Web Hosting - Look For A Customer-First Attitude
The single most important factor when choosing a web host is reliability. This is confirmed over and over again in surveys of webmasters and online entrepreneurs.
But "reliability" is not a simple thing. If you assume for the moment that most web hosting companies are technically competent, have been consistently upgrading their systems, and have products that are reasonably priced, then a major component of web hosting reliability comes down to good old fashioned "customer service".
In other words, what you really want to know is, "When there is a problem with my website, can I get speedy no-nonsense solutions?"
With web hosts the "no-nonsense" thing can be a problem.
**Talking with technical support can be difficult
If you have ever talked to a web host technical support person you get the impression they are handling three or four calls all at the same time. That's because they have thousands of clients, and often the problems come in waves. And that can lead to frustrating conversations with your tech person.
For example, I have recently been having a problem with one of my web hosts. The problem has to do with accessing some of my sites to make changes. Now I have been doing web building for years, and with many different hosts, and this is the very first time I have had this specific problem.
So although I am open to the possibility that the problem is somewhere at my end, I think it is unlikely. All my sites with this host seem to have this same issue, and none with any of the other web hosts that I use. In either case, what I am looking for is some intelligent suggestions.
But so far I have not been able to get an intelligent response -- even though it has been happening on and off for about a week now. I get the standard response: "Have you tried this, have you tried that..." all of which imply that the problem must be at my end, and none of which give the impression that they are actually thinking about what is going on.
Having been there myself quite a few times, I can sympathize with the technical support person's dilemma. But in my experience, most tech support people have seen these problems before, and they probably know the answer. It is just very difficult to get them to actually focus on your issue.
**Reliability starts with a Customer-First Attitude
This has a direct bearing on the "reliability" of this host. Service people often take the attitude that if they stall long enough the problem will go away. And, yes, sometimes it does go away.
But on the other hand, I think they usually stall because they are just too stretched out to be focused on your little insignificant problem. In other words, they are not sufficiently "customer-focused" on me to solve my specific issue.
This is when web host "reliability" takes a hit. And it is when customers start thinking hard about changing hosts. While the tech person is stalling you are wasting time trying to get your blasted website to work. And more often than not, getting it to work just takes a little bit of effort on the part of the tech team at the other end.
This merely confirms what marketing people have been saying for years about "customer service". Customer service is important in every business, and at every stage of the sales and delivery process. Your sales and accounting people must be customer focused. Your production people must be customer focused. And your tech support people must be customer focused too.
Unfortunately many web hosting tech support people just do not understand this. They often consider themselves superior to their clients. And they have been able to get away with shoddy, unfriendly service because it is just too inconvenient for clients to change hosts.
Thankfully this is changing. There is enough step-by-step information available to help make a host change, and many hosts will actually help you trasfer your domain to their system.
**Making Your Choice Based on Customer Service
Unfortunately there is no completely fool-proof way to know in advance where you are likely to get good, reliable, customer-friendly service.
You can try looking at web host review sites to get some comparisons between hosts. But unfortunately many of these sites are themselves not reliable. For one thing, they are usually trying to resell hosting services, so the "reviews" are often tainted. For another, if they contain comments and reviews by the public, these can also be manipulated. Some hosts will post bogus reviews praising their own services and criticising those of their competition.
You can also scan web hosting forums for comments and recommendations. These seem to be generally reliable, but are still open to the kind of manipulation mentioned above. And since things change so quickly in the web hosting business, comments made a year ago about a specific web hosting company will probably be out of date.
My own preference is to look closely at the website of the host itself. If it is overly technical and confusing I usually move on. That usually suggests, to me at least, that the focus of this host will be on technicalities, that it may be difficult to navigate their support system, and I may have difficulty getting plain and simple answers to my inquiries.
A simple layout with a minimum number of customer-oriented products and an easily-accessed support system suggests the company is customer-focused. I also recommend contacting the customer help desk in advance of ordering just to see what kind of reception I get.
I also look for testimonials from real web hosting customers. Make sure they are clearly identified with names, physical addresses, and website addresses. If you really want to be aggressive, you might contact some of these people directly.
Of course I agree that none of this is fool-proof. But given the highly competitive nature of the web hosting business, all other things being equal, a simple, straightforward customer-focused approach is what you should be looking for in a web host.
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