by Joe Pawlikowski
How much time and effort did you put into choosing your first web host? If you’re like many bloggers, the answer is “not a lot.” With so many web hosts offering cheap introductory packages, it seems as though you could choose any one of them and have the same experience. Unfortunately, as seasoned bloggers will tell you, this simply is not the case. Choosing a web host is an important decision that can affect the future of your blog.
There are plenty of factors to consider when choosing a web host. What’s their pricing like? Do they offer easy server upgrades when you require them? What kind of bandwidth limitations do they have? What types of servers do they employ? These are all fairly important questions, but none is as important as customer service. Unfortunately, customer service is the most difficult factor to assess when choosing a web host.
Why customer service trumps the rest
The technical aspects of a web host will affect your experience. There is no denying that. You should be familiar with the different types of web hosting: shared hosting, VPN, VPS, dedicated hosting, etc. You should know what represents an adequate amount of bandwidth for your purposes. You should understand how much RAM your site will require. You can even pore over every aspect of the host’s data center information, but none of it will matter if you’re getting poor customer service.
Customer service is your liaison. It is your ambassador. It is through their doors that you gain access to technical support and sales departments. Essentially, they are the gatekeepers. If you need help, they are your first point of contact. If your host has poor customer service, you’re in for trouble. Calls might not get routed to proper departments. Issues might go unresolved, because the right people aren’t made aware of the situation.
That is to say, the best data centers in the world can’t make up for poor customer service. What good are great specs if all you encounter along the way is problems?
How to determine customer service quality
Unfortunately, it is difficult to definitively determine a host’s customer service quality before trying them out. The quality of a customer service department is something you mostly learn through experience. Still, you can do a few things to get a reasonable idea of how well a host’s customer service department functions.
Call them yourself. You won’t accomplish much, since you’re not a customer. But you can still find one important factor: does a human being answer the phone? If so, you’re on the right track. If it’s an automated menu, you might want to reconsider. That signals a smaller customer service department.
Ask others. The best way to get any information about a web host is by asking people who use them. Ask any bloggers weyou know what they think about their host’s customer service. You can even email certain bloggers you don’t know and ask. Most are forthcoming with such information.
Read reviews. This is tricky. A lot of bad reviews doesn’t necessarily mean a bad experience. People are more apt to leave a negative review for a poor experience then they are to leave a positive review for a good one. Use a strict filter for reviews. If they’re well-written and express the problem well, there might be a problem. If they’re all poorly written and seem like user problems and not host problems, you might have a winner.
Prioritizing the deciding factors
While customer service should be your first priority, it might not be the first thing you check. In fact, it might be the last factor. After all, you want to pick from a wide selection of viable hosts. So you can use other factors to create a shortlist, and then determine which host you’ll use by factoring in customer service. For instance, you could filter your choice of hosts by looking at factors in this order:
1. Price. Everyone has a budget. Some hosts, no matter how quality, will be out of your price range. Start by finding ones that you can afford.
2. Upgrade plans. You’re not just buying hosting for now; you’re buying it for your future as well. Choosing a host that allows for easy server upgrades are preferable. You can potentially stick with them for years and years as your site grows.
3. Technical specs. This is where you figure out if the available RAM and bandwidth fit your needs. Again, checking the higher-tiered plans helps here, so you can figure out if you can upgrade with this host.
4. Customer service. Once you’ve weeded out the hosts that don’t work for pricing, upgrades, and technical specs, you can rank the remaining hosts by customer service quality. It can easily make the difference between two seemingly equal hosts.
Just remember: it’s people who bring you service. You might be using servers in data centers, but it’s the people who make it all possible. That’s why it’s most important to make sure that your web host has the best people in its customer service department. They are your gateway to the technical end.