About a month ago, I was meeting with the ServInt Marketing team, discussing the fact that — while we have a relatively high proportion of customers who will shout from the mountaintops about how much they love us (thanks, guys!) — the vast majority of our customers are silent throughout the length of their stay with us.
This topic was top of mind for us because we were in the process of designing a full-time staff position dedicated to customer outreach and relationship management — and we were frankly wondering how useful such a position would be if, in fact, people didn’t really want to engage with their web host unless something went wrong.
We began contemplating the possibility that our customers see us the same way they see their electric utility — i.e., they only think of us when their service is interrupted, or when they open their bills each month.
From a marketing perspective — trying to build brand loyalty and attract new business through referrals — this may sound like a bad thing, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s possible to offer a commodity service on a utility model and still have your customers love you — and one sector of the utility industry is particularly good at this.
The American rural electric utility industry is made up of about 1,000 electric cooperatives — small, non-profit, consumer-owned utilities that serve the needs of the 10% of Americans who live in areas largely beyond the reach of investor- or municipally-owned power companies. Because these co-ops are owned by the households and businesses they serve, an extraordinarily high emphasis is placed on providing impeccable, personalized customer service.
These co-ops invest in community business development, constantly enhance their infrastructure with systemic upgrades, and — despite their small size — are frequently the first in the industry to deliver new technologies that lower costs for their customers. The result is a peculiar anomaly in the business world: these are regulated monopolies that enjoy fierce customer allegiance — utility companies that are actually loved and appreciated by their customers.
ServInt isn’t a cooperative. But it turns out we operate a lot like one: frequent, free infrastructure and service package upgrades, customer/community-centric decision making, personalized service geared towards making our customers’ businesses succeed — the similarities are striking. And because of that, I’m not afraid of the similarities between us and the electric utility industry when it comes to customer engagement and feedback. We love talking to our customers — but a healthy silence can be a good thing when it’s coupled with fierce loyalty. Bottom line: if it turns out that web hosting is seen as a utility-grade service these days, at least I know we’ve modeled our business after the right segment of that industry.
Photo by ykanazawa1999