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Webmail.us Customer Service

I recently moved my email hosting over to Webmail.us. Before my move, my email was hosted with my regular web host. No complaints about my web host, but they didn’t specialize in email. A time came a few weeks ago when I decided my email was important enough to warrant the hassles and costs involved with email hosting. I had read and heard a lot about Webmail.us and always kept that in the back of my mind if I ever needed email hosting.  So, when I needed email hosting, I contacted them.

Pre-sales experience.
My pre-sales experiences are usually fairly brief or at the very most, limited. I do my research, actually read the company’s FAQs, and so on. I know what I need and why I need it. I still had some questions about Webmail.us’ services, though. I sent an email to their sales department and heard back fairly quickly. The representative was friendly and answered my questions. We had some back and forth about a special request, which he was able to make happen.

Signup experience.
The signup experience was pretty simple and straight forward. I got a call shortly after my order to confirm it (I assume it was for fraud prevention). I called back and left my name and phone number on the voicemail. I then used their online system to request a call back and heard back shortly. My signup was then processed and I got the welcome emails (three separate emails).

Transition process.
I requested another callback and the representative helped me change my MX records to get my mail to point to Webmail.us. He was pretty helpful and everything worked out. The next day, I asked the sales rep about moving my old email over and he advised me to just move it myself. I asked the tech team about the best way to do it and was given a helpful answer. No real problem moving the email – it probably took less than an hour from start to finish. My email was all migrated (and working) and I was happy.

Technical support.
As usual, I had my initial technical support questions right after signup. Since the third day, I haven’t had to the call or contact the company at all. For the first few days, I think I emailed them several times and called them several times as well. The company uses Fog Creek Copilot, which is a nice application for helping customers remotely. It wasn’t clunky and worked well. Overall, technical support was helpful and got my issues resolved. My only complaint about technical support is that it is all callbacks. You can’t wait on hold or just dial an extension, which I personally don’t like.

Responsive to feedback.
One thing I do not like about Webmail.us is that they add a line below emails you send from their mobile site that says something like “Email sent using Webmail.us Mobile.” On a paid product, this is annoying. So, I told them. They have an ideas site (like Dell’s IdeaStorm, which is like digg), where I posted my idea about removing the advertisement. I also emailed Webmail’s CEO, Pat Matthews, who replied to me within about 15 minutes saying they would most likely give an option to remove it in the next version. Pat and I exchanged some emails, and I was quite impressed with him and his responsiveness.

And they like Service Untitled.
Something that always makes me think a little more of a company is when they say they read my blog. Putting my ego aside, I like to hear that people read a blog about customer service (not necessarily mine – there are other great ones out there (see sidebar)) because it shows they care about learning more about and improving their customer service. Or, at least they care enough to read a blog about it. Pat (the CEO) told me that my original sales rep had passed the URL to my blog around the company and that he had spent some time on my blog the day before.

So far, so good with Webmail.us. I’ve been impressed and like my email hosting. I’m looking forward to it continuing this way and following Webmail.us in the future.

Transparency in Numbers

HostGator is a relatively large web hosting company that has been experiencing rapid growth for a long time. They recently moved to Houston and hired 50 new employees, bringing their total headcount to about 100 or so. They plan to grow much larger in the next year or so.

I was happy to see that the company started a blog. They posted a letter from the CEO, a tour of their new office, and some of the standard promotional things you see on a blog. Not a bad start. Recently, though, a post about their live chat numbers sparked my interest.

June 1 to June 14, 2007

Total Number of Chats: 13,355
Total Surveys Returned: 4,170

Overall HostGator Experience
Excellent: 1,895
Very Good: 984
Good: 784
Fair: 378
Poor: 129

Chat Technician Rating
Awesome: 2,301
Good: 1,464
Needs Improvement: 396

As you can tell from looking at the numbers (reposted above with permission), HostGator has a lot of volume: 7,000 chats a week. The stats given don’t show the total amount of tickets or phone calls (maybe someone from HostGator can send them our way?), but 1,000 chats a day is quite a lot. HostGator has been growing very fast and it is quite obvious they are doing something right just by the number of customers that they have.

Something that is interesting is the return rate for the chats. It’s over 30%, which is really good. This gives HostGator a lot of data to work with and probably a fairly diverse survey base.

Customer service know how (and more scientific studies) say that unless people give you one of the top two ratings (Excellent and Very Good or some variation thereof), they are just as likely to defer to the competition as those who rate you as poor. For example, if a company rated HostGator’s service as Good (say a 3), they are just as likely to go to a competitor as someone who rates HostGator’s service as Terrible (say a 1).

More customer service know how tells us that people who are unhappy are more likely to fill out the survey than those that are happy. Furthermore, if someone just closes the chat window, they aren’t shown a survey. Therefore, the people filling out the survey are the most savvy and unhappy of the bunch, which is worth noting.

With that in mind, HostGator’s satisfaction rating for the overall experience (from the chat) is like 69% or so. That means most people think their service is between Very Good (80%) and Good (60%). The 69% number shows that a majority of customers are generally happy, but chances are that an employee going above and beyond and providing really great customer service is not super common. In layman’s terms, HostGator is providing customer service that is definitely acceptable, but they haven’t gotten it to the “next level” just yet.

The chat technician rating is interesting as well. Assuming that “Awesome” is the top two grades, the chat technician average rating is about 55%. That is a bit low for comfort. However, I’m pretty sure that if HostGator expanded it to Excellent, Very Good, Good, etc., that the numbers would go up quite a bit. Awesome is a strong word, and as such, people who weren’t supper happy (i. e. the top rating) are less likely to rate a tech as awesome.

Some numbers and exercises for HostGator to consider crunching/doing:

  • Are the number of live chats and the satisfaction score a representative gets related? (Does more chats = less satisfaction?) (How many chats did Kevin N (who get the highest satisfaction rating) do?)
  • Has that satisfaction number increased over time? By how much?
  • Have an employee only do one chat a time for a day. See how his or her numbers do compared to other days.
  • Don’t base “top scores” purely on volume. Come up with a combination of volume and quality. Maybe 50% volume, 50% quality.
  • Send out a similar survey after tickets and see what the results are.
  • Research some alternative wording to Very Good, Good, etc. that is more “harsh.” (Example: Completely Unsatisfactory, Needs improvement, Acceptable, Good, Very Good or a variation of that).

Today’s post talked about what the numbers mean and how to get more accurate numbers. More on how HostGator can improve the numbers tomorrow.

Disclosure: I know and have worked with some of the executives at HostGator on both customer service and other projects. HostGator did not pay for this post.

Interested in having your numbers analyzed like this? Let us know!


Sprint fires customers.

I actually had something else scheduled for today’s post, but I’ve postponed it until tomorrow. Over the last couple of days, I have been reading about how Sprint has fired a thousand or so customers.

I remember it wasn’t that long ago (mid-December 2006) when Justin Kitch of Homestead wrote about how he occasionally fired customers. It caused a stir on digg and some of the other social news type sites. How could a company fire a customer?  According to the digg community and many others – it was outrageous. Now Sprint does it to 1,000 people and gets a whole bunch of negative press about it as well.

From a business perspective, it makes sense at first to fire 1,000 customers who are using a lot of resources. It is a great short term move. Long term? It’s terrible. Sprint has really aggravated 1,000 of its most vocal customers and you can be sure they are going to talk about it.

People who call customer service once (or more) per day are usually pretty vocal. They are hard/impossible to please, often impatient, and often rude. They don’t hesitate to blog about every little thing that went wrong and write you multiple letters or emails about it. They make sure to tell their friends about how they have signed their life way to this terrible carrier who is entirely incompetent. Basically, they aren’t the type of folks you want to fire.

The letter that Sprint sent out is here (credit: CNET). The company is relatively friendly and does offer to zero out any outstanding bills and help you with your move, but they don’t give much notice. A couple of days is pretty optimistic and if Sprint has been supporting these customers for months/years, another week or two wouldn’t make a difference.

Sprint also fired customers who used too much roaming. This is something that basically any major carrier can do to you, but I think Sprint is the most recent one to do it on a large scale. The letter they sent to customers who used too many roaming minutes is here (also credit to CNET).

Overall, I think Sprint will regret this move. It may help in the short term, but in the long term, customers are going to be mad and unless Sprint has made some major changes, they will continue to find new customers that are get angry. The company is not known for its great customer service and hasn’t been doing that well.

When you go into business, you have to be prepared for unhappy customers. They will always be there, and it is just a matter of how you deal with them that makes the difference.

What Sprint should have done? They should have sent a letter to customers saying they call a lot and might not like Sprint, which is fine. Sprint should have offered to zero out the bill, let them port their number, etc. and move to a new carrier. If Sprint was really motivated to get rid of the customer, it could have even matched the price or something. Many would leave and Sprint wouldn’t get nearly as much bad press and bad word of mouth.

For those that are interested, I’ve written a three part series on firing your customers.

  1. Part 1 – Introduction and about internal priorities (staff before customers, etc.)
  2. Part 2 – Pros and cons to firing customers. What to include in the notice.
  3. Part 3 – Sample letter for firing customers.

Does customer service come naturally to you?

There are a lot of small web startups and companies out there where customer service seems to come naturally to them. They provide fairly good to amazing service quite consistently and have never really thought about customer service in much detail. They never read a book on it, they don’t read a blog like Service Untitled, etc. It just comes to them without too much effort.

I’m not sure how this is or why it is, but a few things I’ve seen and noticed are:

The key people care about their customers.
There is a difference between knowing/caring about customer service and caring about your customers. The key people (usually the founders and early employees)  in the companies where customer service comes naturally may not really know about customer service as a business function, but definitely know and care a lot about their customers.

These companies are more often than not transparent and open.
Companies that seem to get customer service are more often than not open and transparent. They communicate openly with their customers, partners, employees, etc. and let them know what’s going on.

They respond quickly and mean it.
When these guys and girls reply to their emails or answer the phones and say they are sorry about your inconvenience or something of that nature, they almost always mean it. They care and want to make you happy.

They have passion.
If there is one thing about the entrepreneurs I’ve worked with, is that they are passionate about what they are doing. If they don’t have the passion (and it’s usually fairly easy to tell if they do or don’t), they aren’t going to make it. The said entrepreneurs need a passion  for their product or service, for what they are trying to do, and most importantly, for the customer. Customers (or whatever you want to call them – users, patients, clients, etc.) make the world go around companies profitable, so you better be passionate about them.

It doesn’t stay that way.
Call me a cynic, but I’ve never seen it stay the “customer service comes naturally way” for long. Small companies that seem to have a natural talent for customer service need to start working on it more as they get larger. Once you start hiring people you don’t know to support your customers, a lot changes. At that point, you need to start working on formalizing hiring and training procedures and dare I say it, write policies.

By the way, many of the same things apply to people who are great at providing customer service naturally:

  • They care about the people they are helping and want to help them.
  • They are open and honest.
  • They are genuinely empathetic and caring.
  • They are passionate about what they do (helping customers).

What do you think about this? Does customer service come naturally to you and your organization? I am positive the last two words of “It doesn’t stay that way” is making startup entrepreneurs cringe, but they are a necessary evil.

Be proactive and boost the bottomline. Part 2 of 2

Yesterday I stated (rather boldly) that you could boost your bottomline by being proactive with your customer service. I stand by that and will even support that statement today.

Here are the ways the 5 companies/situations I mentioned could help the companies either make or save money:

  1. If Lexus can fix the problem for an in-warranty car before it becomes serious, it could save them thousands in part replacements.
  2. The web hosting company not only builds a better relationship with their customer, but prevents possible outages and downtime, which can be costly to web hosting companies.
  3. The email company could identity a problem and fix it before it becomes a disaster (no email for a week!) and/or can see if the customer is having trouble, has switched to a new provider, etc.
  4. If the customer is evaultaing the software and can’t get a feature to work, the chances of them purchasing goes way down. Proactive customer service can help make that purchase more likely. Plus, if only a knowledge base link is sent, the interaction isn’t that expensive and could probably be automated.
  5. If the customer isn’t using the more powerful or unique features of the software, they are more likely to defer to a competitor. Explaining what those features are and even guiding the customer through how to use them can help keep customers and let them get the most out of your product.

And the Dell/HP scenario with the bad hard drive? There are benefits for the companies there, too:

  • It takes a lot less time to backup a hard drive before it dies than it does to spend all the time trying to get the data back after it dies.
  • The customer learns a lesson about the importance of backups and how close they could be to total data failure without actually having the negative experience (which they very well might blame HP or Dell for – even if it isn’t their fault.)
  • If the computer is out of warranty or the item isn’t covered in warranty, the company can sell the customer a new hard drive.
  • The company builds a relationship with the customer and helps promote the image/feeling that the company is there for the customer and aims to make their life easier.

All of these boost the bottomline.

What do basically all proactive customer service expeirences have in common?

  • They help improve customer loyalty and the customer relationship. This is the huge one from a customer service perspective.
  • They help fix problems or address concerns before they become more serious, costly, and/or time consuming.
  • They combine high touch and and high tech.
  • Employees are able to spend their time helping customers before they get mad, angry, upset, frustrated, etc.

It’s been a while since I’ve added a new category to Service Untitled. However, yesterday there was a new category added and it’s all about proactive cusotmer service. It is something that I am going to try and talk a lot more about.

Little Things, Big Differences are about improving customer service with minimal change, today. Becoming proactive is about changing customer service with a lot of (but well worth it) change, tomorrow.

Now, go be proactive.

Be proactive and boost the bottomline. Part 1 of 2

I hope everyone had a nice July 4th. As promised, Service Untitled is back in business.

I would say that one of the best big picture ways to becoming a great customer service organization is to provide customer service that is proactive (as opposed to reactive). It is something I’ve talked about before and believe will get more and more important as time goes on.

Like I described in the previously linked to post, wouldn’t it be neat (albeit somewhat creepy) if a Dell or HP tech called you and said your hard drive was about to die and that you should backup your files, or if you couldn’t figure out how to use a certain feature and you got a call or an email offering help or pointing you in the right direction. That is what proactive customer service is all about.

Some possible scenarios in addition to the ones described above:

  1. Lexus notices that your car is taking much longer to accelerate than usual. They call you or send something in the mail (or email) asking if you want to schedule a service visit.
  2. Your web hosting company notices that the software you are using has been using a lot more resources than average for an installation of your size. Or they notice that resource usage has gone way up while your traffic hasn’t. They email you and ask if you are aware of it.
  3. Your email hosting (or wireless type provider like BlackBerry) company notices you haven’t gotten email in the last 3 days whereas you usually get 100 messages a day. They contact you and ask if there are any problems.
  4. The software you use or are evaluating notices you are getting a lot of error messages and experimenting a lot with a certain feature. The company’s tech support sends you a link to a knowledge base article.
  5. A hosted software company can tell that a customer hasn’t really utilized any of the more powerful features of their software that make it really useful.

These do have a bit of a Big Brother element to them. It goes along with super proactive customer service. However, I think more customers than not will appreciate it. Plus, if they are freaked out, your company can offer a way to opt out of proactive monitoring.

Alarm companies are proactive. They call you if they notice a problem. They don’t wait for you to call them if something is wrong. That is the way that more and more companies should operate.

There are hundreds of other ways to be proactive besides the 5 listed above. As you can see, being proactive isn’t just limited to the alarm or software industries. I will say (with a fair amount of confidence) that any company in any industry can be proactive in one way or another when it comes to helping their customers.

So how does being proactive boost the bottomline? It sounds really costly and time consuming. Not quite. And that is the subject of tomorrow’s post. Stay tuned (er, subscribed).

Happy 4th of July

Happy 4th of July to all Service Untitled readers in the United States (according to my stats, that’s about 75% of you). I happen to be in that 75% number and am going to be taking the day off from posting today.

Please take a few moments to have some good food and enjoy the fireworks. I know I’ll try to be doing just that.

Posts will be back as usual tomorrow.

Dealing with a customer’s concern.

A reader suggested I post about the best way to approach a customer’s concern. She didn’t tell me much beyond that, so I’m going to interpret what I think is the best way to cover it and go from there.

The reason that any customer calls or emails a customer service department is to get their issue resolved. As such, resolving the customer’s issue should be the number one priority and the number one concern. Other things like response time, etc. are all secondary to resolution time and overall satisfaction with the resolution.

When a customer talks for 10, 15, 35 minutes about their issue, it is often hard to get to the root of the problem. You need to identity as quickly as possible what the main issue is and go from there.

Here are some strategies that I think are effective:

Don’t let the customer talk too long.
You can’t let the customer rant for 25 or 35 minutes. If the customer can’t explain his or her issue within 2-3 minutes, you need to stop them. Otherwise, you won’t get anything out of it and will have to ask questions that they already answered somewhere in their speech. It’s generally necessary to let the customer to rant for a little bit, but not for that long.

Ask questions.
You may need to ask some “stupid questions” like:

  • I am understanding that you are having some issues with getting your computer to turn on today, is that right?
  • It seems like you have a lot of issues. I’m sorry about the inconveniences. I think we should start with getting the computer to turn on properly. Does that sound right to you?
  • Alright. From my experience, it’d be quickest if we started with getting computer turning on problem. Is that okay with you?

Questions that a) confirm what the issue is and b) prioritize the issues accordingly will help organize the experience.

Get updates.
During a long call or interaction, it’s important to get updates as you go along. For example, ask if the computer starting up issue is resolved. If the customer says yes, then move on to the next issue. The customer would rather repeat the various problems a few times and have them all resolved than have all of them only half fixed.

Write down the problems.
As you’re working, write down what the issues are, what steps you took to resolve them, and how they are working. That way, you have a record for yourself about what has been accomplished during the call and so do your supervisors. It also helps organize the call and gives you a good idea about what’s next and how to get there.

The simple question.
The simple question is “Is -issue- resolved to your satisfaction?” It may seem odd and/or awkward to ask that, but it is best to put that on the record so you can move on with a clean slate.

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