Honesty, transparency can offset customer service disasters

Summary:In response to my caught-on-tape customer service nightmares involving T-Mobile, Ticketmaster, and Bank of America, several ZDNet readers asked that I not focus just on the negative and to look for some positive stories as well.  It's a good point given the overwhelming flood of negativity found in today's headlines -- be they in a newspaper, on a Web site, or on the Six O'Clock News.

In response to my caught-on-tape customer service nightmares involving T-Mobile, Ticketmaster, and Bank of America, several ZDNet readers asked that I not focus just on the negative and to look for some positive stories as well.  It's a good point given the overwhelming flood of negativity found in today's headlines -- be they in a newspaper, on a Web site, or on the Six O'Clock News. So, while I don't have a caught-on-tape episode of a great customer service experience, I found Josh Jones' account of what has been going wrong at the immensly popular hosting outfit Dreamhosters to be refreshingly blunt, apologetic, and accepting of accountability. 

I found the Josh Jones' blog post by way of a pointer from Robert Scoble.  Apparently, Dreamhost (an outfit I'm actually considering to host some Web sites) has had what can best be described as the perfect storm, a part of which had to do with the power shortages that came as a result of the current heat wave that's melting the country.  There a bit of "wrong place at the wrong time" in this saga; a case of really bad luck.  The blog post goes into hair-splitting detail about what went wrong, how Dreamhosters attempted to rectify the problems, and where thngs stand.

While I disagree with the way Dreamhost shows nothing but a fax number in the most obvious places on it's Web site (even after making email contact with the company's public relations officer, I was refused a phone call), Jones' attitude and use of a social technology like blogs to reach out not just to customers, but to anybody willing to listen, is the sort of attitude that I look for as a customer. As a side note, Dreamhost provides numerous electronic means for gaining access to technical support -- one of which is a wiki that's open to contributions form employees and customers alike (and another thing I discovered throught the wiki is that some of Dreamhost's support staff are available via IRC as well -- further covering for its lack a telephone-based path to a human). 

Sure, when it comes to Jones blog post, you could look at it both ways. On the one hand, blogging about a disaster (Jones' title for the post is "Anatomy of an ongoing disaster") at your company the way Jones did can be viewed as risky, perhaps drawing unwarranted attention to problems that the company wouldn't want prospective customers (like me) to notice.  On the other, you could argue it's just smart business since the blogosphere will crucify you for your disasters anyway.  Might as well get ahead of the problem (often referred to as spin control), right?

But even if Jones was getting ahead of the problem, the repeated occurance of conclusions like "this was our fault" is a level of candor I'm just not use to seeing from someone who was clearly in a position to enumerate the other reasons why things went wrong to the exclusion of his company's own failings. Wrote Jones in one part of his post:

It turned out the filer problem seemed to stem from the fact that we had one shelf of 300GB disks and one shelf of 150GB disks on it. Apparently they’re not supposed to be able to support this, or at least it’s a bad idea. So, this was entirely our fault. However, we did have a number of other filers we did this on, and we’d never had problems before. Nonetheless, we will never mix disk shelf types on a file server again.

Judging by the comments on Scoble's blog about Jones' openness, Dreamhost has some customers that are quite satisfied with the company's level of service and who apparently appreciate this sort of transparency.  A few aren't.  But as best as I can tell, this is one support story with a happy ending.

Topics: Software

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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