Web hosts with a clue

Earlier this week, email and browsing to sites hosted on my reseller account at TCH (Total Choice Hosting) stopped working from home. I VPN’d into a client’s office (same ISP as my home) and found it didnt work there either. I VPN’d into my office (different ISP from my home) and it worked fine.

I contacted my DSL provider (and phone company) CenturyTel, and got the standard 20 question “Are you a dope?” runaround. Do you have a firewall? Are you sure? What did you change? Can you turn off ZoneAlarm? (Not without installing it first…) Can you bypass the router (you know, the router that hasnt had a setting change in 3 years…) and connect directly via XP? And so on. I give them a tracert, they blow me off and ask me to reboot, yadayadayada. I bail on them, as it is clear they are going to be of little assistance, even after telling them that 2 different locations are experiencing this issue.

Some days I think it would be quite enjoyable to have the resources to offer my entire community free wireless and VOIP access just for the purpose of sticking it to the phone company, but they probably wouldnt even notice.

On Monday, I get into the office and about noon, access to the sites that didnt work at home started getting spotty, then disappears altogether. I contact the web host (TCH), provide them with a tracert and ask what to do. They tell me access is being blocked or otherwise thwarted outside their network and ask me to contact the staff at Prioritycolo.com, whose router appears to be blocking access to the TCH servers.

I check their support page. No phone number. I thought “Oh boy, no phone. This will be an exercise in frustration.” Sometimes its nice to be wrong.

I started to email them, but thought better of that. Fax? Nah. I took a shot at IRC chat, since their support page offers access to their team that way. Surprisingly, I got their lead admin, who asked a few questions, had me send him a few tracerts from both my office ISP and my client’s ISP and a few minutes later, he has tweaked the router and we’re golden. Turns out he knows the big cheese at TCH as well, and asks me to forward the tracerts to him simply because he knows that guy will want to see them.

Later that day, I get home and everything works there as well. Now…that wasn’t so difficult, was it?

Myles at PriorityColo.com gets it, as does TCH.

Talk to the animals

In the not too recent past, my business was quite dependent on a product from a particular company. As good as it is, this product had a rough time, as it was passed from one company to another. Unfortunately, none of the owners anywhere along this trail seem to have an inkling of customer relationship skills, much less marketing aptitude.

Certainly there is or has been at least one person at these companies that “gets it”, but it is never the CEO. Leadership comes from the top. If the CEO mistreats the customer base and has disdain for them, guess what the line employees are going to do and have. That’s exactly what one sees in this case.

Case in point: Any customer of this company who is unfortunate enough to state negative comments, constructive or not, gets summarily ignored.

Certainly the 80/20 rule is applicable and we all have customers we should “fire”, but ignoring “everyone” is stunningly inept. If you are willing to ignore your customers and make them ambivalent to your company and your product or service, you are ASKING a competitor to come in and take your business.

When I walk into a business and get treated like this, the first thought that crosses my mind is to call my real estate person and ask if this business’ competitor is for sale.

In this case, we’re talking about a product that the customer gets fairly heavily invested in from a time point of view, so perhaps the company feels that a multiple year, multiple decade pile of products related to this company’s product is an impediment to the departure of customers. They couldnt be more wrong. These days, companies like this are fiddling while Rome burns.

Will this company go out of business? Perhaps not.

Do they have a notable percentage of customers who are perpetually annoyed with them? Absolutely.

Will they leave millions on the table? Absolutely.

Does this negatively impact their customers? Sure. Without the millions that they should have had and the resources that money could provide, this company will be less agile and less able to provide to their customers that which will keep them ahead of THEIR competitors.

Talk to your customers as often as possible, by email, direct mail, fax, telephone, smoke signals…SOMETHING. If you dont, I can assure you that someone else is. It might even be my company and Id like nothing better than to take your customer and do the simple things that are necessary to keep them as my customer for life.

Golf – Its such hard work

Twilight golf in Montana. There is simply nothing finer. In the summer, we have the pleasure of mild evenings that stay light and playable until 930pm or so. Typically it doesnt get truly dark till 10 or 1015pm. Yes, it’s light again at 5am so sleep well:)

For the last 2 years, Ive given my local golf course/ski resort roughly $450 so my 2 sons and I can golf on the cheap in the evenings at one of the finest public/private courses in the U.S.

I can work (or whatever) all day, come home and have dinner and still have time for 9 holes with my boys at the most gorgeous time of day….when everyone else is apparently watching American Idol or similar. It’s a great way to wind down and spend some great walk, golf and chat time with the boys at the end of the day.

Despite this obvious pleasure, and the revenue gained at a time of day when most golf courses are in expense mode, the resort’s marketing/sales staff insists on making me work to give them my money. Again I ask…Why?

They have my mailing address, email and phone number. They don’t use it.

I get no mailer in January asking me if I want to renew.

I get no email asking me to click on this link to place a secure twilight pass order on their web site.

I get no phone call from a minimum wage salesperson asking for my renewal.

I get no correspondence after tourist season, asking me if I want to take advantage of the after-peak specials for locals (as if there are some).

Knowing full well that the price goes up if I wait too long, I email the golf shop and the resort sales director in January, innocently asking if my order form was lost in the mail. Weeks go by without a reply. Im guessing these are the same people who would stop enjoying a sizzling Ruth’s Chris in mid-bite if their phone rang.

Finally, I break down and make the call to the golf shop. The golf pro answers and just like last year, I tell him that I didnt get an invite/reminder/order form for a twilight pass. We’ve danced this dance before. He takes my name, says he’ll honor the early bird price that ended Feb 1 and will mail me an order form. I thank him and think to myself, “At least the golf pro gets it”.

When the tourists aren’t around from March-June and September to November, guess who rents carts, buys malt beverages and buys food at the snack bar and brings their family and friends to their restaurant? You got it: locals.

Im guessing they don’t mail order forms to anyone and have no idea how successful their twilight program is.

What makes the Sun come up?

Ive been reading Jonathan Schwartz’s blog lately (he is the CTO of Sun, or something like that, such attention to detail).

As you would expect, it is written with a pretty narrow view of the world (with the Sun at the center of the universe, so to speak). I dont mind that given the source, but it is regularly colored with a fair amount of comments that sound as if they are coming from a cocky, self-serving, slam-other-vendors-cuz-its-all-Ive-got PR hack – and I think I know better. Im not sure he realizes how it comes off, but thats his problem.

The tone of it has me pretty close to bailing out on it because Im really not getting anything positive out of it and I dont need the negativity.

Today was a bright spot, as he discussed their recent financial performance. He mentioned the 11 words that are supposed to motivate and guide Sun’s staff.

They are in 5 sentences, which are:

1. Make money
2. Grow
3. Re-enlist champions
4. Leverage our partners
5. Simplify our business

Not a bad list, though I found it interesting that there is nothing there that is explicitly about the customer. Hello?