I often nag you about doing not-fun things like choosing a good web host (or not doing fun things like installing all. the. plugins).
Today will be different.
Not because you shouldn’t take my advice. Just that even if you should or will do what I say, let’s both recognize it might not happen today.
You have your reasons. And, you probably don’t completely understand everything behind my reasoning.
So today, let’s make sure as hell that you can deal effectively with crap hosting, in case that’s where you’re at.
Or really, deal with any high-tech company you feel inadequately equipped to battle, even when they’re jerking you around.
First, we’ll cover what you need to know. Then, we’ll get to a nightmare story that illustrates why you need to know it.
How to beat a tech giant even if you feel tech challenged
- Forget your head – trust your gut
- Understand the limits of low-level support
- Don’t get caught without options
- Appreciate the effect of public scrutiny
Last week, a fresh experience helping a new client through an ordeal with Bluehost reminded me I still have work to do. >_<
Don’t kid yourself if you’re not on Bluehost, though. Crap hosting is everywhere, and even good hosting has its issues from time to time.
This client has a popular blog that’s monetized with Mediavine ads and some affiliate links. She’s not technical – just a content creator who’s worked hard on her stuff for quite a while.
She kept seeing all the warnings about changing her site over to https, but wasn’t sure what to do.
When browsers began throwing out a “Not Secure” warning on her non-https site, she got worried and bought an SSL certificate from her host. What they sold her included installation and some things she probably didn’t need.
What she got was a website that was completely unreachable for 3+ weeks.
I don’t know how much money she lost during that period, or how much it dinged her site’s reputation. The blog helps support her family. I feel horrible for her.
You’re smarter than you think
It’s not great that her site was on a Bluehost server. But that’s not the worst part of it.
The worst part was that she believed what they said, and didn’t feel like she knew enough otherwise to advocate for herself.
When the site was unreachable they told her everything was set up correctly and she just needed to wait for it to resolve.
She felt like something was probably wrong, but when people throw around nerd words like propagate, IP, etc., how do you argue?
Somehow, this went on for three weeks before she asked for my help. She did contact Bluehost support multiple times during that period, but it was always the same line.
Meanwhile, no website.
So, I beg you – refer to tactic #1, and trust your gut. Just because you don’t know tech doesn’t mean there isn’t something wrong.
I logged into the site’s hosting account and took a look at everything I could see. I changed what I could that might’ve prevented the site from loading up.
Still no site.
The next step was to do what the client had already done: get on a chat with support. Guess what? Same response.
Because I did make a couple of changes that could have taken time to go into effect, I had to grant Bluehost a little more time.
Past experience with them (and Hostgator…and GoDaddy…and others) made me feel certain something was going on that wouldn’t be resolved by more time.
However, if I hadn’t made any changes I would not have backed down at this point, even temporarily.
All tech support reps are not equal
Assuming that the first tier – the one you’re undoubtedly talking to 95% of the time – is reading from a script and probably doesn’t have a comprehensive grasp of the situation is key.
That’s tactic #2.
You will almost always need to start with these folks. Very often they are helpful and your problem will be resolved.
Many times, however, low-level support is under pressure to close your ticket and make you go away. It’s hard for them to do that when you’re asking them something that calls for action/advice outside of their script.
Sometimes they do understand when you need to be bumped up to the next support tier. Sometimes it’s you who needs to advocate for that.
Round two (for me)
When the site was still down after waiting the requisite amount time, I contacted Bluehost support again. The client was ready to move her site away, but we had no options that weren’t confounded by Bluehost.
Which brings me to tactic #3: Don’t get caught without options.
We couldn’t access the site in any way to copy it and get it up elsewhere. The client had paid Bluehost for backups but they were incomplete.
We couldn’t access a damn thing that might’ve allowed us to copy the site.
In other words, if Bluehost couldn’t resolve the issues with the site she wouldn’t have a site at all.
If she’d been a Site Care customer we’d have had a backup (not being cocky – we do smart backups that don’t fail) we could have used to quickly restore the site elsewhere.
But we didn’t have that option. It was Bluehost or nothing.
I ended round two by getting the issue escalated to the next tier, or so they said. They brushed me off by saying they’d e-mail the client when the situation was resolved.
Except for (supposedly) making it to the next support tier, this interaction ended the same way as every other. I was not confident.
It was time to take the battle to the streets.
Public scrutiny FTW
Note: This should be a tactic of last resort.
When you use it, you ought to be mindful of being on public display yourself. Act kindly but firmly. Assume that whoever is manning the public channel wants to help, but isn’t in the support trenches him/herself.
I chose Twitter as our public “battleground,” and called out Bluehost.
Bluehost Support (a separate account) responded and asked me to directly message them. Out of the public light, but OK. We’ll give them a chance.
They didn’t respond.
I began another public conversation with the main Bluehost account. Again, they requested I take it to direct message.
This time, I got a response.
The resolution took another hour or two, during which I continued to politely prod and inquire.
You can do the same. To borrow from the late, great Tom Petty, don’t back down.
You don’t need tech chops to trust your gut. Just be persistent, be willing to go public and make sure you always have the option to leave.
The day after we got the site back up, the client received this message from Bluehost’s “Advanced Technical Support:”
I am contacting you after having reviewed your case number 10059525 regarding your site not working. Unfortunatly, we are not able to reproduce this error. Your site works fine for us. We even cleared your server cache to be sure.
We checked three different browsers and on a phone. Your site is pulling up perfect.
After hours of work the previous day, I’m sure it does.
The rep closed the e-mail by recommending that the client unplug her router.
Can’t make this stuff up.