Selecting a Hosting Provider – Go for a Biggie or a Smaller Provider?

big-or-small-hosting-provider

Numerous articles have been written on selecting a web hosting provider based on your requirements. A quick Google search throws hundreds of such articles mentioning various parameters that one should consider before finalizing a web host. So why one more on the same subject?? Well, because it’s a different point of view.

Most of these articles are focused on what a provider offers and what you need, but don’t consider points listed below. Most people, when searching for a hosting company, would just look at the offerings from some of the “big guys” in hosting and decide to go with one of them assuming that the selected hosting provider is the best choice based on plans and pricing. There would be another set of people who would just look for cheap or unlimited plans offered by small to medium hosting providers. Is it only the big name, cheap and unlimited plans that one should look for? Not really! This article throws up some points that aren’t so obvious but are extremely important while selecting a hosting provider as these would have a direct impact on the longevity of your tenure with the provider and overall customer satisfaction.

1. Number of support instances per month and ways to contact support: This is probably the only area which has been touched upon in other articles over the internet and is listed here just because this is a key consideration that most people / organizations would evaluate before selecting a hosting provider. Your hosting provider needs to give multiple channels of communication and shouldn’t limit number of support instances you are allowed to create. You need to carefully review the Support SLA in order to ensure that there isn’t any fine print about the number of tickets you can create or support chats you can initiate or support calls you can make per month. Typically, initial few months with a new hosting provider are support intensive and these limits, if applied, can prove to be extremely irritating for you while you are trying to iron out the initial teething problems and may eventually push you to look for another hosting provider. Availability of support team through various communication channels throughout the year, 24x7x365, is extremely important. Some hosting companies offer special support plans at a cost for clients that are willing to pay extra for getting priority support. They may have separate teams for providing such paid support, but one can’t be 100% sure about that; and if that’s not the case, then the paid support clients would always get higher priority affecting the response time and quality for clients that are using free support.

2. Processes implemented: Definition and implementation of processes shows maturity of the hosting organization which also assures you that they know their stuff. A number of hosting providers boast about the processes they have implemented in order to improve support infrastructure and overall customer experience. Processes play a vital role in stabilizing the operations of billing, support, NOC and other teams within a hosting organization. You may be able to get information about the typical processes followed by a hosting provider through the sales team and you should find that out before finalizing a provider. You would come across various processes that the hosting provider would ask you to follow when you are dealing with the support or billing team, as these are the two teams which you would need to contact most frequently. You should also check the SLAs to understand the standard response times from each department, if mentioned specifically, or generic response time. It’s possible that the hosting provider may have inter-departmental processes but may not have any process for its clients to interact with the support or other teams; which should be fine with most customers.

3. “Customer first” OR “Processes first”: This point could have been covered in the above, but has been listed separately as this looks at the other side of the coin, i.e. how processes may affect you when you just don’t have time to follow them. It’s great to have a provider who has standard processes for each type of interaction, but at the same time, the provider should also be willing to accept diversion from the processes in order to help a client. There would be situations when you just can’t go through a process set by your provider and in such cases, the processes would be a major turn-off. You may face situations when you need immediate support and don’t have time to create support ticket, or need some assistance from billing team but can’t create a billing request through the specified process. In these situations, is your cheap offshore dedicated servers hosting provider willing to help you first or just points you to the process and declines to help you unless you follow the process?? Your hosting provider needs to be ready to go that “extra mile” in such situations and you need to select a hosting provider that is willing to do so. In most cases, the larger the size of your hosting provider, the tougher it would be to bypass the processes, and hence bigger may not always prove to be better.

4. “One of thousands” OR “One of few”: Are you going to be one of a few thousand important clients or one of a few important clients? You would face this dilemma in cases where you need a customized hosting solution. You would send out your requirements to a number of hosting providers, large and small alike, and they would come back to you with impressive proposals. Those proposals boast about their support, their infrastructure, their experience and expertise in hosting, and in some instances, case studies showing similar experience. It is always great to know that the hosting provider you are considering has already given similar setup to a number of clients but the question would be – are those clients still with the provider and are they happy with the service? If your hosting provider has given case studies, you should ask for contact details of one or two such clients whom you can get in touch with to get a firsthand view of the services and quality thereof, given by the hosting provider. The sales person may also tell you that they have a number of similar clients who may fall in the “large clients” category for that hosting provider. You need to find out that number – how many large clients does that provider have and how many account managers are supporting such large clients? If the sales person tells you that they have thousands such clients and it turns out that there aren’t too many account managers to handle them, then you need to step back and think for a while about the quality of service that you would get in situations when you need them most. Ideally you would be in a better position when you are “one of few large clients” as compared to being “one of a few thousand” large clients. So, look for that subtle message that the sales person may give you (unknowingly) during your interaction.

5. Accessibility of Senior Management: Although you should never think of getting into a situation when you actually need to escalate something to the senior management / CXOs of the hosting company you choose, but, you should at least be aware of the escalation process. In most cases, accessibility of senior management is directly proportional to the size of an organization; there can certainly be exceptions to this though. The hosting provider should give you easy option to escalate your concerns / complaints to the senior management without going through the first level operators. Such options are generally given through feedback tickets, emailing the senior management through the website, giving names and designations of senior management members on the website, sales person mentioning manager’s name and contact details in signature etc. If you don’t see any of these, you should ask for them before you sign up. If the organization isn’t willing to provide these details, then its best to pass such a provider as that generally points to the level of importance the senior management gives to its existing / prospective customers.

You should try to find these details during your interaction with the sales team and then take an informed decision. In most cases, you may find that the mid-sized hosting providers are best placed to give you the quality service and that importance which you need when you are looking for support or quick turnaround. Some of the large hosting providers are also known for great customer support but may turn out to be costlier than mid-sized providers. Although other “typical” hosting comparison points are important, evaluating the above points may eventually turn out to be the key considerations for making or breaking your relationship with a hosting provider.

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