Customer service as a measure of ethical integrity

by Lee Hopkins on May 27, 2006 · 6 comments

in Uncategorized

TThe new internet reality is that disgruntled customers can share their displeasure in ways and numbers that are truly scary. Do you want evangelists on your side, or angels of anger against you?here has been a bit of controversy of late amongst web hosting companies and the clients/customers who provide them with a living.

In essence: the webhosting companies rent individuals or companies ‘space’ to create their own publishing house; in return the individuals or companies pay the webhosting companies for the right to take up a certain amount of ‘space’ for a certain amount of time, as long as they agree to abide by the webhost’s rules (if any) on type of content or other ephemera.

In reality, that ‘space’ comprises both the number of bytes that the content takes up and the amount of drain or demand on the webhost’s servers that the content draws.

The more popular the content, the more ‘drain’ on the webhost’s resources.

All webhosts have a certain amount of physical space and draining bandwidth that they have to pay for, unless they are a ‘top tier’ company who own the infrastructure (such as a government-owned, non-privatised national telco).

So if you drain more ‘power’ (because you are popular) than you expect, your webhost may want you to pay for the extra charges they have to pay from the next minnow up the food chain.

So if, for example, you agree to purchase from the webhost a specific amount of space and ‘drain’ (called ‘bandwidth’) then you go over that agreed amount there are other clauses that come into effect, which as part of your Terms and Conditions with the webhost you would have agreed to.

Wherein I come back to my original thought, and the catalyst for this post.

A certain chappy, commenting on the American Idol tv show, suddenly received a massive influx of traffic, or bandwidth, or ‘drain’ on the webhost’s servers. By the terms of the agreement the commentator had ‘signed’ (by agreeing to them as part of being allowed to launch their own online publishing outlet) the webhost was perfectly within their rights to ‘pull the plug’ on the offending publisher and not reinstate their publishing house until due restitution had been made.

Score 10 to the webhost, 0 to the publisher.

But this is a different ‘world’ from that of 10 years ago.

A decade ago, if you were found to be in breach of your bandwidth agreement, and you refused to pay the extra charges, you could find yourself with no website on show. Nowadays, you can nip over to another (free) webhost and publish your displeasure at the first webhost’s actions and rules.

Which is what has happened — the American Idol online commentator has gone elsewhere and launched a salvo of criticism against his original webhost who, to be fair under the letter of the law, did what they were entitled to.

But who in their right mind would be so draconian these days, now that personal publishing is so EASY to do?

Today, there is a requirement to pay more than just ‘lip service’ to the term ‘Customer Service’; businesses have to actually take tough business decisions, and more importantly let that business decision-making authority rest with front-line employees who meet the customer face to face or over a telephone. If a front-line employee can ‘save’ a customer and turn an unhappy customer into a happy one, then that front-line employee has done a good job.

If that front-line employee can do so with minimal cost to the employer, even better!

And if a company, through an enlightened understanding of what a disgruntled customer can in these days of ‘social media’ do, provides such excellent customer service that the customer in turn becomes an evangelist for the company, then BINGO! Winner takes all…

The furore over the online commentator brought to my attention once more how blessed I am in entering into a business relationship with my webhosts (and NO, this is not a paid commercial!)

Ben and Michael at DynamicWebHosting truly take customer service seriously. Examples:

  • Because of my own podcasts, and now the exciting new podcast chats I have with Allan Jenkins, I regularly exceed the bandwidth allocated to me. They don’t ‘delete’ my website, nor do they hide it from the world. Instead we talk about it. I keep offering to pay them money for the extra bandwidth I’ve consumed, but they have a bit of ‘headroom’ they factor in to all of their accounts, and so haven’t yet seen the need to bill me for the extra drain on their resources
  • They recently upgraded servers and moved all of their clients across to the new, better, faster kit. They rang me personally to ensure that everything was working as it should — they were ‘paranoid’ (their words) and they wanted to make sure all was well in the state of Denmark (a reference to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, not a query over Allan Jenkins’ health)
  • They go out of their way to keep in touch, ensure that all is functioning as it should, answer my queries about WordPress intricacies (Ben is the guru on this) and give me a ‘heads-up’ on new technology or business ideas that may be of interest (but not in a ‘spammy’ way).

Disclaimer: they approached me just under a year ago and offered to host my blog and podcast for free, as they valued what I was doing as a social media evangelist. So I pay nothing for my hosting. The fact that I cost them money, rather than make them money, would to me indicate a good reason not to engage in any customer service effort with me, hoping that I’ll take my costly business elsewhere.

I’ve been so impressed in the year that I’ve been hosting with them that when the time has been right I have moved an increasing number of my clients across to their servers; not out of a sense of obligation but out of genuinely being impressed by their level of customer care. I have also engaged them in quoting for development work that I have been asked to quote for, as my hosting and coding resource.

I’ve never met either of them face to face, yet their online and telephone service has been so good (and I have nearly 12 years of online experience with which to judge) that I am happy to trust that if they can get ‘hosting’ and ‘customer service’ right, and they say they can do other stuff, I believe them. They haven’t lied to me yet and I see no cause for concern that they will in the future.

If they can’t do something, they tell me. If they can, they tell me. And that, as a SOHO consultant who needs to pull together teams at the drop of a hat, is something I really value. As Billy Joel once sang, honesty is such a lonely word.

So I come back to my original thought about the hosting company that ‘pulled the plug’ on the online commentator who sudde
nly became more popular than they or anyone else predicted.

The hosting company in question is absolutely within their rights to ‘pull the plug’; the damage to their reputation by doing so has been catastrophic. It is one thing to go by the letter of the law, it is quite another thing entirely to go by the spirit of the law.

I am exceedingly blessed that I have found webhosts who go by the spirit, not the letter.

Your business, which relies on the goodwill you generate and foster with your clients and customers, would do equally well to consider whether your company culture and ethos is geared around ‘doing the right thing’ or ‘doing what your lawyers say is your right’, because I have pushed additional business, above what it costs them to host me, to Ben and Michael. But if they ran their business by ‘what their lawyers say is their right’ they would lose me as both customer and referral source (and evangelist).

Can your company afford to lose those who would, for a bit of extra customer service care, willingly become your evangelists?

…arrogant, opinionated, self-important tossers have no place in my client list…

Equally, the world is not a one-way ‘The Customer is King’ street.

As a customer (and we are all customers of someone), do we create such a ruckus that our suppliers would prefer not to do business with us? Are we so full of our own self-importance and run around with a head so full of our boss’ priorities that we forget to be decent human beings, forget to use common courtesy and forget to be polite?

It never ceases me, in a world where I increasingly see women behaving as badly as men (and teenage girls more so than teenage boys), that the old adage “do as you would be done by” seems to have been forgotten. In the race to ensure that we don’t miss out on our piece of the pie some of us are guilty of stepping on others to get to the oven.

‘You be nice to me and I’ll be nice to you’ — such a simple concept. It’s such a pity that in the clamour for more ‘me’ rights we seem to be in danger of losing the ability to show grace and dignity, and thereby as customers lose whatever benefits the supplier might have been eager to shower upon us.

  • http://ben.hamilton.id.au/ Ben Hamilton

    Thank you Lee for your kind words.

    Both Michael and I have been developing web sites many years, we’ve both hosted sites elsewhere and because of the same sort of issues the American Idol blog has experienced, we decided that the best thing we could do for ourselves was to move up the food chain and become the webhost we wanted to deal with.

    Comments such as yours actually justify our efforts, it makes us feel that we are on the right track as we do strive to (and pride ourselves on) providing the level of service we want to receive.

    Thanks again.

  • http://ben.hamilton.id.au/ Ben Hamilton

    Thank you Lee for your kind words.

    Both Michael and I have been developing web sites many years, we’ve both hosted sites elsewhere and because of the same sort of issues the American Idol blog has experienced, we decided that the best thing we could do for ourselves was to move up the food chain and become the webhost we wanted to deal with.

    Comments such as yours actually justify our efforts, it makes us feel that we are on the right track as we do strive to (and pride ourselves on) providing the level of service we want to receive.

    Thanks again.

  • http://www.thedailyupload.blogspot.com/ Dave Traynor

    Lee — You’re not alone in wondering why it seems to be so much easier for people to be bad to each other, when being good to each other seems to make so much more sense. It seems we are prepared to think the worst of others, and we act accordingly. Of course, that way we never do find out whether our colleagues were going to be jerks or not – we assumed they were, so we acted like jerks and then, sure enough, they did too. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    I like to think that good deeds will eventually be rewarded, although it can sometimes be hard to see how. But your example of your web hosting company is a good one. I too have enjoyed a great relationship with mine. They’re always quick to respond and eager to find a way to help with any problem I have. And I know I can always ask for advice, without feeling that I’m being a bother. They only want to make things better for me, and I appreciate the attention.

    I don’t pretend to have any answers to this growing problem of people behaving badly. I just try to make my own part of this world a good place and hope that my actions influence the people I meet.

  • http://www.thedailyupload.blogspot.com Dave Traynor

    Lee — You’re not alone in wondering why it seems to be so much easier for people to be bad to each other, when being good to each other seems to make so much more sense. It seems we are prepared to think the worst of others, and we act accordingly. Of course, that way we never do find out whether our colleagues were going to be jerks or not – we assumed they were, so we acted like jerks and then, sure enough, they did too. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    I like to think that good deeds will eventually be rewarded, although it can sometimes be hard to see how. But your example of your web hosting company is a good one. I too have enjoyed a great relationship with mine. They’re always quick to respond and eager to find a way to help with any problem I have. And I know I can always ask for advice, without feeling that I’m being a bother. They only want to make things better for me, and I appreciate the attention.

    I don’t pretend to have any answers to this growing problem of people behaving badly. I just try to make my own part of this world a good place and hope that my actions influence the people I meet.

  • http://leehopkins.net/ Lee

    And I think that’s all we CAN do, Dave. There will always be ‘bad eggs’, but if the general tenor of the conversation is positive and supportive, then eventually the bad eggs will get bored and go away — especially if they are ignored or, in the case of one bad egg, blacklisted.

  • http://leehopkins.net Lee

    And I think that’s all we CAN do, Dave. There will always be ‘bad eggs’, but if the general tenor of the conversation is positive and supportive, then eventually the bad eggs will get bored and go away — especially if they are ignored or, in the case of one bad egg, blacklisted.

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