People in this industry constantly ask 'how can I compete with the big guys?' If you go and check out the 'Running a Web Hosting Business’ forum on WHT right now, you'll probably find a couple threads asking this very question on the first page. Well, I'm going to tell you how you can compete with those guys and how you can get more clients who pay more per month and I'll tell you how you can keep them happy.
"How can I compete with the hosting companies that seem to be just giving it all away? They've got more servers. They've got a bigger marketing budget. They're at the top of the Google search results for 'cheap host.' They've got hundreds of affiliates. They got both girls at HostingCon!" It's tough, I know, but there's a pretty simple answer.
What you need to do is stop and take a breath. Look at who you are and what your company has got, then ask yourself this question.
‘What is going to set my company apart from the big guys?’
There are a number of different answers you may come up with, but hopefully the first and definitely the most important is one simple word:
Look at it from the client’s perspective, what’s the real difference between hosting with one company vs. another? It’s all the same hard drive, ram etc and the site should be reliably accessible all the time on anyone’s server. Usually the difference is cost. That’s why the industry is locked in this downward spiral price war. It's to the point now where people are overselling ridiculous specs for pennies and it’s impossible for a smaller host to make a dent let alone a living this way.
Which is exactly why support is so important. If you can’t compete on price, don’t bother. Compete on quality. Chefs at fancy restaurants don’t get pissed off when McDonald’s introduces a new cheaper McWhopper because they’re not trying to compete with them. They cater to a whole different crowd who know what quality is and are willing to pay what its worth to get it.
You’ve got to become a Gourmet Web Host, a host that charges a premium for premium service. Don’t go for the little fish just because there are a lot of them. Aim for the people who can appreciate quality service when they see it and then give them even more than they’re expecting. How many stars would a critic give your hosting company? 2, 3, 4?
There are a bunch of things you can do with your support department that are going to make all the difference:
- Teach your staff truly effective communication. They may be a bunch of nerds who know all the technical jargon you could ever hope for, but the clients aren’t likely to be and they can quickly and easily get overwhelmed with geek speak. Keep responses clear and concise so that the client understands them without having to have read Slashdot that morning.
- Drive you staff to cut response time to support tickets down to seconds. If you really want to blow someone’s mind, answer the occasional email ticket by calling the client as soon as it comes in. People take email for granted as being impersonal and companies as usually slow to respond. Calling them personally shows that there are real people who care running the company.
- Keep the length of responses adequate. This goes for responses being both too long and too short. If something is explained in three paragraphs that could have been done in one, go for the shorter option. On the other hand, if an answer can be rattled off in just a few words, pad out the response slightly to make it seem like it wasn’t just sent as an after thought. Shoot for a bare minimum of 3 sentences in any emails:
Jimmy De Client,
I believe I have figured out the problem. The url is actually http://www.ubersmith.com, not http://www.oobersmith.com. Try that out and let me know if you have any other questions. Thanks.
-boo van alstyne
ubersmith support jockey
Try and keep it conversational. Again, the goal is to make the client realize they’re dealing with real people and not some auto-responder.
- Train some extra people to be able to answer the phones so that no one ever goes to voicemail when they call. This goes for any aspect of the company, support, billing, sales, etc. Do everything you can to make your company as easily reachable as possible. Nothing beats being able to reach a knowledgeable human being when you've got a technical problem
- If you're not able to staff your company 24/7, set up an emergency address for clients to email if/when a crisis occurs. If possible, set it up to SMS staff members cell phones, set off lights and sirens in your NOC, anything to get people’s attention and get it addressed immediately. If a client’s server goes down and their only method of submitting a ticket to you typically nets an hour and a half response time, chances are they’re going to spend that time searching for a new host. It comforts clients to know that there is a way to jump to the head of the line when they really need it.
- Keep your support team organized. Using a system like Ubersmith’s support manager, allows every staff member to have a client’s full billing and support history at their finger tips all the time. Encourage your employees to help each other out by commenting troublesome tickets with any additional info that may be helpful.
- Above all, be patient. You’re going to run into people who just don’t get what you’re saying and you’re going to get people who are just plain mad. Whatever you do, play it cool and professional. If you do your job and you help the client with everything you can, no one can fault you.
Now, depending on your situation not all of these may be feasible and that’s fine. Do whatever you can. Heck, support might not even be the key thing that separates your company from others, but support is one of the things that all hosting companies have to deal with and there's always room for improvement. Remember that the goal is to add value to your company. Ask anyone in the industry and they’ll tell you that good quality support is the most valuable service you can offer.
The best part is that this whole outlook can be beneficial in a bunch of different ways. Chief among them is that you can charge what you’re worth. You’re providing top quality service and a lot of people will happily pay top dollar for it. This, in turn, means you’ll be making more money off of less clients. Your day to day stress will be considerably less compared to what it would have taken you to make the same amount on 10 times the number of budget clients.
Even better than that is your hard work becomes its own best advertising. I've said it before and I'll say it again, a happy customer with a big mouth and plenty of friends is the best free marketing you'll ever find. Word of mouth is a big thing that should not be underestimated.
Don’t race to the bottom of the barrel with everyone else. Go high end. Become a four star host! Be the most exclusive company in the industry. Be a Gourmet Web Host.