Bluehost FailRecently the website hosting company I use experienced a prolonged service outage. What ensued for thousands of customers like me illustrates the difference between brand promise and brand equity. My previously positive perceptions of value met a fundamental gap with my experiences during the downtime. The brand’s repute is now seriously, publicly, irreparably damaged.

My website is my window to the world. In 2014 a solid web hosting relationship is no longer a luxury—it is a necessity.

Eight years ago I signed on with Bluehost to host my website. It all worked well for me—until it didn’t. They promise a very high degree of up time. That is their guarantee and our deal. I pay them; I expect my website and the email connected to it to be up and stay up. When for any reason their system goes down and my website, my window to the world, is no longer accessible, that creates misaligned expectations. And a damaged relationship!

Three Strikes and You’re Out

Three times since the start of this year I have experienced Bluehost fails. That’s not good, but it’s not a capital offense. I often tell my consulting clients it is okay to make mistakes. Mistakes create opportunities for candor, vulnerability, and demonstration of the capacity to learn and grow from the failure. The point is, it’s not the mistake that makes or breaks you—it’s what you choose to do about it afterward. Your response shows how you REALLY feel about your relationships.

In the recent Bluehost fail the Nour Group site went down for a complete 24 hours. That’s like 6 months in Internet years. I not only had no website, I had no email access. That is dramatically painful. Our world demands agility; agility requires reliable connectivity. I’m writing and posting this from 30,000 feet above ground on a plane. If I can get access up here, why couldn’t or shouldn’t I be able to get consistent access from the ground via my web hosting firm? Any of us feels paralyzed without access to the fundamental communication tools with which we nurture our strategic relationships and drive our initiatives forward.

Tech Support Multiplies the Problem

The downtime was a bad incident, but it didn’t have to become a trigger fueling more frustration.

If you don’t believe website and email downtime is painful, drop your laptop and shatter it and then tell me how you feel. Have your briefcase stolen with your laptop, your iPad, and your phone inside it, and then tell me how connected you feel. Short of restored service, can anything mitigate the pain you’re feeling? A good customer service response might help. Too bad Bluehost was unable to give any of us one. And I wasn’t alone. Google “Bluehost down” and you’ll find too many stories like the following:

I called tech support. After 35 minutes on hold my call was answered. A voice said, “I can’t hear you” and jumped right into a script that contained no sympathy or suggestions beyond “we’re working on it, please check back.” Then I was disconnected.

So I headed online to check their Twitter and Facebook feeds. These showed a constant stream of pat apologies, variations on the phone support message of “we’re working on it, we’ll get you back up soon.” For 24 hours they played that same record. Other Bluehost customers started posting about similar phone support experiences to mine. (Were we ALL having telephone problems?) Now Bluehost has really fueled my disappointment and outright anger.

Relationships are between individuals, not logos. The Nour Group doesn’t have a relationship with Bluehost. It’s me in a relationship with that individual on the phone. When the individual at the other end won’t respond to you personally, you might as well be dealing with a robot.

Specificity Drives Credibility

In the absence of specific, credible information, our imaginations fill in the blanks. Worried Bluehost customers like me are thinking, “These guys are going out of business.” “Something happened in Utah—the data center blew up.” “Invaders from Mars have arrived.” Did Bluehost really want to create that kind of customer sentiment?

Bluehost should have given its customers the courtesy of a candid, transparent message of “here’s what happened; here’s what we’re doing about it.” Among its clients I’m sure there are plenty of competent technical people. They can be part of the solution, not the problem, but you have to have the fortitude to be candid and transparent. Give us a plausible ETA, “We expect to have you back up in six hours.” I have no idea what happened behind the scenes, but a specific response would have helped Bluehost’s credibility, rather than fueled greater misalignment of expectations, mistrust, and ill will.

The situation angered so many customers that people began signing petitions to have their money refunded. Bluehost has a reseller program, so the outage had a network domino effect.

Next, I shifted over to my personal email account on Yahoo. One of the first emails I sent was to my webmaster—“How long for us to copy and transfer and completely move our web hosting business elsewhere?” His reply: “couple of hours!” I’d wager I am not the only customer for whom “fail” suggested “bail!” that day.

You disappoint enough customers, frequently enough, and they will always find a choice. If Bluehost was the only hosting company on the planet, I would have gone out and bought my own server and software, and run my own email from my house if I had to. Rabid customer disloyalty is the business outcome of misaligned expectations, lack of transparency, and failure to connect with personal relationship.

Social media is the 21st century telephone. The telephone connects just two of us, but social means you are having that conversation in the middle of a public plaza. Now we all can see you’re telling everybody the exact same thing, and it is neither specific nor credible. Not having candid conversations with people on social is the kiss of death.

Bluehost’s crisis response was an absolute disaster; one incident after made a bad situation worse. As I tell my consulting clients, every failure is an MBA course waiting to be dissected for lessons to be applied at the next opportunity. I hope Bluehost learns its lesson.

Nour Takeaways

  1. Relationships go bad with misaligned expectations, as when Bluehost failed to deliver its guaranteed up time.
  2. Mistakes don’t matter as much as the response; you can either show how much you care about your relationships, or fuel greater frustration.  Give your customers the courtesy of specific, credible answers.
  3. Disappointed customers will always find a choice. And they will share it on social.
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