Solar VPS Blog

New Client Blues or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love DNS

Getting to Know Us, I Mean Really Getting To Know Us

We run a managed service here at Solar VPS. “Managed” is a subjective term because it means so many things to so many different people. To me, managed means supported and support is arguably the most challenging, most intense and most important aspect of virtual private server hosting. Customers who bounce hosts just to knock a few dollars off their monthly hosting cost are not serious customers and frankly, I don’t lose any sleep over their cancellations. What does keep me up at night are those customers who we call clients. The type of customer who comes to us with a certain expectation of what they will receive when they sign up for our service. This person takes the time to read our web site ( and yes our Terms of Service ), email/call our sales department or talk with us on live chat. They take the time to find out who we are and what we stand for and perhaps they even want to hear from other clients who have something to say about our service. This person doesn’t make an uninformed purchase and when they do press that submit button, they have a fairly good idea of who and what they are signing up for.

Why I Can’t Sleep, and You Shouldn’t Either

The reason I say this type of customer keeps me up at night is because this type of customer is not only the most valuable but the most challenging type of customer. What makes them so challenging is the fact that they all come to us with a different skill level, a different idea of what their involvement should be in their server setup and most importantly, they all come with a different expectation of what we should do for them. I often wonder how to more effectively communicate with this type of customer. Generally I like to introduce myself to them, and if I can, I let them know that I am here should they feel they are not getting the service they desire or even if they just want to share their feeling about our company and/or our service. I feel it’s truly important to let them get to know who we are as a company since they’ve taken a genuine interest in who we are before ever signing up for our service. I think to myself, I like to know who I am dealing with before I trust Solar VPS to another firm, and so I try to keep that in mind at all times when working with these clients.

Since they have such varying levels of experience and technical knowledge, providing them with the proper support is challenging. Some come to us with a vast knowledge of how the web and DNS works while others know very little. They logon to our web site, place an order for service and then shortly thereafter, receive a welcome letter from our Parallels automation system, which contains the information they need to access their server. Now, we don’t do any sort of fancy configuration of their server ahead of time, we simply install the OS and any applicable control panel they may have ordered. Some clients have very specific setup requirements which they make clear during the sales process, however, the vast majority are faced with this lengthy email filled with small HowTos, login information based on different operating systems and control panels and to be quite honest, it can be quite confusing. Likewise, others know exactly what they are getting and have very few questions unless they run into some sort of problem they’ve not seen before or are unaware of how to solve. Despite these technical few, and I certainly do not mean to offend the technical expertise of many of our best clients, most lack the knowledge to get their VPS setup relatively problem free.

Getting Started with Getting Started

So now that they have their welcome letter and access to their server, it’s up to them to contact us and let us know if they need help. Since I am being honest, and I prefer honesty, I will tell you that this process feels strange to me. Regardless of our price point, it would certainly make sense to provide a getting started guide for new customers to explain the process, the potential pitfalls and what tools they will need to get the job done properly. As of this post, we are actually in the process of writing that very thing. It’s funny because more than 90% of the problems I see with new clients is a result of a lack of knowledge when it comes to how DNS works. It can be so very frustrating because DNS generally doesn’t give immediate changes. Nameservers, registrars, TTL, caching are all scary aspects of new server setup. When you purchase a shared hosting account, you decide the domain you want to host and then you update the DNS servers for that domain with your registrar. A system administrator has already installed, secured, tweaked and supported the server where your domain will be hosted. Chances are the server has been online many months and is managed by full time around-the-clock system administrators. Now, a new VPS server is essentially the same thing as a large shared hosting server, however, its been automatically provisioned by our Parallels Automation system and had simply just an OS and control panel install. What I think many clients misunderstand is that it simply takes time to create nameservers, assign them to a VPS, configure that VPS for hosting web sites and then make every other potential tweak to their server such as changing the Apache version, changing the OS version, installing additional libraries, etc. I try to tell customers to be as patient and communicative as possible throughout this process because it can be both daunting and frustrating from the customer perspective.

Take Two of These and Call Me In the Morning

As much as I don’t want to admit it, we have lost some customers because of a painful initial setup. I don’t think anyone is specifically to blame for this as I think this is simply the result of lack of customer education which leads to a customer believing they can order a VPS, flick a switch and everything will work perfectly. Unfortunately any true SysAdmin knows that this is not the case. That evil little acronym (DNS) haunts us every time. Too many hours or even days go by and your web site still doesn’t work. The formerly free and now for pay site, DNSSTUFF, throws back all of these cryptic yellow and red boxes that seem to mean your server is screwed. Twenty four hours of email and web site downtime and you think to yourself, this sucks, I need to quickly run and find another host to quickly move my content to and wait even longer for DNS to work. Yeah this is a terrible process and customers who panic and don’t communicate efficiently with us end up with a bad taste in their mouths. I don’t mean to make it sound like these customers are simply the victims of poor communication. In fact, too often we simply don’t know how much a customer knows and how much we need to support them. They might not share every frustration or anguish they have through their support tickets and/or live chats and so we go on believing they are proceeding with their server setup sans-catastrophe. If only we could make sure all customers had what they needed to overcome these problems, no matter how big or how small. A Getting Started Guide would be perfect, like a 101 course on how DNS works, what to expect and what not to expect. Here are your server login details and your Getting Started Guide or rather, The Solar VPS Guide to Avoiding the New Customer Blues. DNS really isn’t that bad and I hope that quite soon we will put this wonderful guide in the hands of our clients and then we can all sleep at night.

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