The Important Role of Customer Support: Top Things to Consider When Choosing a Web Hosting Provider

2004-04-11by Will Pemble

When it comes to choosing a Web hosting provider, one of the most important factors to consider is the level of customer service provided. While you should obviously make sure you get the features you need, and of course a great price, you also need to be assured that the company you select will partner with you for the long haul and be there whenever you have questions or concerns—be it midday or midnight. Below are some recommendations and insights on how to assess a Web host's level of customer service and choose the right provider for your short- and long-term business needs.

Ask questions, be informed:

Every morning during Sesame Street, Big Bird reminds me and my three-year old daughter that "Asking questions is a good way of finding things out!" I couldn't agree more. Asking questions is definitely the most important part of the "research" stage and a great way to uncover the level of customer service a Web hosting company offers. Some questions to ask:

• How do you define customer service?
• Will you go the extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction?
• How do you anticipate customer needs?
• Will you ask me - your customer - for input into what's working and what's not?

Demand anytime, anywhere accessibility:

The availability of 24/7/365, live customer support is critical and a service you should demand. Many companies tout "24-hour live support" but be aware that they may only be offering 24/7 support through chat, forum, or email. Imagine working on your Web site after a long day at your day job, expecting to talk to a human being on the phone only to find out that your hosting company is essentially closed! Or, worse yet, you get somebody on the phone, but you find out they're a "hired hand" who knows nothing about your account. Luckily, there are a number of hosting companies out there who answer their telephone 24 hours a day, so try narrowing your search by this qualification. Once you've identified a few companies with whom you'd potentially like to work, try calling their support numbers at random times and see if a professional service person answers the phone. Do the same with their alternative support options such as chat, email, etc.

Look for an easy-to-use Help and FAQ section:

Most hosting providers offer a Help and FAQ section on their Web site in an effort to provide quick answers to your questions and to avoid overburdening their customer support staff. But not all companies make these sections comprehensive, intuitive or easy to use. When evaluating a Web hosting providers' overall customer service, it's important to check out their Web site and see if they offer a repository of useful information in addition to time- and money-saving tips.

Inquire about money-back guarantees:

It's important to determine upfront if the hosting companies that you are investigating offer at least a 30-day money back guarantee for their service. If not, there is no reason to buy from them. As a hosting customer, you should be allowed to return any item if you are not pleased with the level of service you receive. (Note: typically domain name purchases are not refundable, as the names are pulled from a central registry that is shared across the Internet.)

Investigate who's answering your support calls:

In order to meet the growing demand for cost-effective, 24/7 X 365 customer care, a number of Web hosting companies are outsourcing and shipping services overseas at an accelerated rate. Although there are perceived benefits to this practice, the bad far outweighs the good. We believe that because customer service is critical to the hosting business, it must be held to the highest standards of quality control, meaning it should definitely remain within the corporate domain. Local support helps to build trusted relationships and keep customer care consistent. So when looking for a Web hosting provider, never be afraid to ask the all-important question: who will answer my support call at 11pm on Christmas Eve?

Never settle for less than the best:

Once you've decided on a Web hosting provider and you're a full-fledged paying customer, it's really important to remember that you deserve the highest quality and most consistent customer care. In addition to feeling like a number one priority at all times, you should feel confident that your hosting company will take the time to explain things to you in plain English, not just technical jargon. You also need to know that a real human being will answer the phone when you call, and that they will actually be an employee of the company with whom you have a hosting agreement. What's the bottom line? Look for a reputable hosting company who will listen to you, support you in a way that you need to be supported and value your business — if you can find that, you can't go wrong!

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