What a palaver! On rubber balls, customer service and spam

I can see it all so clearly. Over the past decade, hosting companies and other internet service providers have been building their businesses and implementing appropriate customer service mechanisms. In general this has followed a 3-tier approach:

– web based self-service – for the standard stuff

– email – for the non-standard stuff (or things they don’t want you to do so much, like leaving)

– phone – for the more complicated stuff

Phone support can be slow and laborious, in some ways deliberately causing the punter to opt for one of the other two mechanisms. Bottom line: its not perfect, but it works.

Or worked. Over the past few days I’ve been trying to communicate with Verio to transfer a domain. Verio’s fine, I just wanted to consolidate down the number of hosting companies I used, and they got the short straw. But phew – trying to work with them on email was like trying to throw rubber balls through a very small hole, ten feet away! First, it didn’t help that they don’t make their email address for this sort of thing particularly obvious (there’s a list at the bottom). Second, the amount of spam protection on these email addresses is just prohibitive. I must have gone through ten combinations of email sources, addresses and subjects before I finally managed to get a message through. Even once I’d done that, I was asked for more information and I had to do it all again…

I’ve got there in the end, but I took away a number of thoughts. The first was that what was initiallly a workable model – the three-stage approach above – has become unworkable due to the late addition of Spam protection – and such companies need to rethink it. Second, with my analyst hat on, it is a clear example of how security needs to be about business risk management and not just “block that nasty email”, IT risk avoidance.

The business risk in this case of course, is that customers get peed off and go somewhere else.

Here’s those emails – you wouldn’t guess them!

domreg@verio-hosting.net; domains@ntteuropeonline.co.uk; shared_support@ntteuropeonline.co.uk; support@ntteuropeonline.co.uk

The tip (which I got by phone, ironically) was to put the web site address in question as the subject, which overrode the spam filter – you have to do this every time you mail them, don’t just hit reply and expect Re:whatever to get through. Finally, try to mail from the registered email address for the account administrator, otherwise they’ll just ask you to do it all again.

What a palaver! On rubber balls, customer service and spam

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