Web Hosting Obligations & Expectations – Are Customers Too Tolerant?

What is it about webhosting facilities that seems to make their customers that much more tolerant of outages, compared say to the phone network? When providers like Amazon Web Services and Joyent suffer availability issues for an hour or two, apparently customers using those cloud services accept it as ‘one of those things.’ Whereas a similar problem with a mobile phone operator may have those same customers scrambling to see which other company they can switch to. A number of things could possibly explain the phenomenon. But those things don’t always work the same way for your own customers – visitors to your web site who discover that all of a sudden it’s no longer there.

 Web Hosting Provider Transparency

Transparency here means owning up if an incident occurs, admitting responsibility as a web hosting provider and giving customers (website owners) realistic estimates of when services will be back to normal. Doing this can go a long way for web hosters to pacify website operators. It can also help those operators to pacify visitors and users of their sites. Being upfront and honest, making progress statements available, and having a designated expert point of contact for customers to talk to are all smart things to do in this case. Putting information on an associated Facebook page or sending out Tweets over Twitter can be good ways of showing customer you’re thinking of them and working to resolve issues as soon as possible.

“It’s New and Therefore More Likely to Fail”

The cloud is still relatively new, even if web hosting has been going on a little longer. However, the infrastructure is complicated and still evolving. Customers often rationalize web hosting (and to some extent website) outages after the fact by the newness of the technology, ‘teething problems’ and the like. On the other hand, HTML and SQL databases have now been around for some time. The simpler a web site is (which doesn’t mean that it is necessarily of any less value), the more it should work. If web hosting goes down, end-user web site users may not make any difference between the hosting platform and the individual website – and simply blame the website.

Higher Switching Costs

Compared to moving between mobile operators where you can even take your mobile number with you, switching from one web hosting provider to another is a major operation. To do it properly takes a total elapsed time of one or two weeks, with some heavy lifting in between to set up new environments and migrate data. So as web hosting customers, part of our tolerance may simply be due to the impression that there’s not much we can do about things anyway; unless the outage starts to last for days instead of hours. For website visitors however, it’s a different story. While loyalty and favorite sites may keep some visitors hanging on, for the rest, an alternative solution from a competitor is often just a click away. In other words, your website visitors may have zero switching costs and zero patience if your website fails.

What Can You Do as a Web Hosting Customer?

First, carefully select a web hosting provider with a good track record of availability (and of resolving any occasional glitch.) Secondly, build up as much visitor loyalty as you can now. If your website is unavailable, you’ll need that loyalty, and (hopefully) if your website is always available, good customer loyalty will give you an edge on your competitors. Thirdly, make a plan about how to migrate over to another web hosting facility in the event of serious problems of availability from your current provider. And test your plan on a regular basis. That way, even if you’re unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of a problem, you can still salvage as much of your own business as possible by knowing how to get started rapidly again somewhere else.