It’s all about customer service

A tale of sorry customer service, broken processes, and sadly, poorly thought out system design. No not a tale of dealing with IBM, but the joy of hosting websites with 1and1 Internet Ltd.

Back in the day, I used to give early Internet presentations, mostly about the opportunity the Internet and the web would bring, on a few slides I used to make fun of some of the early web sites, to draw attention to some of the business related, rather than technology related issues. One of those was a hat web site that John Patrick, IBM Alumni and one of the key IBM Internet revolution leaders, used. It had a notice saying to call to confirm your order between 9-5. With no indication of timezone. How much fun, fast forward 10-years or so, how the Internet and the web have changed things.

When I lived in the UK, I hosted a number of websites at 1and1. In the old days(2002?) they were fast, efficient, helpful, easy to use and cheap! Since I was only building website for community or neighborhood associations, a friends art and my triathlon club these were all essential elements in selecting a host. Fast forward 6-years or so and as far as I can tell everything has changed, including where I live, which is the crux of the matter.

After a couple of attempts at dealing with 1and1, one of the websites is locked out because the account is unpaid. It’s unpaid because my credit card company refused the charge, as the address 1and1 provide as part of the authorization process is incorrect. Their billing system won’t let you enter a non-UK address, even though it asks for a “zip” code rather than a British Postcode.

So, trying to use a non-UK credit card is a non-starter, since the address won’t match, including the post/zip code. I don’t have a UK credit card as, err, I don’t live there any more. Calling 1and1 caused much frustration as their first response was to just tell me to complete the web site as best I could(which of course was the reason I was on the phone already).

The only alternative is to set up a PayPal merchant authorization to allow 1and1 to bill against it. Helpfully, 1and1 have a web page to do that. So I do that, each time paypal completes but the return to 1and1 fails with a 500 Unexpected Server Error from the 1and1 server. Logging back onto the 1and1 account shows that nothing has changed, but each time the number of PayPal merchant authorizations goes up by one.

Call 1and1, supposedly a world class Internet host. Their accounts dept. is only open 9-5 UK time. Nothing can be done. So I decide to take a different tack, rather than try to get my hosting account re-activated from the Accounts dept., I figured I’d try to get their server fixed by calling tech support.

I get through to tech support, or rather the telephone answering service. After a brief authorization process, the person answering the phone comes back and says “You can call the accounts dept. or retry later today.” – I point out the obvious problem with calling the accounts dept. given I’m in Texas and they work UK hours(note that I didn’t say they work in the UK). The person answering the telephone says “then just try re-running the Account change again later”. I point out this is a formal, financial transaction that has already completed 3x today, and just randomly retrying it doesn’t instill confidence. Actually what I did was laugh and say “you lot are a bunch of cowboys!”.

Finally I decide now is the time to do what I should have done a long time ago, transfer the website to someone in the UK still involved with the organization. I download the 1and1 change of ownership form. Oh dear, another badly broken and defective process. The form is supplied as a PDF form. You are helpfully advised by 1and1 that they won’t accept any handwritten forms. So, I complete my details, the account details and print it. I then sign it. The problem is, the person to who’m I’m transferring the website has to complete her part of the form using a PDF reader, and will have to retype my details in her copy, and then print that, copy my signature onto the completed form and then either fax or mail in to 1and1. All I have to do is to fax, or mail my copy of the form to her. Second thoughts, I’ll just print it to a PDF. Best of luck Liz!

As they say “you are the customer, we provide the service”. Hopefully dealing with IBM isn’t like this.

1 Response to “It’s all about customer service”

  1. 1 beatlegirl61 May 18, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    I’m recently an unemployed customer service rep yet still a customer of 1&1. I feel your dismay…

    Best of luck to you in the future!

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About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I am a Fellow of the British Computer Society ( I'm an information technology optimist.

I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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