What do customers really want? Written by Alex Lekas
It sounds so easy, yet graveyard of business is littered with tombstones of companies that never found answer. Well, thatís not entirely true; some companies had answer, but couldnít articulate it in terms of products and services. Other firms had answers, too, but to questions that were not being asked. And, still others tried to re-define question in time of change for Internet services industry.
Determining what customers want sounds like such a cut-and-dried proposition, provided customers themselves know answer, and therein lies rub. Web hosting sounds so generic; anybody can do it and Internetís short history shows that almost everybody has tried. The industryís evolution and maturation have yielded dual results: weeding out of weaker companies and emergence of niche providers. Shared or dedicated? Windows or Linux? Fully managed or self-managed? Cookie-cutter solutions or build your own? No wonder customers are confused.
Of course, heart of confusion lies in industryís relative youth. Features that didnít even exist a few years ago are now industry standard. As hosting becomes more commoditized, customers have increasing access to basic plans that offer more for less. It's like anything else that evolves from amenity to necessity. Take cell phones, PDA's, even PCís as just a few examples; prices continue to drop while capabilities increase. At same time, customers understand difference between basic and premium services, and companies who get caught up in price automatically cut into their potential market share.
If price were sole consideration for every buying decision, no one would drive a luxury car, no one would have a plasma screen television, and no one would stay in a four-star hotel. Customers who want cell phone that has games, makes fries, tap dances, and stores music will pay for that capability; customers who want nothing more than a portable phone will pay for that. Same with hosting, which is why many providers cater to specific markets. With that in mind, one answer to title question is that there is no one answer, which is evident by what customers look for in shopping for a provider: ēHow much can I get for how little? ēI want ping, power, and pipe with self-management. ēI need a reseller program with profit margins and a provider that understands Iím more than a customer.
In each instance, value is a relative thing, and in each instance, there is an understood give and take between customer and provider: ēThe low-price leader usually offers a one-size-fits-all plan with limited support; curiously, most price-conscious customer frequently exacts heaviest support burden. ēThe discount dedicated server offers win-win of cheap bandwidth and cheap hardware. These solutions are usually un-managed, but customer who buys them typically needs little support anyway beyond global issues. ēResellers get industrial infrastructure at a discount rate, provider assumes resellers understand hosting, and both sides understand that problems are shared.
Often, a customerís wants boil down to a couple of things: getting what is being paid for, and someone to answer phone when it rings. It is easy to get caught up in technology of industry and forget that hosting is a service business. Think of how irritated you get when dealing when navigating myriad options of your phone companyís automated menu. But, what are you going to do about it? Unlike utilities, however, ISPís have no territorial monopoly meaning customers have options, especially customers who are unsatisfied. Letís assume for a moment that providers whoíve lasted this long already know this. They pay attention to what customers tell them, they respond to complaints and inquiries, they even incorporate good suggestions. Thatís one important step in survival but more than good phone etiquette is required in providing quality service; itís also about being able to offer customers what they want before they have to ask for it. Of course, before a service provider can know who its target is, it must first be clear about its own identity: should focus on increased automation or on value-added features, and is primary customer enterprise market or SME?
How to Choose a Web HostWritten by Matt Smith
Choosing a web hosting company to host your website isnít easy these days. There are literally thousands of web hosting companies to choose from, each offering different combinations of web space, bandwidth, extras (such as databases, asp, php, cgi, free scripts), and customer support. Some companies lure customers with extremely low prices on physical assets like space and bandwidth. In return, however, most customers of these extremely low-priced companies get poor Ė if any Ė customer and technical support. In hosting business, as with everything else, you usually get what you pay for.
So how do you determine web hosting company thatís right for your website? Having been in hosting business for several years, Iíve often had friends and acquaintances ask me, in so many words, this very question. I always suggest that they first sit down and simply write out what they think their website (whether for a company or personal) will need. Do they need a database? If so, what kind of database do they want, MySQL or something else? Likewise, do they need support for PHP, CGI, ASP, or some other programming language? If you have certain scripts youíd like to use on your website, these questions can be very important. Also think about exactly how much space your website is going to need Ė not necessarily right now, but perhaps five years down road after youíve expanded a bit. The same thing goes for bandwidth, or transfer. You want to secure enough space and bandwidth now so that you do not have to switch hosts, or pay a premium for extra services, in future.
On topic of bandwidth and storage space, there is an important financial lesson Iíd like to impart. Although you want to make sure you have enough of both for foreseeable future, you donít want to pay for lots and lots of bandwidth and storage space, month after month, that you will never actually use. For instance, there are many hosting companies out there who are now offering 5+ GB of space and perhaps 100 GB of bandwidth from $7 - $10 a month. This may seem like a pretty good deal. However, if you are only going to use perhaps 100 MB of space, and 10 GB of transfer, then you are wasting money! You can find a nice 500MB / 20GB plan for under $5 per month. This is where planning really comes into play; know how much space and bandwidth you will need before you go looking for a host.