Around this time last year, I added a blog post to the web site of my hosting business. Around 12 months later, this one post bought in 10 new customers within one week and more are still trickling in.
10 customers may not sound a lot but as a one-person business, using a recurring business model, those 10 customers are going to bring me in quite a bit of income over the next few years. Plus, they are hosting customers and how often do you change web hosts? Every five, maybe every 10 years? They are going to stick around for a long time.
It all started in October 2018. We took on a new customer who wanted to move their domain name and hosting over to us. Moving their web site and e-mails was fairly easy but there was no way to move the domain name. Their previous host’s web site did not have the option to transfer the domain so I contacted their customer support department.
They didn’t have a phone number to call or even an e-mail address. There was a support system in the customer’s account though, allowing you to leave a request and track its progress. We logged the request and waited a week. We hadn’t heard back so we updated the request with a new note. A week passed, a month passed until three months later, I checked again and the support request had been closed.
There was no response and they had not released the domain like we asked them to. They had read the request, ignored it and closed it.
This sort of customer service really annoys me. Not only is it terrible for their own business (as we will see later), it also leaves customers in an awful position.
Almost every business needs and does have a web site along with e-mail accounts but more often than not, they don’t really understand how things work and have no idea how to or the confidence to switch to another hosting company, if they wanted to.
After seeing the closed support ticket, part of me saw red and was determined to help my customer and then do what we could to help others in the same situation.
First, we forced the move of the domain name from the current register over to us, meaning our new customer had complete control over their domain name. We were able to do this by contacting Nominet and after providing some ID and paying a small fee, they moved the domain over to us. The score is now one to us and zero to the old hosting company!
Wolves, sheep and sheep dogs
Like everyone, I cannot stand poor customer service but by not helping customers at all, not even responding to a support request but just closing it, that’s holding customers hostage. Without specialist knowledge of how hosting and domain registrations work, the majority of the company’s customers had no choice but to keep paying their annual subscription and stay put.
That’s why I was determined to find and help others in the same situation.
Someone recently told me that there are three types of people in the world. There are sheep, who are weak. There are wolves, who are stronger and bully the sheep. Then there are sheepdogs, who protect the sheep.
I decided to be a sheepdog and help protect the vulnerable customers and give them a way out.
It’s fairly easy to find a list of all customers that a hosting company has and simple enough to find all of their contact details so I got started and sent a marketing e-mail to as many customers as I could find.
I was careful not to indicate that I knew that they were customers of this particular company but I did speak about ‘poor customer service’ and how easy we made it to move hosts if they wanted to.
After the e-mail went out, we were contacted by a few customers fairly quickly and helped them migrate over to us. I also had some customers save my email and get in touch months later, when their contract was due to renew.
Not bad, I thought at the time. I’ve helped more people ‘escape’, helping them out and also reducing the money that the hosting company is making but I still wanted to do more.
Some people don’t receive marketing emails due to spam filters. Others simply ignore them or discard them immediately because they see what it is, a marketing e-mail. However, by chance I then came across another technique that was a slow burner but eventually led to many more customers jumping ship and moving over to me.
Sitting, waiting, wishing
From doing online research about the hosting company, I was able to track down the owner, some of his other online businesses and addresses but most importantly, I found lots of reviews on the company’s TrustPilot review page and that made me realise that the top search results for this company were:
- Their own web site (obviously)
- The review site
- Their Companies House page
That was about it. This meant that I could quickly write a blog post, on my site, giving customers some information on how to move their domain / hosting away from them and that page would quickly appear near the top of the rankings. So that’s what I did.
The page quickly came up the rankings and from my monitoring tools, I could see a steady stream of people visiting the new page on my site.
Now, I don’t normally like to talk negatively about other companies and I don’t think that’s generally a good way to do business. As in life, talking other people down to push yourself up gives nothing but short term benefits, if anything at all. That said, this company were ignoring their customers to the point of trapping them into services and contracts that they did not want or least did not want with them. They were relying on people’s fears and lack of specialist knowledge to force them into paying for another year of ‘service’. Due to that, I did not mind putting up a blog post that did not put the company down but did give their customers an easy ‘out’ if they wanted it.
Thanks to the blog post, some people started to get in touch but I was lucky if one every two months called and decided to move over to me. That was until disaster struck.
Having written my blog post over a year ago and allowed it to rank nicely for the other company’s name, I should have realised what was going on one Friday when three of their customers got in touch one after the other. I did not think much of it until speaking to the third customer when I made some off hand comment about them being the third person today that I have had wanting to move over to me, away from them. The lady explained that their e-mails and web site had been down for over 24 hours, and the hosting company were not responding to support requests.
24 hours is a long time to be without your business web site and e-mail accounts so customers were rightly looking for someone who could help them move and move them quickly.
Everyone was doing the same thing, jumping on to Google and asking how to move their domain from this company. My blog post was coming top of the search results and naturally people started getting in touch.
I started moving those customers over that day. A few more enquiries came in over the weekend and after the issues continued into the following week, more and more people were desperate for help.
I worked 14 hour days most of that week just get everyone’s web sites and e-mails moved over. We didn’t know how long the problem would last although reputational damage was done by then and the customers were not going to go back. The main concern was that the problem, whatever it was, could get worse and people would lose complete access to their files and messages.
Fortunately I managed to retrieve everyone’s domain names, e-mails and web sites.
Eight days after the initial server outage, I was in the middle of transferring more customers when the company finally updated their site with a notice. It said that they were aware of a fault and that it should be resolved within 24 hours. Bafflingly though, weeks later they still have not responded to the support requests in the various customer accounts that I have been into. Their lack of basic customer service really confuses and irritates me.
Whilst I would never suggest criticising other businesses as a way of making yours look better, I do think that helping customers get out of awful, difficult and confusing situations is a good thing. I was careful not to criticise the company directly but I did need to get the message across that there are bad companies out there but equally there are plenty of good ones willing to help if they are asked to.
Since experiencing this and listening to the awful stories from customers that I’ve moved over, I decided to do a bit more digging on the review web site to try and find other examples of awful hosting companies.
I have found another ten with a similar number and type of reviews left by customers so I intend to write similar blog posts, get them ranking well and then wait...
I have agonised over whether to do this or not. I do not like the perception that I am just writing negative things to try and boost my own profits and to be clear, I’m not. I am doing it as the sheepdog, trying to protect others from companies that do not care about their customers or their problems.
I also considered the potential backlash from one of the companies if they see what I am doing. They could try doing something similar, writing a blog post about my company trying to trash my reputation. I cannot see that working though. The only reason my blog post worked was that people were looking for reasons to move away already and assuming I keep my customers happy, that will not be an issue.
I also do not rely on new customers finding me through Google (in that they search for me directly or a hosting company). New customers come from, in this example, searching another company’s name and finding me. Otherwise customers come from word of mouth referrals or e-mail marketing, neither of which will be affected by any attempt to disparage my company’s name on the internet.
This is not a long term strategy and overall not one that can be relied on to bring in a steady stream of customers. The reason is worked is that I was able to identify a company with awful customer service and in my mind, if they are neglecting their customers they are also likely to be neglecting their infrastructure.
I should not have been surprised when their systems failed but that’s the reason I was able to acquire so many customers in one go. It was a combination of long-term planning (writing the blog post and waiting a year, their systems going down and their slow response to the issues.
My point is you cannot build a business based on this strategy but what you can do is plant the seeds in order to help some people trapped in a similar situation in the future.