Your customer retention strategy isn’t working.

angry(?) giraffe portrait

Adam Foster via Compfight

I’ve been trying to cut my digital costs lately by consolidating my various hosting services in one place;  the blog, Breaking Bio, the audio hosting and feeds for the podcast and the steps I’m taking towards open science.  To do this, I’ve recently been building out my own server on a DigitalOcean cloud VPS1.  So far, the experience has been great … except for cancelling my old services.  HostGator in particular, though, has attracted my wrath.  Instead of just allowing you to cancel your service and then letting the matter lie, they’ve insisted on opening a support ticket, sending me multiple emails asking me to call them (or email if that’s not possible), and finally calling me at home to try and sell me on a year’s renewal at a discounted price.  Here’s the last one I got after the phone call that woke me up this morning:

Hello Steven,

I called you to discuss my offer, but unfortunately I was unable to reach you. So I left a message asking if you could call me back or reply to this email.

I read your cancel request and I see that you want to close your website for a better price. I’m sorry to hear that you want to cancel your service with us due to price. So I would like to offer you a 25% discount off your next invoice. But for the best deal, It would be best if we adjust your billing cycle to 12 months or more with the 25% discount.

I want to do everything I can to help you succeed, so please reply to this email or give me a call. If I’m available I will help you personally, or you can work with any of my team mates. We are here to help you.

John T

I am personally available 10AM – 7PM CST Monday – Friday, you can use Time.IS/Houston to tell you if I am available.

Frankly, I don’t need this.  What I do need is to cancel my service with them in a clean fashion.  If they had such great prices to offer me, why didn’t they offer them when I signed up?  Oh yeah, because they want to charge you more and then dangle the carrot when you realise that you’re getting shafted.  So, I may have gotten a little … agitated in response.  Here’s what I wrote back:

John,

I’m sure that you’re just a guy, doing a job. So I’m trying to avoid becoming angry at you personally. But now, instead of simply cancelling my service as I asked, HostGator opened a ticket, sent me multiple emails, and finally woke me up on the only day all week that I have to sleep in with a phone call I didn’t want.  I was reasonably indifferent to HostGator before this; not a spectacular company, but the product was serviceable and for the most part you guys stayed out of my way. However, at this point, your ‘customer loyalty’ and ‘retention’ program has angered me to the point that I will actively discourage people from using your service. In fact, later today I plan on posting this to my blog (which I now host elsewhere!) to leave a permanent record of this interaction for the world to see.

As to the stated reason for leaving HostGator, price was simply a convenient excuse, like a hastily placed phone call from a friend to allow one to end a bad date. I’m cancelling with HostGator because I’m now hosting with a cloud VPS service that gives me more control, better service, a more attractive interface, and costs half of your cheapest plan with the ability to scale my server(s) at a moment’s notice with complete flexibility. The company that you work for, John, is a lumbering dinosaur. You may feel like Microsoft circa 2000 now, but look how that turned out for them.

So, in conclusion: no, I don’t want a 25% discount on service I don’t need, locked in for a year (subtle move, that). What I want is for HostGator to cancel my service as I asked for in the first place, without me needing to answer phone calls and respond to emails. Perhaps, now that I’ve wasted twenty minutes of my day replying to this, HostGator will finally believe me that I no longer want your service. (And no, I’m not making an international call to tell you this personally, either).

As for you, John, I hope that you don’t take any of this personally. I like to imagine that you’re an honest, hardworking guy who’s just trying to get by; maybe you’re a college kid squeezing out some extra cash so he can do something fun this weekend, or a family man trying to put food on the table. Or maybe the ‘Houston’ thing is a misdirect, and you’re a friendly fellow working at a cubicle in Mumbai. If so, hello! I hope to have the chance to visit your country some day. In any case, I urge you if your life affords you the opportunity: find a new job. Because if their ‘service’ as I cancel my account is any indication – and I believe that it is – HostGator is not long for this world. Get out! Get out while you still can!

Regards,

Steven Hamblin.

It’s pretty unlikely that anyone at HostGator will ever read this, but if they do:  you’ll probably say that you do this because it works.  And you’re possibly even right.  But one important lesson that companies have learned (or failed to learn) in the past few years is that people don’t like to be locked in.  If you make a good product, they’ll use it.  If they want to switch products, then you should make it easier.  If you don’t, all you’re going to do is make them angry, like you did me.  Now, instead of recommending HostGator to someone else as a reasonable way to host a website for novices, I’ll tell them the truth:  that it was okay, but when I tried to leave they made it a pain and I wouldn’t ever use their services again.

Is that the message you want me out there sending?

  1. Server in the sky.  Like having your own Linux box, but someone else takes care of it.