I tried not to write this blog. I really did. But then I considered the merits of what has happened and I believe it to be a great case study of how not to treat your new, or existing, customers when something goes wrong, and then how to exacerbate the problem through the ineffective use of social media. So how do you lose customers in under 30 days? Ask Web Africa’s customer service department…
So what happened? What led us down this path of no return?
The story starts with a hosting company called Serve Hosting who we have been using for the last 7 odd years without any issues. They did what was expected of them, the service was really good when there were glitches, my websites stayed online and my emails worked. As a business they started small and got bigger over time and everything was great – until they decided to sell to Web Africa.
On 2 March 2016 all customers of Serve Hosting received an email from Web Africa welcoming us with, “We’re really excited to have you on board, and our team will make sure you get the same stellar service you’ve become accustomed to.” This was followed by, “The migration will only be done after hours, so you don’t have to worry about any downtime and our skilled engineers will be available to assist with any queries you may have. So rest assured that you’re in good hands.”
Again on the 14th of March we received an email stating “We know that moving can be stressful, but it’s our mission to make this an easy shift and to keep you well informed throughout.” My last communication with Web Africa came on Tuesday (29th March) saying, “We do expect some downtime, but rest assured that this will be kept to the bare minimum and our skilled engineers will be on hand to make sure that the migration runs smoothly.”
Now remember that we did not ask to become customers of Web Africa, we were thrown together unexpectedly. Now as someone who likes to give everyone a chance I waited to see what it would be like to be their customer. We were repeatedly assured that their skilled technicians would ensure the transfer would be smooth and that we would expect the same customer service as we had previously enjoyed under Serve (Ironic name come to think of it). Thus the service expectations have been set by their marketing department.
Web Africa’s first customer service mistake: Off to a rocky start.
The first technical issue occurred 2 weeks in. Our websites started acting strange due to an issue with the database and WordPress. To sort the issue out I contacted their live web support and had to wait 10 mins before I received an answer, and when it did come, I didn’t get much help from the person behind the line. Although he tried to be helpful he did not have the technical expertise needed to actually help. This was not what I was used to, when as a customer of Serve the support I experienced had technical expertise. Thus I demanded a call back from their technical support team and received one about 2 hours later, but again the person was unable to help and only assured me that the technicians were on it.
By the next morning the issue was rectified – an expectation on my part as far as service was concerned, they made the mistake and I expected them to fix it asap. That is not exceptional customer service – what might have been exceptional would have been a personal follow up email, phone call or SMS. Thus I had to find out myself that the issue was fixed.
Key takeaway: Because we did not choose to be with Web Africa, there was no relationship or trust between us yet. Because of this, the onus was on them to go out of their way to build this trust. A few welcoming emails does not a relationship make, but they did set service expectations. This issue was my first contact with Web Africa support and it was the perfect opportunity to meet those expectations and build a relationship between ourselves. Simply, if your marketing department sets an expectation, then make damn sure your customer service levels can actually reach them. If not, don’t say it.
An email did arrive after this incident however, but it was asking me to rate the live chat support guy. It was not following up with my problem – it was asking for my input on his service. This is not good service, in fact, that email was rather rude considering my issue was not followed up on in the first place. Had that email come after a follow up email, call or SMS I would probably have rated the support guy as well as the company quite highly. Remember it’s the overall service that matters to the customer, not the individual components so make sure they all work together.
Web Africa’s second customer service mistake: Social Media is not your personal press release platform
Although that first issue was an annoyance, I forgave Web Africa because I understand that technical issues do arise. Unfortunately, this second transfer issue was the straw that broke the camel’s back – not because of the issue – but because of the lack of information, total absence of customer service and their social media policies.
The second issue occurred on Thursday evening about 12 am when all my emails suddenly stopped working as did our websites. Now at that time of night I assumed the transfer was going on and there shouldn’t be much to worry about. However, by 12 pm the next day nothing had changed. All websites and emails were still down and there was zero communication from Web Africa on the technical issue, barring an issue update on their status website section that was posted at 3 am. (You would have to actively look for this page however, the notices are not on their front page baring a small link on the top right hand corner.)
Not having email and a website for half a day is kind of a big deal for those small businesses who cannot lose even an hour of business to make ends meet. A small business does not have an IT department and they rely heavily on the hosting companies to make sure their websites and emails work at all times. Thus because of the importance of this error one would assume that keeping your new customers informed would be a great start to allay those fears we all had that we were losing business. This was not the case unfortunately.
The only real way to receive information on what was going on was through a phone call to their call centre where a voice recording informed us they were aware of the issue… but there was no actual person waiting to answer the call after the recording, just a 5-minute wait and then the call simply ended. The alternative was through Twitter where their technical account let users know about issues via an automated tweet – but you would have to know about that handle first, and it only has 400 followers.
Scheduled Maintenance: Server Maintenance: Our developers have scheduled maintenance to be completed on our AD… https://t.co/McFJ5Awn7U
— Web Africa Status (@WebAfricaAlert) March 31, 2016
This is in comparison to:
- Their main Twitter handle @WebAfrica which has almost 8000 followers
- Their customer support Twitter handle @WebAfricaHelper which has 1500 followers
- Their Facebook Page which has 23 000 likes
None of the official social media accounts gave any information, except for their Helper Twitter Account, but again you would have to know about that channel- and you had to Tweet to them first to get an answer. No emails were sent out either throughout the day (I have another email as my admin account and was not informed of the errors.)
Now in 2016 most people’s default reaction is to search social media. It has become the place to go to be informed and make decisions about companies. Social media is no longer (if it ever was) the platform to share only self-promotion offers and your latest blogs. It is the place where people go to speak to an actual human for help, service or anything else they require – and they want immediate answers! Read about the social trends of 2016 via Post Planner to see what I mean.
As a result, customers are increasingly bypassing the “official support channels”. Why? Because generally the official support channels have been automated phone responses (press 1, press 6, press 9 – sorry please wait for another 5 mins to speak to someone) and other non-personal or caring support channels. Customers want to feel heard, they want to speak to someone to listen to their frustrations and they do not want to wait; as a result social media is a great place for this to happen.
On the flip side, if customers are not heard and do not feel like anyone cares they take to social media to vent rather than engage. And boy did some of Web Africa’s new customers vent! (Me included)
#WebAfrica is such a crap service provider. Gosh I miss Serv Hosting, been on hold for 5 minutes, this never happened with Serv
— Kyle C. De Araujo (@KyleAraujo) April 1, 2016
— Kyle C. De Araujo (@KyleAraujo) April 1, 2016
I despise @webafrica – you’ve cocked up my website transfer twice now. Goodbye. Useless
— Ross Munro Williams (@RossMunr0) April 1, 2016
So where did Web Africa go wrong?
Inform your customers before they even know what is going on!
Their first mistake of course was not emailing the affected customers directly and making sure they felt looked after before they even knew there was a problem. Had they done that simple thing many of us would have had our initial frustrations disappear somewhat because we would have felt looked after.
They did not do this so we had to figure out ourselves that something was wrong, and it made us annoyed – even if it was slight annoyance at first, the longer we went without information, the more we got frustrated – but it could have been prevented with simple communication beforehand.
Use social media to keep those users informed and beat their frustrations!
Their second mistake was not posting an update on their official Facebook Page and Twitter handle that they were aware of the issues and were working hard on it. They could have provided an email, contact number or welcomed people to DM them to find out what was happening. They did not do this because of their social media posting policy that seemingly tries to keep their main profiles “clean” – so no issues or notices are posted, only marketing messages, blogs and other such controlled posts.
What this policy does not take into account is that social media is not a place to keep issues separate. One only has to look at Telkom’s Facebook Page to realise that no matter what they post, people will comment on their posts and they want answers on their technical issues no matter what. Social media is now the front lines of customer support.
Seeing updates about their offers and services on Twitter and Facebook – after I had mentioned them with my issues annoyed me endlessly – even though those updates were probably automated, it further distanced those of us affected from the company making us feel like we did not matter.
Listen out for frustrated customers on social media and reply quickly!
This ties in with the point above. When there is a known issue, a company that focuses on customer service would assign the right people to man all their social media accounts and listen out for any customers asking questions or venting their frustrations – whether they mention the “right” customer service handles or the main accounts. This would enable them to keep the frustrated people happy and make them feel heard immediately.
What annoyed me personally was that even though I tweeted and mentioned the main Web Africa account I received no response, I had to figure out that I had to mention their @WebAfricaSupport handle to get an answer. And even then, it seemed that whoever was manning the support account on the day was unaware of the Serve Host transfer issues… and they took an hour and a half to reply. I also mentioned their Facebook Page on our Facebook Page but received no response.
As a result of their ineffectiveness in keeping their customers informed early, the absence of a human being on the end of their call centre, their lack of updates on social media and their inability to engage in social listening, Web Africa did a great job of creating Earned Media of the worst type.
As customers we felt ignored and took to social media to vent. We started conversations about Web Africa and they did not jump in and get us on their side early enough. Some went to Hello Peter to complain, along with 271 others, so obviously Web Africa have a customer service issue. There can be no doubt about that.
— Angelo Coppola (@AngeloCoppolaSA) March 31, 2016
@WebAfricaHelper Hi, can I get a call back? Your call back system isn’t working on the phone line.
— J.I.R.R.E TOLKIEN (@brettallenwhite) April 2, 2016
@WebAfricaHelper anyone at offices today?? I have been on hold for 20min!!!!!
— Q (@iamzolaq) April 2, 2016
@WebAfricaHelper I know you guys were having issues earlier but I still cant access internet any ETA on when this will be resolved?
— Peter du Toit (@peterdutoit) April 1, 2016
@WebAfricaHelper As a new customer, can’t say I’m super impressed with the service so far.
— Nicolas Rix (@NicolasRix) April 1, 2016
Anyone can recommend any ISP, that can reply to messages in under 2 hours, and have stable internet (ie: NOT @webafrica), let me know
— Stuart Brodie (@NutStewie) March 30, 2016
@RossMunr0 have you seen HelloPeter for WebAfrica?. It is really bad. Serv Hosting was such an excellent service provider. Moving to Axxess.
— Kyle C. De Araujo (@KyleAraujo) April 1, 2016
— Herbtanical (@Herbtanical) April 2, 2016
These conversations are now there forever, so are their Hello Peter reviews. That does not go away. When people are making purchasing decisions, they look for reviews to find out what others think of them because we are so immune to marketing speak. Social media has levelled the playing field and yet businesses like Web Africa do not make sure that their social media side is well covered – and I’m not speaking about posting marketing updates!
It has been shown that what people see on social media from their friends and family has a massive impact on their own purchasing decisions, what Web Africa do not seemingly understand is that what we can see on Twitter is but a small reflection of what people think of their business. Imagine all those private conversations happening on Facebook where their official accounts cannot get in and reply. What these people say on their personal profiles is now fact for their friends and family… and each person has an average of 800 friends… And we have not even included the real conversations people have with others. It is a major problem!
So how can Web Africa’s Customer Service turn things around?
Although I think they have screwed up royally with our migration, I sort of understand that these things happen. But what I won’t excuse is their continued poor response to the issue. This is seemingly the same issue that many have been having. One only has to look at their Hello Peter stats to see that of the 320 posts, 85% of them are negative. Of those that are negative, only 46 responses have been recorded by Web Africa – a 16% response rate, a shocking stat. Those who do get a response are ‘utterly disgusted’ 43% of the time, ‘not impressed’ 9% of the time or ‘indifferent’ 24% of the time, leaving only 24% ‘quite impressed’ or ‘over the moon’.
**Unfortunately, their Facebook Page does not have active ratings, or visitor posts, which means it is impossible to find out what people think of their business on Facebook – this is of course a massive red flag. Thus it is safe to say that they have a rather big problem with customer service, and as a result their online reputation has suffered somewhat.
We cannot emphasise this enough, in the age of social media you cannot hide if your customer service levels are not up to scratch. People will find you out and they will go out of their way in informing others about your inability to service them properly. Hell I am even writing a blog about my experience, if this doesn’t tell you how determined an angry customer can be then I don’t know what will!
What this experienced has given me, and hopefully you too, is a great lesson in customer service. Should Web Africa want to improve they would well heed the following advice:
1.With new customers you have to go out of your way to make things as amazing as possible, especially when you acquire customers without earning their trust first.
2.Do not claim that you will give us the same customer service (setting expectations) and then under deliver to such an extent that people take to social media, and write a blog about their dissatisfaction.
3. When an issue arises make damn sure you do everything in your power to inform customers about what is going on. An SMS, email or a phone call would be bloody fantastic. Remember that when you acquire a company you still have to earn their trust.
4. When there are known issues please keep us informed via email or on social media. Posting your scheduled marketing tweets and Facebook posts further annoy people if they have yet to receive any update on a major issue.
5. When people complain on social media answer IMMEDIATELY ON ANY PROFILE especially if you have known issues going on. People are frustrated and annoyed, do not under any circumstance annoy them further with slow or useless replies.
6. Technical support should extend to the weekends too! Monitor social media and actually respond to support tickets on weekends (I submitted a new ticket on Saturday and received a response only after complaining on Twitter on Monday morning). People have technical issues all the time and not only during business hours. How in 2016 can you not monitor these support channels on weekends? The internet is 24/7/365 and so is your business – especially if you are an ISP!!
7. Answer your phone when people take the time to phone in, and make damn sure you do this when they are likely to be angry after a big issue such as the migration issue. We want answers not an automated response that you are aware of the problem.
8. Do not send customers a “we all make mistakes” email and still not have the issue fully resolved 4 days later!
9. Stop sending “rate our customer service emails” over and over again. If I do not fill it in the first time, I am more likely to fill it in with even worse scores if you keep on annoying me with the same repetitive email.
In using Web Africa as a case study it is noteworthy to understand that acquiring new customers, marketing and advertising can be considered pointless if your company is not built on a great foundation. If customer service is not attainable for your current customers, then I would strongly lean towards fixing your current service structures first. One only has to see their Hello Peter and social media mentions to realise their customer service is undoing all their hard work in acquiring new customers.
Web Africa might not be happy about me writing this blog, but at the same time it is now been over 4 days after the initial incident and I have only just been able to access our sub domains (including this one) by Monday afternoon – only after I complained again on Twitter which ensured I got a follow up email from technical support.
@RossMunr0 I have asked our team to follow up your ticket. We will be in touch shortly.
— WebAfricaHelper (@WebAfricaHelper) April 4, 2016
Were you affected by the Serve Host transfer or do you have other Web Africa service stories? Let us know in the comments below!