10 years ago I got burned by my host. Almost without warning, they went out of business – I didn’t have a whole lot of time to evaluate who I
wanted to move to, so I did some quick Googling. Well, actually, I didn’t Google it. At that time Alta-Vista would have been the major search engine, and saying I Alta-Vista’ed it doesn’t sound quite right.
Anyway, a hasty selection was made, and away I went. At this point it was the second host I had to move from – the previous one I fired due to downtime problems. DreamHost was a bit different back then… now, $8.95 buys you unlimited everything in a shared hosting environment (cheap, but it’s still a shared hosting environment.) Back then, $9.95 bought you 150 Mb of disk space and 20 Gb of transfer space, along with quite a few other limitations.
But, honestly, it was one of the better price -vs- performance places I had found, so I ran with it.
A bit over 10 years later, I’m glad I did.
As DreamHost grew, I managed to find a few good ways to improve my service level for next to nothing. The $9.95 / mo., Level 1 account I had ended up upgraded to a $39.99 / mo. Level 3 “Code Monster” account for free, giving me extra goodies for the original $9.95. I stuck with that a while, and gnashed my teeth from time to time when the server acted a little slow. Though, DreamHost had an interesting trick – even with the free upgrade I got, ever month my account was being credited with more disk space and more transfer. How cool – a company that rewards users for sticking with them!
When they introduced the VPS (Virtual Private Server) setups, I jumped at it, and loved the improvements. It was faster, and had better storage and bandwidth. Not bad, though now if you look at a shared server account it’s completely “unlimited”.
Before my next upgrade happened, DreamHost started hitting some bumps, around 2006 – 2007 range. From time to time the mail server was down, or the webserver, or just the (incredibly important) MySQL server. DreamHost seemed to be cracking. I had fired one host already because of such problems, but two things happened:
1) They rewarded customers. That’s pretty rare, really. Most companies might reward NEW customers, but not existing ones – once they have your money, why try and give you more stuff?
2) Customer service was good. They weren’t amazingly fast at answering messages (no host I’ve ever dealt with is fast with answering messages. I’ve seen some “We’ll look into that” type responses from other hosts before, but that’s just putting you off in the queue – their response time for actually fixing an issue was about the same as DreamHosts.) But they were polite, thorough, and generally did a very effective job.
I stuck with it. That last part about doing an effective job? That was rare for a while with hosting companies. Heck, POLITE was rare for quite a while!
I started telling customers about DreamHost. I do keep my own hosting environment, but there’s a number of customers who would rather handle it themselves. So, I give them a quick primer on how to use DreamHost’s control panel, and it was simple enough they never needed me again. Which was a big change for some customers that were struggling with obsolete versions of CPanel (a popular control panel system for hosting environments) – they LIKED DreamHost’s panel!
Then, this last year I took the plunge: I moved to my own dedicated server. Best decision ever, for me, even if it did cost me quite a bit more per month than my VPS setup. My own machine setting there, with my own resources that I didn’t have to share with other customers, and I still had their support people behind it. Groovy. This helped me improve my presence – see, I was always too cheep to slide the resources slider to a higher number (VPS setups let you change how much you spend per month on the fly. Increase your resources, for instance, and a slow WordPress based site suddenly gets a serious increase in responsiveness. But it costs money.) With the dedicated server it cost me more, but I knew how much it would be every month, and I didn’t have to have debates with myself over if I was going to spend an extra $10 / mo. to move the slider another notch!
Around they same time they began a few projects to improve their network and uptime, plus apparently some more projects that would give DreamHost a whole lot of neat new options to much bigger developments. I’ll get into those in a minute.
I know of a number of quality hosting companies. RackSpace, HostGator (Hi, MadHatter McGinnis!), and quite a few others are good. But, for me, DreamHost has been pretty good on a consistent basis over the last 10 years. When I look at the downtime I took for a while, I’m still not happy about it, but sticking there seemed to have paid off in the end: they’ve managed to become a very, very solid hosting company.
Then they started making things even cooler after my dedicated server. One-click CloudFlare integration was a cool idea, and it saved me from having to jump through any hoops to setup some powerful caching for WordPress based sites. Then Railgun implementation on top of that (Railgun is a fast way for CloudFlare CDN to get updates about dynamic content, speeding up the process of updating the cache.)
Then came DreamObjects, which might end up being the right product at the right time. Not long after they released their cloud based storage system a company I deal with often had an idea, and pitched it to me. I had turned them on to DreamHost in the first place, so when I did the writeup for their project that required cloud based storage (something I never thought I’d have to deal with!), I made sure they knew DreamHost was providing the server, and they were happy to hear they weren’t going to have to go anywhere else to get services! (And, when that project ships, I’ll finally write a Project Blog entry about the whole process, from the tech writeup to actual implementation. It’s fun!)
So what takeaways are there from this article? What is it that can keep a customer, even when things aren’t going right?
- Good service. Be polite. Don’t blow people off. Don’t let the customer tick you off. And most of all, make it happen. (BTW: All three of the hosting providers I have mentioned – DreamHost, RackSpace, and HostGator – are all noted for having good, polite customer service that gets the job done.)
- Reward your customers. A one time discount for signing up is nice, but it’s going to be forgotten. When they were giving me extra bandwidth and storage every month for being a customer back when it was limited, that’s a great way to remind me every month that they wanted to KEEP me as a customer.
- Have your customers do some of the marketing, and reward them. DreamHost (and others) have a nice system of rewards – when you refer someone to them, and they sign up, you get a kickback. And, even better, you continue to get kickbacks from the new customer as they pay their monthly bill! I don’t get enormous kickbacks from it or anything, but it’s nice that I get to defray costs from time to time.
- Communicate with your customers. When DreamHost has had downtime events, they didn’t hide it. The last one they had was rather interesting: the building they were in lost power. No problem, it has a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) – not their UPS, but the building’s UPS. Unfortunately, the UPS was interrupted by a bad mechanical switch. Oh, and so was the backup UPS. And when it did come back online, it fried both of the routers. They ended up with a whole string of troubles in their LA hosting location (they have three locations.) How do I know all that? They told me, and anyone else who bothered to read their status updates. I’ve also seen them mention their problems in their monthly newsletters, too. They don’t hid it when they have a problem. The previous two hosts I had did. In fact, one would deny there had ever been a problem.
- Keep improving. Just because you’ve got a solid number of customers doesn’t mean you should let yourself get stagnant. DreamHost made a lot of good decisions that helped customers have a better experience (and, some of those also came back to DreamHost – one-click CloudFlare implementations meant that their servers would take just a bit less traffic, and more of it would be sent through CloudFlare instead!) They also have been improving their network (they just got through tonight with their final major upgrade in their current upgrade series) and providing pathways to new technologies, like cloud based storage and cloud based computing.
None of those should be a mystery for a successful business. But, how many companies to I encounter that fail in at least one of those categories? Way too many. More of them fail in at least three categories than succeed in at least three categories.
If you are looking for some hosting space for a new website (or moving your old website from someplace like GoDaddy. Please, PLEASE, if you use GoDaddy, ditch them), I do have some discount codes for ya 🙂 And, yep, I get some kickbacks from them.
First, if you don’t care about any of the rewards below, you could just click here, and I get a kickback if you sign up. Seriously though, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t rather have the freebie stuff? Anyway, when you sign up, just use the following codes:
DAVISGIVESDOMAIN – gives you a $10 discount on one year of hosting, or $20 on two years of hosting, plus an extra free (for life) domain name
DAVISGIVES – gives you a $50 discount off of one year of hosting!
There ya go – free stuff 🙂
Davis Ray Sickmon, Jr
Midnight Ryder Technologies