Hosting Support ? An Introduction
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.
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