Almost all businesses today depend heavily on their internet hosting service providers.

The companies who host and control our web sites, e-mail and other online components of our businesses have an extremely skewed power over us. How do you tell if your internet hosting provider is a good one?

Internet hosting companies are not regulated. They are in essence a self-regulating group that have little or no accountability to individual customers, especially the big ones. They know that not many people understand how they do what they do. They also know that the barriers to enter their space and compete with them is very high. Many of the customers who choose as an internet hosting provider complain about a lack of urgency in resolving problems from other hosting companies. That is the most common complaint, but there are many others.

The problem is that these issues only surface once your web site has been hacked and disabled, or your e-mail has been compromised in some way the damage has been done. Businesses who depend on their online presence can suffer severe damage by even a few minutes of down-time. By the time you find out you don't have a backup service that you thought was in place, or that you can rely on your hosting provider in a time of crisis, but you find out that you can not, it is too late to prevent or reverse your current situation.

How do you tell that your internet hosting service provider is a good one that fits your business needs? Here are a few tips that can enable you to make a decision on your service provider.

You have to convince someone that you have a problem

There is a very pervasive idea in the information technology industry that says that people don't understand computers and what they can do. This might be true on a very technical level, but this is not the point. The whole industry exists because of this fact. People in the I.T. industry who disrespect people who do not understand how their web sites or e-mails work have to change their attitude. They might have thousand, or even millions of customers, but you have only one e-mail address. You have only one web site and it is important to you. There are many other service providers that can do what they do and it is easy to switch to another company if your problems, however small, are not taken seriously.

A good hosting provider representative should be able to ask you questions that you are able to answer that will tell them what the problem is and how to solve it. I have encountered many representatives who refuse to accept that a problem exists in the first place. Their attitude should be the opposite: They should convince you that they know what the problem is and they can fix it. Simply telling you that the problem is "on your side" is not good enough. If that is really the case the least they can do is send you a link to a web site explaining how to fix the problem yourself. Why else would you need them?

You don't understand what you are paying for

In any other business transaction you think about in and around your business you would never spend money on a service that you don't understand. Your service provider needs to be able to explain to you why you are paying what you are paying. You get an invoice every month, you pay it, but do you know what you get in return exactly? Can you explain to someone else what you are getting and why your hosting provider is better than another?

Here are a few more questions to answer about your service provider:

  • Do you have a response time commitment from your hosting provider?
  • What recourse do you have, except to switch hosting providers if something goes wrong?
  • Does your hosting provider test the backups they make, if they do make backups?
  • Can you access/ make backups of your site yourself?

Organisational Culture and Memory

In many organisations, not just in the I.T. sector, there is a huge problem with organisational culture and memory. Organisational memory refers to employee turnover. This is a very simple process in today's information-driven world. You probably have the same challenges in your organisation. When someone quits their job, for whatever reason, it takes a while for the replacement staff to take over their roles and responsibilities. More importantly the people who deal with your customers build relationships and build up knowledge about the customer. This memory is often lost when someone leaves a company.

High employee churn also points to a weak organisational culture. If your company were a person, would you like that person? How do you treat your customers? Do you expect your employees to lie in order to protect the company's reputation or legal position?

When you have to explain who you are over and over to people from the same company this is because the company either has no organisational memory, or such a horrible organisational culture that it drives staff away. You could waste a lot of time educating your hosting provider on the very products you were sold by that company.

Ask these hard questions and you should have enough information to make a decision on who your hosting company should be.

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