The “right” to use a hosting service and vindictivity.

Anybody who has looked at having a web site has likely found that there are thousands if not tens of thousands of hosting providers they can choose from.  It’s common knowledge as well that a customer can end the service whenever they wish should they simply no longer need it, outgrow it, or simply find a better deal elsewhere.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some providers that make it difficult at best and impossible at worse to leave and one that comes to mind is 1&1 Hosting (look it up, you will see).

The inverse of a customer leaving a provider is a provider discontinuing the service of a customer.  This can happen for a lot of reasons from terms of service violations (i.e. doing something your provider clearly states you cannot do) to the user’s account using too much resources (i.e. hosting a site that needs a dedicated server on a $5/month shared account) and everything in between.  There are situations where a provider may also feel that they are not the proper fit for the particular customer’s needs, and that is what causes me to write this tonight.

There have been a couple of occurrences over the last 5 years where my company has had a customer whose needs we simply were not able to fulfill adequately or at all.  In one case the user had no concept of what support we offer as a provider and what to expect.  The individual expected us to configure their mail clients on their computers for them, to make modifications to their site for them, and to do a great many tasks that we simply do not perform or provide.  We’re happy to advise as best we can, such as how the customer could configure their mail clients, how to modify their page, or who to get in contact with for support on those issues, but often that’s not enough.

The first instance, once we felt we were not the right provider for the customer’s needs, we informed them of this.  We refunded their money (in full) even though they had used the services and an extensive amount of support and provided them two weeks to find a new provider that they feel would better fit their needs.  We offered to assist them in moving their data to the new provider and to do anything we could to make it as painless as possible.  I think you may be surprised to find out what the response to this was… They were absolutely LIVID.

This customer became extremely aggressive immediately and made threats that they would ruin us all over the internet and write bad reviews, that we could not cancel their account.  Their reaction would be appropriate if we deleted their data, provided them no refund, and then ignored them but that was not the case.  Not only were we taking a complete loss on all time and effort invested into that customer, but we were refunding all funds paid to us and then still trying to help them further to get to a provider that would better fit their needs.  This did happen a couple of years ago, but a similar incident happened again today.

A particular customer, whom I will not name for privacy, on January 29th, 2013 for a regular shared hosting account.  On January 30th they opened a ticket reporting issues sending mail from our server and within 3 minutes of them opening their ticket, we advised them that they needed to turn on SMTP Authentication in their mail client to resolve the issue.  This customer continued to make update after update re-iterating the same issue while apparently ignoring our directions to turn on SMTP Authentication, complete with a link to documentation detailing how to do this in a majority of popular mail clients.  Once the customer finally followed our directions, their issue was resolved – which took 12 responses over two and a half hours.

On February 1st, 2013 the same customer opened a new ticket reporting that their sites were offline and that they could not access the control panel, email, or their web sites.  It turns out that the customer was blocked due to failed log-in attempts to our mail server.  Our servers are configured such that only so many failed log in attempts are permitted before an IP is blocked to prevent dictionary attacks against our users.  We informed the user that they would need to resolve the issue otherwise they would end up blocked again.

We tested our mail servers to ensure they were operating as expected even though our internal and external monitoring picked up nothing and we had no other reports of issues from other customers.  We found that the servers were working as they should, and advised the customer that they would need to straighten out their mail client configurations and that it wasn’t something we could help.  The customer did specifically say, “There are approx. 20 – 40 established email-addresses that are read and or downloaded by 2 iPhones , 1 iPad and 3 computers, by 8 or 9 diff. email clients.”

The customer continued to have failed log in attempts and became blocked again at which point I said to them, “Maybe it’s best if you simply find another provider. I’ll be happy to provide a full refund (less the domain, can’t refund domains) and a full backup of your account as well as time to relocate.”  In response they said, “that’s your answer … did you have a look of what might be wrong with my setup?” and I pasted a log of all of their log in failures and told them that was the issue.

Their next update was extremely aggressive and laden with sarcasm.  They did move to another provider where, apparently, they did not have issues and I was happy to hear this.  At this very moment I did provide them a full refund of their hosting fees.  I told them to have a wonderful evening and closed the ticket believing that now that they are on a new provider, have a refund, and everything is working for them there is nothing more for me to do.

The next update, I suppose, wasn’t extremely shocking.  I do my best not to ‘profile’ customers but after years in this industry working with individuals daily you tend to get an instinct as to how a particular customer will handle a particular situation.  My experience has taught me that the type of customer we are not a good fit for, such as this particular individual, will react aggressively to being asked to find an alternative provider and, unfortunately, I was correct.  Essentially this type of individual will spend their free time doing whatever they can to damage our company or the reputation of our company all because we gave them their money back and asked them to find another provider.

It’s unfortunate that the customers whose needs we cannot meet react so aggressively when we give them their money back and provide them time to find a new provider but, honestly, it’s the lesser of two evils.  This person, whose needs we obviously were not able to adequately meet, would have had a bad experience and, over a period of time, would have likely become very angry with us.  They wouldn’t have been happy, we know it – so why would we further that?  Why hold onto their money for a service that isn’t meeting their needs when they can use that money to buy service from a provider that will meet their needs?

Perhaps I’m wrong, but I thought a provider giving somebody their money back and allowing them time to find a new provider was about the nicest way a provider could let a customer go.

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2 thoughts on “The “right” to use a hosting service and vindictivity.

  1. It is unfortunate, and these kinds of experiences can ruin a day or sour motivation in general.

    From what you’ve said, and what we have experienced as a customer for several years, you and the team go above and beyond. Your level of patience and responsiveness in the most stressed of times have surprised and encouraged me to continue to recommend you to friends and colleagues.

    I can only imagine that your generosity of time can cause a strain on other parts of your life. While I’m just one person, and hopefully others respond here, know that you are making our lives and our businesses better and we’ve extremely thankful and lucky to have found you.

    Sincerely,
    One very satisfied customer.

  2. Frank,

    It is very unfortunate. In these situations it’s always a customer expecting us to solve a problem that we cannot solve and insisting upon it repeatedly while ignoring any and all advice provided. I am genuinely happy that they are at a provider that will fit their needs from this point forward.

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