Webhosting is a highly competitive field where only those who provide quality service succeed . Quality support increases customer retention which is as important as new customer acquisition.
There is no hard and fast rule on how to provide support. However for a startup webhosting company, its better to be aware of the options available. This article would show how effectively support can be provided with the limited resources available. Many of the ideas and points in this article would help all those who are presently stuck up running their businesses from their homes to foray into this business in a organized way and make it big.
While deciding on how to provide the support, the same rules don’t apply everywhere. Larger hosting companies should be handled differently from smaller hosts. If you are a newbie ask yourself the following questions.
1) How many hours can you spend daily for providing support ?
2) What is the level of technical skill you have ?
3) What is your support budget?
4) Are your clients more technically proficient than you are?
5) What are the technical services you would like to provide ?
The answers to the above question will help in deciding what support system is to be used . Lets see how the answers to each question would influence the plan.
1) How many hours can you spend daily, for providing support?
A proper customer system can give you more time to spend on other departments like marketing and sales. So when you are designing the customer support system, you should decide on how much time you should be spending on providing support.
What happens if there is not much time available for support? For a startup company, spending just 3-4 hrs ( not necessarily in one go ), would be more than enough. Since there would be only few support queries coming in, it wouldn’t be difficult to handle all queries . But here instead of concentrating on replying to each email or phone call, start building a solid self help options for customers . Build a knowledge base and also provide tutorials . A new hosting company with a well laid out tutorials and walk-throughs gives a better impression to the clients. It has been observed that, there is a 60% reduction in the number of support queries coming in, once the above tools are provided.
What’s advised is, instead of trying for a 24×7 support system running, concentrate on providing self-help-support for customers. A customer would appreciate a site that says “Customer Support from 9am to 5pm” along with self-help support documentation rather than going for the more expensive 24/7 support when your business is small. With competitive pricing this would paint the company to be one run by a professional rather than a newbie.
2) What is your technical capability?
Many startup companies are run by a single owner who juggles the roles of sales, support and billing person by himself. Support is one department where his technical skills would be tested daily . Single owners who are not technically ready, would end up losing more money and time which otherwise could have been used effectively for growth of the company.
There was this owner of a company who was brilliant in marketing and sales .Since he was not a tech guy, he used to spent time googling to find solutions for the support queries from his users . However the support tickets took a long time for getting responses . Due to his customer relation skills, he was able to hang on for some time, but soon clients started leaving . Even after 2 years in the industry, he is still owns a single server, while others have moved ahead. Funny fact, is he is still not ready to accept the fact that his tech skills are not good enough.
The support determines the customer retention factor, which is deciding factor for the company’s growth . Hence it should not be neglected . Its okay to try your luck with 50 or so clients at hand . But once your client base grows over 100, get a proper system running . If you are not familiar with systems involved, contact any outsourced tech support company and get a single tech from there to get the system ready . You just need a dedicated tech for 12 hours to install the system for you . Make sure that you get the following services done by the tech.
1) Ticketing System / Help desk installed
2) Backup procedure installed ( if not available already )
3) Customer Contact Form in your site installed.
4) Security auditing of your server.
All of this will cost you very little. Once done, you can start providing quality support for your customers. Remember to get the tech from a good company, as there are many out there . A few are Bobcares, Touchsupport ( Don’t forget to checkout the testimonials of their customers before coming to a decision ).
There are a lot of newbies, who would like to take care of their customers themselves. Problem is most of the issues that can be solved by an experienced person in 10 minutes will take an hour or more for a non-technical person. This will leave a bad impression for a startup hosting company.
If you are technically good, then have an email-based customer support. That’ll help archive all communication, and also give time to think twice before providing response. As a startup company, its always safe to read through what you are responding before sending it. The problem with chat/phone is that your knowledge level gets thrown open in front of the customer. A single mistake in the response can bring in bad reputation.
3) What is your support budget ?
Like in any industry, the amount invested can make a major difference in webhosting too . Just in the support department, there are a lot of things that could be done if there is a lot of money at your disposal.
Having a telephone support is the best option. Clients could be handled better over phone, than through any other media. Nothing can beat the personal touch a telephone conversation can provide. On the negative side, you’ll have to prepare for understanding all kinds of pronunciation and slangs. This could become more difficult customers are from different parts of the world. Also be aware that phones have to be attended even if you are vacationing with your girlfriend on a lovely beach.
With more money, you can setup a nice informative site and tutorials. Having flash based Howtos can be of real help for the users. Further having a professional looking tutorial will make customers at ease with the services. Also spend money once in a while to get the servers audited for security and resource management. Many outsourcing companies like Bobcares provides this service at low rates of $12/hr.
Also take advantage of the systems like Alertra, Web Site Monitoring system. They can alert you to your Mobile phone or PDA as soon as a support ticket is submitted or the server load goes high. It can save a lot of working time, and since the ticket notifications are alarmed instantly, prompt service can also be ensured.
4) Are your clients more technically proficient than you are ?
A good businessman will know who the future customers are going to be . Market study prior to starting of business, is needed in webhosting too . Decide whether the services are to be offered to hosting novices or power-users . Knowing your customers well can really help in providing efficient support.
Hosting novices prefer to go to the companies charging very less . Their requirements are very less, and the sites would consist mostly of static HTML pages . These are people who’ll be asking questions on everything under the sun especially startup questions like “how can I upload files” . Just keep a really good knowledge base, and most of the issues will get resolved there. Newbies prefer to go through tutorials than asking questions . Give phone numbers to clients on need-to-know basis. Together these services would give a newbie a homely feeling. But its not suggested to have a user-forum in this situation. There was this company that setup user-forum, but ended up getting bashed on daily basis for no fault of theirs. Newbies are more worrisome people. hence its best to keep them separated .
Power-users are those who use a lot of resources and services ( SSH, CGI, ASP, Java, Coldfusion ..etc ), . They make the best use out of the resources available, but at the same time are experienced and often patient . In case the power-users are being targeted, get a geek ready. Otherwise lot of time would be spent on googling than answering the support queries . A tech guy who is experienced on the services provided will make life easy .
Another benefit of this market is that you’ll have a pool of skilled users . Just get a user forum running, and that’ll relieve you from most of the support job. The users would be able to help each other here. Many established companies have a well kept user-forum that acts as a support system. However keep a watch on the forum, to avoid getting back-bitten, though that wont take up much time on daily basis . Phone & chat support can be avoided here. Users would prefer to have an efficient email based ticketing systems like Cerebrus HelpDesk or kayako.
5) What are the technical services provided ?
A hosting company would use a lot of softwares and hardwares that are technically complicated . This includes Control Panels, Server’s Operating System, Coldfusion, Java, ASP .. etc . Selection of the services that are to be offered will influence the support department too .
Technology changes fast, and its normal to be forced to update the softwares and servers quiet often. But a frequent change and upgrade can cause lot of downtime . Users would also get agitated over it . There would be a rain of support queries after an upgrade or change . If a control panel like CPanel is being used, which updates every fortnight, you would have to be on the toes all the time. Be selective on the services, and prefer using softwares that requires minimum changes . Plesk, another control panel, is a good example for it . Once installed plesk would not require a change very often, which means less support queries.
Further, for a starter its better to start with limited services . This will help in getting a solid support base, and as the company grows keep adding new services. Also update tutorials, and problem solvers as new services are added.
Support is just not about responding to customers, it includes how support is provided. Having a complete support system running, with a professional touch added to it, will make a great impression on customers . Add to it a competitively priced packages and then there will be nothing that can stop this mushroom from growing into a tree.