Detection) are no longer maintained and updated in a way that a business can rely on these products. There are newer threats out on the Internet that require that a firewall and brute force detection tool need to grow with in regards to recognizing the signatures of these threats and to protect a server. That is no longer given with APF and BFD of RFXNetworks.
A second reason is that the owner of RFXNetworks seems to have a financial problem. Several cases have appeared on different web hosting related websites on the Internet where server owners paid for services to be provided by Ryan MacDonald of RFXNetworks. The problem is that Ryan MacDonald (Montreal, Canada) happily accepted the money (paid via PayPal), but never contacted the customers to provide the work. From our understanding several people filed appeals with PayPal, just to lose out due to PayPal’s policies in regards to intangible products which makes it easy for thieves like Ryan MacDonald of RFXNetworks.
We did order services as well (before knowing about the criminal activity of Ryan MacDonald) and are at the edge of losing our money. You might think that this posting is made to make Ryan look bad, but we provide information for web hosting businesses. We consider it important for web hosts or web hosts to be, to be aware of what is going on and eventually to avoid losing good money to a provider gone bad.
If you have become victim of RFXNetworks criminal activities you can try to recover your money by using the small claims court system in Quebec, Canada. The problem is that you have to do this in person or send a friend. If you are a business you have to send the officer of a company or the employee who worked the issue. And that seems to be a reason that makes Ryan MacDonald believe he can run with the money, because it will be difficult for any person or company to justify the additional expense for a trip to Montreal to fight for small amounts like $90.00 or so. So, unless somebody in Montreal either steps up to present the case in court or orders the services and gets scammed, Ryan is kinda safe. We highly recommend to do a Google search for RFXNetworks or to visit websites like Webhostingtalk.com to find out more about RFXNetworks and Ryan MacDonald. The praise was valid in the past, but a vendor who scams customers loses his reputation and does no longer deserve any trust.
The good thing is that there are other tools available that a) easily replace APF and BFD and b) that are supported as well. The Web Hosting Resource Kit recommends CSF and LFD of Configserver.com
Web Hosting Strategies for Virtualization
In our series of articles about using VMWare in a web hosting business we are going to discuss strategic related issues today. Why should web hosting businesses look at virtualization instead of building larger data centers? It almost seems like that the web hosting industry is running behind the trend of consolidation in the IT industry. It is kinda a thing of the past to build more and more data centers. A smart company looks to expand and to reduce cost at the same time. This can be done with virtualization. Here is an approach that could fit well for web hosting businesses.
Many web hosting businesses are growing one server at a time. They run hosting specials to utilize more hardware faster to be able to buy in bulk and to getter better prices. But this approach is coming at a price and it does not represent a well thought-thru strategy. Electricity and cooling are not going to be cheaper going forward. Faster processors with more cores are going to be overkill for many servers because no longer will CPUs the performance bottleneck, but disk and memory. And who wants to have dual-quad-core server run at 10% utilization? That is just a waste.
So, for a web hosting business it would make sense to look at virtualization. The center of operations should be a SAN or iSCSI based storage device that allows to share storage access for several host servers. With enough room to grow this provides redundancy and flexibility at the same time. Any new server just needs basic small local disk storage to run an operating system (preferably in a RAID 1 scenario) and an HBA (or iSCSI) connection to access the shared storage. The only other requirements for servers are dual-quad-core CPUs, 4 NICs and appropriate memory. A common ratio for server virtualization is 10:1 – often even more, but for this strategic approach we will stick to a 10:1 model.
Let’s look at this approach a little more in detail. What does a web hosting dedicated server look like right now? Dual CPUs, 4 GB RAM, one or two NICS, and a lot of local disk storage (SCSI, IDE, SATA). What is the cost of such a server? Probably somewhere around $6K – maybe a little more, maybe a little less depending on your discount level or if you build a server yourself. What does a comparable host server would need to play well in a VMWare farm environment? Dual-Quad-Core CPUs, 4 NICS, 2 x 73 GB SCSI disks, 16 GB RAM dual HBAs. This server would probably cost around $11K – maybe a little more, maybe a little less. Again, this price depends on your overall discount level with a vendor and if you buy a server or build it yourself. We also have to put into consideration that a SAN needs to be bought and loaded up with disk. For this example we assign a cost of $3K per server (that is a conservative number!), which brings a VMWare server to a price of $14K. On top of that we have to pay for the virtualization software. List price for VMWare Infrastructure 3 is about $6K with no discounts applied. Keep in mind that for a long-term strategy you would work with a vendor like Dell who provides the hardware and the software and would give you discounts as well. Now that we have the numbers we can start playing the number game.
Example 1: The physical server web host needs a new server because his other servers are reaching their limits and he buys 1 new server at a cost of $6K. 3 weeks later he sees the growth pretty consistent and would run out of resources on the server he just bought in 2 weeks. So, he needs another server and this time he orders 2 servers to have a spare machine to bring online fast and quick enough to cover potential growth. Delivery time per server is about 2 weeks from placing the order until it arrives in the data center. The servers are brought online and are getting populated with new customer websites. The second server sits idle because the first server still needs to be filled up with new customers. Growth continues and he buys more servers. Then he needs an additional rack and another switch, too. Soon this web host has 40 servers and 4 switches spread out across two racks. Approx. cost: $245,000.00 (40 x $6K + 2 racks and 4 switches)
Example 2: The Virtual Web Host has put the infrastructure for his operations into place. A SAN and 4 host servers are ready to be populated. He builds his virtual server the same way as he would build a physical server. Dual CPUs, 4 GB RAM, and appropriate disk space assigned on the SAN. As he grows he sees that he can fill a physical machine with about 10 virtual machines (10:1 ratio). Business grows and he starts populating the 4 host servers with 10 VMs. As virtual machines don’t need extra rack space or more physical switches he is just fine with one rack. Approx. cost when he reaches 40 virtual servers: $85,000.00 (4 x $14K + 4 x $6K + 1 rack and 2 switches)
This high level example gives you a pretty good idea of how the cost factor comes into play. Host 1 pays as he goes and buys physical machines. Host 2 has a higher investment upfront, but then has a dramatic reduction in cost as he goes. He needs a new server and it takes only minutes to bring up a new virtual machine. Even if you would double the cost of the virtual web host, this business model would be so much cheaper to implement. If you don’t have your own data center and you need to pay for rack space and power, the virtual host has a clear advantage. He could leverage his hardware even better if he uses servers that allow to be loaded with 16 RAM sticks instead of the standard 8. If you buy RAM you know that if you go beyond the 2 GB RAM sticks prices go really up. A 4 GB RAM stick is so much more expensive compared to 2 GB stick. So, if your servers can be loaded up with 16 x 2 GB RAM sticks you can easily host 15 – 25 virtual machines on a host server. As mentioned before today’s CPUs provide so much power that usually disk or memory are the bottlenecks.
As an experienced web host you might raise the question about bandwidth. VMWare’s virtualization software allows for easy NIC teaming and therefore providing you with a load balanced 2 GB pipe per server. And again, if you look at the cost of implementation you can work with how many VMs you put on a physical host server and still easily break even at a much earlier point compared to the physical approach.
Disclaimer: We are aware of the higher cost associated with implementing a SAN solution. The example above is based on the assumption of continious growth and expansion and therefore reducing the overall cost of the SAN as it gets spread out across more servers. Dell and other vendors are also releasing lower cost storage solutions that are worth looking at for shared storage.
Server Build Standards
Once a hosting business reaches a certain size things might require to take different turns. Procedures that were easy to maintain and to decide on, suddenly require more administrative overhead to keep the business running. More personnel requires a little more management, more servers require a different take on server building and administration.
For a web hosting business the servers are pretty much the foundation of the business from a technical standpoint. If the servers go down the impact for the business can be severe. As soon as possible a web hosting business should establish certain standards that apply to all servers to reduce the administrative overhead for the administrators and to make it easier to troubleshoot problems.
Server Build Standards should contain requirements for hardware and software. Hardware is upgraded over time and newer machines come with faster CPU’s and eventually more disk space and memory. But by using a certain server model of a certain brand a minimum level of consistency is maintained and things like power supplies, memory, or drives are interchangeable. Technicians or admins will be familiar with the hardware and do not have to acquire and maintain knowledge about several different models with different the associated different issues.
Server software should be installed following the same steps and procedures on each server. Disk partitions, page file/swap file settings, user accounts, software settings and installed software in general – if this matches through-out the entire environment it will be very beneficial in the long run. Training of new employees does not require them to learn 25 different versions of a certain software. Troubleshooting will be made easier as the number of components on a system is limited and standardized through-out the environment. Server patching and updates/upgrades will be more smooth as testing will cover the entire environment. Different server builds would require additional testing to make sure nothing breaks. A standard level for security makes sure that all systems are secured. Standardized security also makes it easier to respond to security threads.
Servers could be build from a jumpstart server with all the right settings applied right when it comes online. One single server image needs to be maintained and new servers can be online within one hour if needed.
Overall – a standardized environment reduces the cost to maintain the environment. Web hosting businesses can save significant amounts of money and time and become more efficient.
Uptime Guarantee – Good Idea?
When looking for a Web Host there are lots of factors that come into play. Usually the deciding factors are price and bandwidth. A common overlooked item is the uptime guarantee. This is the percentage of time your account will be up and running
What do these numbers really mean?
If we look at these percentages and convert them into the amount of time your site is going to be down we get some very telling information. The chart below lists the uptime gurantee percentage and how that equates to time.
99% – 5256 Min/Yr or 87.6 Hours/Yr – 438 Min/Month or 7.3 Hours/Month
99.5% – 2628 Min/Yr or 43.8 Hours/Yr – 219 Min/Month or 3.65 Hours/Month
99.9% – 525.6 Min/Yr or 8.76 Hours/Yr – 43.8 Min/Month or .73 Hours/Month
99.95% – 262.8 Min/Yr or 4.38 Hours/Yr – 21.9 Min/Month or .365 Hours/Month
99.99% – 52.56 Min/Yr or .876 Hours/Yr – 4.38 Min/Month or .073 Hours/Month
As you can see that while 99% uptime sounds like a lot, it actually allows for the host to have over 7 hours of downtime per month, or a whopping 87.6 hours per year. Your host could be down for over 3 ½ days over the course of a year and still hit their target of 99% uptime. As you go to 99.5% and 99.9%, it gets much better, and with 99.95% and 99.99% you would have little or no downtime.
Is this realistic?
Is it realistic to get 99.99% uptime? Probably not, but it is always nice if you can get compensated for downtime. However, if the host only compensates you for the actual downtime you have, it probably won’t be a large amount. Let’s assume you pay $20 a month for your hosting, which is probably on the upper end of what you’d be paying ofr a hosting account. We will also assume there a 30 days in the month. Breaking that down, you’re paying roughly 3 cents per hour for your hosting. This means if you site is down for 24 hours, 1 full day, you will only get 72 cents of compensation. By no means is this good if it means your site goes down and you get some pocket change.
So what does this mean to me?
So the more decimal places, the better the uptime guarantee. We also now know that we probably won’t be getting lots of money back if our site goes down. The ultimate goal is to find a web host that has an uptime guarantee and maintains that level of service. You don’t need the money back but you do need the peace of mind of having your website up and running.
Scott is the owner and chief designer for Smith-Concepts a successful web development firm.
Related Links: http://www.smith-concepts.com
The Perfect Support
Imagine yourself as a person running a small-medium sized online store that concentrates on affordablly prized gift items, and say, it’s Christmas time. Everybody is on a shopping spree, and you have been waiting for this vacation to arrive, as it is the time of the year when your business really blooms, and with which’s revenues you have got to plan for the year to come.
Say, your site goes down due to some sort of problems associated with your server on say, the 23rd of December, or on Christmas eve. You will be contacting your hosting company in frenzy, and just imagine if there’s nobody there to provide you with prompt support and resolution for your issue.By the time boxing day arrives, nobody will need to send gifts anymore to anyone. You have lost your business, and now your site and business has got a notorious reputation of not being active when it counts.
The above is just a worse case scenario explained to put forward a point. Quality support is the backbone of a hosting company. It is the pillar on which a hosting firm rests it’s credibility. Speedy and accurate customer service is rare and indicates a superior overall hosting service. When choosing a web host, what customers generally look for are Server performance, Space, Traffic allowed, Features, Cost, and most importantly Customer support.
If a hosting company is one which takes it’s business seriosly, their technical support must be perfect by all means. Determining whether technical support is dependable is important, because if anything goes wrong with your site, you are going to be contacting your know-it-all customer care rep. However, in the real world, we know that knowledgeable customer care is hard to find.
Most of the hosting companies claim that they have techs working round the clock in their organizations, managing their state-of-the art systems. While this in fact may be true, sometimes, the people working with the support might be the most unprofessional and underqualified ones. Due to the huge demand for information technology professionals today, many web hosts are not able to find employees who are well trained in OS concepts, network technology and control panel specifications. Other firms pump in a lot of money to advertising and marketing and gives good quality customer support only the lowest priority. In both instances, it is the customers who eventually suffers due to the lack of competence in handling their issues related to hosting.
The following is a small article gives a brief insight into the hosting support considerations for the newbies in business, as well as any host who have got high regards for the quality standards of their company. Before proceeding, please keep in mind the fact that Web Hosting Support is not child’s play. It is something that is NOT to be taken for granted.
Finding the Right Support for you
Finding the perfect support for your company is not a very easy task. Every webhost who have got serious thoughts about their hosting support would be having certain expectation levels regarding the quality of support. Only if your support matches / outperforms your expectations would you feel relaxed, relieved and be happy with them.
The very first concern regarding support is how to keep things going 24 / 7. Every webhost provides their customers with a 24 / 7 support promise, and some even give their customers a money back guarantee on any failure to keep up the promise. You should be implementing methods to ensure that your support team covers the 24 hours of the day effectively, and co-ordinate between them regarding the technical and administrative aspects of your servers.
Then comes the cost part. There are options for maintaining an inhouse team of technical experts, or outsourcing to an outsourced hosting support company. You should choose your support wisely with efficient computations of your expenditure and profit margin. You should do it in such a way that the quality of support is not compromised, and at the same time you have the decent profit to enhance your business in the long run. Please note that in the very beginning itself, you should set the standards, and should never go below them. Remember – It’s a jungle out there, with huge competition. If you have to survive, you have to be the best; and to be the best, you have got to give your customers the best. Manage high standards…. returns would come automatically.
Web hosting support not only means providing technical solutions to your end customers; but the sales / billing support and timely administration of your servers are equally important. You can manage the sales / billing issues yourself, or you can avail the aid of a graduate with good customer skills, and excellent knowledge on the packages / features / options that you provides. Regarding the server administration, you require the service of a good system administrator to perform the timely software upgrades, and the other fine tuning aspects of the server for it’s smooth functioning. It is always an additional advantage to maintain a team of technical experts who can perform your technical support as well as server administration; rather than having separate teams for the same. It would reduce the overall costs involved, and will enhance quality of customer support due to the better knowledge of the servers.
In-House or Outsourced??
Now comes the big question. Do you need an in-house team of technicians, or do you want to outsource your support to a support company? There has been disputes over this on most of the web hosting forums. Both the options has got advantages and disadvantages. But on tallying with the positive and negative sides of both of them, my vote goes to outsourced support. A comparison of the advantages is provided in the chart below:
1) Direct interaction with the support staff in person
2) Direct recruitment of the support staff yourself, so as to meet your ideal requirements on first-hand
3) Local market knowledge and expertise when it comes to sales and marketing
4) Ready availability-upon-call of your in house team in case of any emergency
1) Far cheaper than what is required to maintain an inhouse support team
2) You can concentrate on your business marketing, while the outsource company takes care of the technical side.
3) Expertise in specific fields related to every server software.
4) No hassles with the planning of shifts or personnel to manage the 24 / 7 support, as it is taken care of by the outsource company.
5) No issues associated with training the support staff.
Outsource companies are able to provide you with high quality, but cheap support due to the low cost of living standards in those countries. Most of the hosting companies are located in the United States, Canada and Europe, and the major outsource companies are located in countries like India. Due to the comparatively lower cost of living in countries like India, the above is made possible. With inhouse support, you have to pay the wages that is par with the living standards in the United States and such; which makes it an expensive option.
There are several myths related to outsourcing jobs. According to the trade and foreign aid research conducted by The Heritage Foundation , the American economy has only benefitted from outsourcing jobs to the asian countries, and has not gone down, as the general concept is.
But with outsourced support, you have got to make the right choice. Due to the huge demand for professionals in the ITES ( Information Technology Enables Services ), many webhosts can’t find employees with expertise in the relevant fields. You should be doing a research on the work culture and standards of the different outsourced companies before making the right source. A search for the leading outsourced companies in forums like http://webhostingtalk.com can provide you with pro and con views that you’ll require to make the decision.
Still, most of the outsourced companies provide you with a testing period of upto a month to test them out. You can utilize this time period to analyze the quality of your support company, if you are not sure about it.
The disadvantages associated with the two types of support are provided in the chart below:
1) Expensive when taking into consideration the living standards in North America and Europe
2) Headaches related to personnel management related with maintaining an inhouse team for support
3) Remedies are to be made by you in case of any immediate non availability of support staff due to reasons like their resignation without prior notice, termination, expiry etc.
1) No direct interaction in person with the support staff. ( overcomed if efficient chat support is provided with a contact person at the company )
2) Have to get accustomed with your support people, as they might keep on changing according to the outsource company’s internal policies.
3) Have got to make sure of the written ( spoken too, if required ) language proficiency of the company staff, as English is not the mother tongue in the outsourced companies.
The language barrier could be an issue with only a few cheap quality outsourced support companies. It would be a good measure to talk to their representatives / contact points over chat / telephone to get an idea of how it’s going to be overall. With the leading support companies, the language problems should not happen, as they would have required formal training both technically, as well as with customer orientation. Still, it is very important from your part to make sure of their support quality.
To summarize, it is always better to choose a good outsourced support firm, that maintains it’s promises and does not comprise on quality, rather than yourself employing separate staff to handle your technical support, sales / billing and server administration. ( Unless you have got the money to roll, and is keen on having all your employees available in person upon your call )
The Quality Factor
Speaking of quality, what do one exactly mean by or point to when talking about the Quality of Support ( QoS ) ? Quality is not an accident, but the collective output of well planned stages of service, with the very best systems to back them up. When we refer to the complete QoS, there are a lot of points that comes into consideration – Being knowledgeable, Polite, Communicative, Honest, Fast, Empathetic, Competent, Responsible and above all, overall Perfection. Let’s check out how these becomes important.
Being knowledgeable is the most important part. Always keep in mind that our customers needs competent people at the receiving end of their mails and calls. By being knowledgeable, we mean that the support person should be possessing the proper knowledge level related to the support and service that we are offering. In this case, say, if you are a host who offers Cpanel hosting on Red hat Enterprise Linux servers, the technical support staff that works for you should be having extensive knowledge in the following areas:
Linux Operating System structure
Linux commands – common and advanced
Linux Internet server implementations
Linux server security
Differences between RHEL, and other versions of RedHat Linux, and also other distros and flavors of Linux. Proficiency in Unix / Solaris flavors will be an added advantage.
Cpanel control panel proficiency using both fronted tools ( administrative / user control panel interfaces ) and also the Cpanel control panel specific files in the backend of the servers
Overall, by being knowledgeable, it means that the support team must be well qualified and trained to handle the job that they are doing. Choose your team of experts wisely.
Responsibility of your support team is another important aspect. There is a lot of difference between a person who has undergone years of dedicated computer study in school and college doing this job, and a teenager with some computer background doing it part-time. The support team should be responsible in addressing various heterogeneous issues, and should also be good with the decision making related to the smooth functioning of the servers.
Say, one of your servers is having an issue with the apache server software running in the server being not compatible with PHP, as a result of a latest control panel upgrade. Your support team must not only be able to fix the immediate requests from customers hosted in this server, but should also be taking the necessary steps to identify the root cause of the issue, implement it in the server under question, and also check the rest of the servers ( if any ) for similar compatibility issues, and get them fixed, so that no unnecessary botherations are avoided for both the party – the customer and the support rep.
To sum up things, the support techs should not be just people to see off the day to day issues of the end customer, but they should be responsible so as to ensure that the server is fine tuned to see off any vulnerability associated with it, so that no issues arise from within the server as a result of an exploitation of that.
Then comes the communication part. This is as important as being knowledgeable. A support technician needs to address an issue raised by you or an end customer in grammatically correct language, and also including all the important points related to the issue, that the customer should be made aware of. A polite, consice and communicative reply addressing the various aspects of a support ticket always gives the end customer a feeling of care. A good support tech is one who empathises the client, i.e, think by standing in the client’s shoes. When a support person can feel the client’s problems, and read in between the lines, it puts the end client at ease, no matter what the issue is. Just take the case of the following scenario. A customer has published the following support ticket:
I am not able to send mails out of my account firstname.lastname@example.org. The mails are not going out of Outlook Express, and I am getting the following error:
Mail refused error "sorry that domain isn’t in my list of allowed rcpthosts error 553"
Please get it fixed ASAP. I am unable to contact my customers !!!
And consider the following replies, which implies the same message, and tell me which one feels better:
Response # 1 :
This is since you are not doing POP before SMTP. Check your incoming mails, before trying to send them using OE.
Response # 2 :
This error is caused when email client software configured with multiple email accounts from different domains is used to send email to an account that it has not checked for messages first. To get over this, always make sure to check the incoming mails using your Outlook Express, before trying to send mails out of it. This is called POP before SMTP.
An easy remedy is to check your email from email@example.com before sending or set your email client to check email every 15 minutes or close and reopen your Outlook Express. It shall work for you, and you shall be able to mail your customers in no time.
Upon examining the above two replies, what do you feel? No matter how frustrated the end customer who sent in the ticket might be, response # 2 will provide him with the “care factor” that response # 1 could not do. In response # 2, the support tech has done the following:
Analyzed that the customer is not very techny-savvy
Understood that he is trying to send in some important mail(s), and is frustrated with things not going working correctly for him
Replied the customer very politely and with atmost care keeping both the above two considerations in mind.
Support techs should always be polite to the customers. Some of the customers may even use harsh terms while mailing the support team, due to their frustration. A support tech should just ignore those comments, keeping in mind the fact that it is nothing personal and the customer is just angry with some utility not working for him properly. There are certain rare cases, when the support team receives really hard-to-interact-with customers. Some people might just do not understand what the support person is trying to say, or not listen what he is asking the customer to do. In these rare cases of non co operation, it is always better for the hosting owner ( you ) to respond to the customer asking him politely to co operate with the support team, or any solution to his problem might get unnecessarily delayed.
The overall perfection of a support team is the right combination of the following qualities:
1) Technical Superiority
2) Command over written and communicative skills
3) Politeness , Friendliness and Empathy
The webhosts, on the other hand should also understand that the support team is an integral part of his business, and treat them with respect and consideration. The webhosting owner should be a good manager here, who knows how to make his support team work with their maximum potential for him. At the same time, he should not pressurize them by unnecessarily interfering in their job. Always keep them at ease, and make them feel free to approach you with any of their requirements / suggestions.
To conclude, when you appoint the support team, to assist with your business, make sure of the following things:
You get what you are promised of ( 24 / 7 support , and the exact time limits required to reply to, and resolve a problem )
Your support team co ordinates perfectly with you, and has got a good knowledge on the plans, services, and offers that you provide your clients with, so that they can be serviced better, and on time.
Your support team is friendly and courteous, and is always willing to go that ‘extra step’ when it comes to customer satisfaction.
Your support team is extremely knowledgeable and should be able to do anything that their job demands out of them.
You should be in excellent rapport with your support team, and should let them be at ease with you; and at the same time you should know where to draw the fine line as well.
In the webhosting business, where stiff competition awaits you, it is always the customer evangelism ( customers preaching the good points of your webhosting service ) that brings in clients. There is no publicity as mouth publicity. Your support team would be responsible for more than 80% of it. If they are good, your business shall flourish, and if it’s the other way around, you are going to have a tough time in the future.
So choose wisely. There is a bright future awaiting you.
About the Author
Compiled by Yusuff Rejo, Team Leader, Bobcares
The author, Yusuff Rejo has been working as a Team leader for the last 3 years at BobCares.com, a premier web hosting support provider for various hosting companies, datacenters and ISP’s all over the world.
His main areas of interests are Personnel management, Transactional analysis, and Web hosting articles. He spends his leisure time enjoying Classic 60’s-70’s Rock, latest hollywood movies, and playing table tennis.
You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
How To Make Your Website More Successful? (Part I)
Building a website and getting it online is easy. Driving visitors to it is the more difficult part. Most people are not patient enough when it comes to build up traffic. They expect thousands of visitors a week after they go live with their website. But that is not how it works. We share some secrets of how to make your website more successful.
A) Provide content: Search engines love content. As more content you can provide as better off you are. Don’t put all the content on one page. Build many pages with content. The reason for this is that every page gets spidered separately by Google and other search engines. Each page of yours in their index is an additional chance that your link gets mentioned in somebody else search results. Quality content is more valuable to search engines as they want to provide real information to visitors. Search engines do not want to refer to link farms or redirects. If they can refer a customer directly to the most valuable content the better for the search engine. Search engines live of providing good results.
B) Domain Name: Do not use a domain name like www.freewebpages.com/~yourname – search engines don’t like those. It also prevents you from building a brand name (your ultimate goal should be building a brand). Spend the $9.00 per year for your own domain name. It’s money spend well worth.
C) Your website design: The simpler the better. Here is a rule of thumb: text content should outweigh the html content. The pages should be W3 validated and work in Internet Explorer as well as Mozilla’s Firefox. If you go too fancy with stuff some search engine spiders might not be able to read your pages. Look at Google, eBay or Yahoo themselves – simple design, easy to navigate and people are flocking to it. If you use sub-directories the directory names should be descriptive (i.e. "steel-products" or "paper-clips"). The same is true for you pages. If you are able to give pages a descriptive name as better you are off in the long run.
Website performance is critical. If your pages load too slow you will punished. Make sure the website sits on a fast web server and that the page sizes are 20K or less. If you can keep page sizes to 15K or less you are ahead of the curve.
D) Build one content page per day or at least 3-4 per week. You may think you do not have that many products. But establish yourself as a source of product or industry related information. If customers can learn from the content you provide they respect you and your business and this will lead them to use your services and products, too. Pages with 300-600 words should be more than sufficient.
E) Keywords: Make sure you use important keywords in the title of each topic and through-out the text without looking like a SPAMMER (meaning: do not go overboard using the keywords). Find out what important keywords for your business are.
About the Author
Christoph Puetz is a successful small business owner (Net Services USA LLC) and international author.
Guides, Tutorials, and Articles for small businesses – http://www.smallbusinessland.com