Monday, July 13, 2009

Customer Service Makes a Comeback at IX Web Hosting

I recently talked with Fathi Said, CEO of IX Web Hosting, about creating a “Wow! Customer Service Experience.” It’s no secret that IX Web Hosting, which helps small and mid-size businesses establish an online presence, has had a bit of a bumpy ride in the last few years.

Slow servers. Sporadic backups. Frequent downtimes. Lackluster customer service. Admittedly true to some degree at one point in time.

But because the technology arena is famous for great comeback stories, I wanted to hear this one -- and I think you will, too.

Ben: So you want to transform IX Web Hosting and “build a second-to-none IX customer experience.” What happened that made you take a good look at customer service and what do the changes at IX mean for small- and medium-sized businesses?

Fathi: Let me start by saying that many of our customers are thrilled with the work we’ve done for them in the past and are anticipating the great things we’ll do next. And we’re grateful for our customers and their loyal support. But, as you know, some have experienced slow server problems that were, understandably, frustrating. As a company we had some growing pains that, unfortunately, interrupted the level of service we’re committed to providing. We’re truly sorry for that. But we’ve listened to our customers and developed a plan that will include the introduction of sweeping changes to improve our service.

Ben: Looking back, there were certainly some positive things that happened, as well. What were some of IX Hosting’s milestone moments over the past couple of years?

Fathi: I’m happy to report that we’ve accomplished three key success metrics. First, we deployed IronPort anti-spam and anti-virus filtering to our entire customer base, which was a very expensive project, but well worth it. This eliminated 99.9 percent of all spam and virus emails received to our customers’ domains and created a significant uptime improvement.

Second, we dramatically accelerated our database-related servers (all types of SQL) through improved “abuse” management and massive hardware upgrades. Today’s customers experience expedient and stable database connections.

Third, we now operate our data center out of our own state-of-the-art, 20,000-square-foot facility in Columbus, Ohio. We’re connected with Tier 1 Premium Bandwidth only at 5gbit/s (from Sprint and Qwest). At some data centers, you’ll find “cheap bandwidth,” resulting in longer loading times. These delays are hardly noticeable when you test for them yourself, but as long as they exist, sites will lose visitors. But not with IX. At our facility, we won’t allow mediocre fiber optics. Our industry-grade true Tier 3/4 data space can house over 10,000 servers, all self-managed and employee-owned. I’m so proud of our data center that I invite any of our customers to come for a tour.

Ben: Sounds like you’ve been busy. Talk to me about your new goal of maintaining near-perfect server uptime.

Fathi: Customer service and server performance are key for us. By year’s end, we’ll upgrade our entire web hosting infrastructure and put an end to virtually all service-related issues. While I can’t promise 100 percent uptime, it’s certainly what we’re shooting for. We’re introducing Imperia, an “intelligent cloud” hosting environment, which means that our customers’ web sites, databases and email services will be hosted not on one server, but on hundreds or thousands, all at the same time. You could theoretically turn off half our data center or take an axe to the server and it would be back online within seconds or not go down at all. But, please, don’t take an axe to any server!

Ben: Given that customer service is your top priority now, tell me what else IX Hosting is doing to make the tech life easier for small and medium businesses.

Fathi: For starters, we have an in-house team developing a web site management control panel featuring a user-friendly interface. We’re also replacing ALL of our existing hardware with brand new blade servers, centralized storage and a fiber-channel switching architecture. Ben, we’re making a multimillion-dollar investment into our networking and server infrastructure that will make our customers’ web sites load faster than any dedicated server ever could. If you were to rent an entire server and all it hosted was your web site, it would load your site slow as molasses compared to how fast your site will load on ours. And, we’re starting a special Imperia VIP Membership. Customers who join will help us test and optimize the new platform. We’ll share top-secret development material with VIP members, solicit their feedback and give them early access to new releases. As you can tell, I’m really excited about involving our customers in our company-wide improvements.

Ben: Let’s talk specifically about your new customer service model. What is it and what does it look like?

Fathi: As I said, we’re wholly committed to delivering amazing customer service. In fact, we call it the IX Wow! Customer Service Experience. Our customer service team is dedicated to delivering Wow! every time a customer calls, emails, chats, tweets, IMs, Skypes, visits or posts a comment on our blog or Facebook page. Every customer gets their own “Personal Hero,” which is a personal, accountable contact at our company who will be responsible for ensuring satisfaction at all times. Customers will know their Personal Hero by name and, in turn, their Personal Hero will know everything about them and their web site. He or she will be “heroically interested” in what the customer is trying to achieve and what obstacles they’re facing so that he or she can blow them away. And every one of them will do everything in their “Hero Special Powers” to make the customer’s web site successful.

Ben: And as part of the Wow! Customer Service Experience, you’re leveraging technology and social media, too?

Fathi: Of course. Our company blog will soon be filled with stuff to help grow a web site, increase traffic and eXplode Sales. Our status blog will feature posts and comments about any current and past service issues that warrant special attention. We’ll also have a customer forum and comm-YOU-nity, which is a place of vivid discussion among all of our customers and Personal Heroes. We’ll be talking a lot about how to use a web site to its fullest capacity. Our customer wiki is a place that customers and their Heroes will co-create. Any content worth mentioning can published here and shared among our entire customer base or the world, for that matter. Of course, anyone can follow us on Twitter and become a fan or friend on Facebook. Our Army of Heroes will soon appear e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e ...

Ben: It sounds like you’re looking for a lot more quality interaction with your customers. What are your plans for soliciting their feedback and how will you incorporate that feedback into the business?

Fathi: Our goal is to make our customers’ success our only focus. And one of the ways we’re doing that is through our Customer Advisory Board. Even with our Personal Heroes, it’s possible that we could still miss what’s important to our customers so we want to have a sure-fire way to listen to their feedback and stay in touch. We’re also very open to face-to-face meetings or just hanging out with our customers, either in our offices or on the road. We’re excited to dialogue about all kinds of things, including how to build a web site that sells, how to get a web site listed on popular search engines like Google, how to successfully advertise online, how to benefit from an affiliate program, how a web site can advance a career, how to use social marketing and word-of-mouth marketing, how to integrate forums, wikis, blogs and other interactive community elements, and well, as you can see, this list could go on forever! The point is that we can help small- to medium-size businesses achieve the things they want to achieve through their web sites. And we’re more com


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July 25, 2009 at 11:15 AM  

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