Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Tirade about Customer Service

And I thought we were bad.  I work for the Federal government with a small team of people who manage all the domain controllers for our agency (~500) [domain controllers are the big computers all the other computers in our agency have to talk to in order to verify a person's user ID--if that helps understand the term].  Anyway, our team was always worried that we aren't as smart as the people in private industry and that we aren't doing as good a job.  Our bosses worry about the same things because they keep going to private industry and paying contractors to tell them what we've been telling them for free all along.

Well, I've just had proof that not only are we smarter, but we're doing a better job, too, which really sort of shocks me because I always thought the Federal government had dreadful people and terrible customer support.  That's the popular view, and I've certainly run into a lot of employees who needed to be terminated--badly.

You may have noticed that my web site, email, and blog have been off the 'net for over two days.  That's because of my lovely--previous--web hosting company.  When I stopped getting mail two days ago and couldn't reach my web site, I called them.  They said they were having a server problem and didn't know when it would be back up.  I gave them 24 hours.  Still not back up.  Another 24 hours.  Not only were they not back up, but they wanted me to tell them how to run their business because apparently, they couldn't decide what to do.

Now, my small team (there were two of us at the time) in the Federal government did a whole-sale upgrade including installing new domain controller hardware (~500) AND changing the operating system AND domain structure [I know - all techno-geek gibberish] country-wide and other than the technical staff who helped us at some of our sites, the biggest question we got was:  "Didn't you say you were going to do an upgrade of some kind this weekend?" 

Yes, we did, and we did.  Thank you very much and have a nice day.

In other words, we did an entire forklift upgrade of our entire infrastructure for over 270 sites (including Puerto Rico and Manila) and almost no one--certainly no users--knew about it.  Not only that, we went to GREAT LENGTHS to let people know we were going to do it, just in case anything went wrong.  We had backup plans in case anything went wrong.  FYI:  We aren't allowed to have email systems go down for more than a few hours and certainly never for two days.  And we even have to let everyone know if we are going to patch the system JUST IN CASE anything goes wrong.  We communicate everything we do with our technical folks and users.

So, back to my story.
So, I call my web hosting service again.  It's now been two days.  There is no notification on their web site that they are having any technical issues.  No notification to their customers.  When I call there is no estimate of when the server I am on will be back up.  Excuse me?  The server I am on?  You guys only have one server, or what?  What is this?  Maw and Paw's Web Hosting Service?  Shoot, I have more computer equipment than that in my home!

So, you guys have never heard of backup and restore?  Where are your backup plans?  Do you HAVE ANY backup plans?

Keep in mind, I'm Joe User Customer here--I shouldn't even KNOW they have servers, or backups, much less be concerned about how many servers they have and/or which server I am on.  They are supposed to be providing me with a service.  I'm PAYING them for a service.  I want that service to be available. So, let's continue.

So, Mr. Web Hoster, you don't know when you can get my server back up?
Yes, Ms. Customer.  However, you can request that we move you to one of our new servers.
Excuse me?  And how would I know you even HAVE new servers?
And if you HAVE NEW SERVERS:  why the freakin' f*&ck*n% h@ll haven't you already moved me to one of them Why would you even IMAGINE that that is the kind of thing I should be forced to request?

Oh, Mr. Web Hoster, can you move me from my broken server to ONE THAT ACTUALLY WORKS?  I need to request this?  And I'm just left DOWN if I DON'T request it?  How is that service?

You see--it is NOT MY JOB to tell them WHICH SERVER TO HOST MY WEB ON.  That is THEIR JOB.  This should be totally transparent to me.  I pay to be hosted.  They host me on ONE OF THEIR SERVERS--and I don't know which server--just one of their (preferably) OPERATIONAL SERVERS. 

I should NOT have to tell them to MOVE MY WEB to an OPERATIONAL server instead of LEAVING IT ON A BROKEN SERVER THEY CAN'T GET BACK UP FOR DAYS.

And I should not have to explain this to them.
What we have here is bad customer service.  We have an organization that wants the customer to tell them how to run their business because they don't know how to run their business.  They apparently don't know what their business IS or what they are being paid to provide. 

Frankly, I don't care how they run their business and don't want to know. 

So, I found another web hosting service.  And guess what - I was back up and operational in 20 minutes.  That's right: 20 minutes.  This, right here, ought to tell you how freakin' simple it would have been for my original company to do the right thing and just move me to one of their operational servers without even telling me.  Properly done (and I've done it) it would have been totally transparent to me--all I would have known was that my web and email were working again, thank you very much. 

And here are the gory details on what I did to get back up when my previous company failed to provide me with the service I was paying for...

1)  I googled web hosting services.  I picked a comparison site that gave the "top ten" web hosting services.  I picked the number one company.  Time required - 2 Minutes.

2)  I went to the number one company and filled out their very brief form online to transfer my old web to their site.  Time required - 2 Minutes.

3)  I called my OLD web hosting company and got the information so I could transfer my domain name to my new web hosting company's name servers.  Time required - 5 Minutes (dealing with PEOPLE is always time consuming.  Yes, I'm a geek.)

4)  I got on and changed my domain name to use my new web hosting company's name servers.  Time required - 2 Minutes.

5)  I checked my Hotmail email for the confirmation and hosting information from my new company and printed it out.  Time required - 1 Minute.

6)  I published my web site to my new web hosting service.  Time required - 5 Minutes.

Total time required to get back up and running:  20 minutes.  I took an additional 1 minute to configure my email account to be the same as my previous one so my mail address would continue to work.  It worked and I started getting emails again from friends and associates immediately.

Now, if I could do that MOVING my entire web from one COMPANY to another, seems like my original company, if they knew what they were doing, could have moved me from one, non-operational server, to another, operational server and updated my host naming records (which they owned), and NOT LEFT ME DOWN FOR 48 HOURS.  Or they could have figured out how to properly use their backup and restore procedures--which apparently they don't know how to use.  (Not trying to run their business for them, of course, but good grief.)

In the Federal government, even when there were just two of us in our team to manage ~500 domain controllers with 250,000 users, we never had people down for that length of time.  I've never left users down that long in over 25 years in the computer field, and I've always notified people when there was even the CHANCE of downtime.

If this new web hosting company messes with me, I'm going to the next one listed by Google.  There are plenty of them out there.  I'm not taking this ANY MORE.  I've had it with poor management and worse customer service.  If I can do a better job with the massive incompetence of the Federal government and Congressional oversight squatting on my shoulders, then by George, some idiot in private industry ought to be able to do at least half as good.

Finally, I no longer think we--the Federal government--are not as smart or as customer-oriented as "private industry".  I think we're better.  I think we're a LOT better.

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