Finding good a webmaster for your organization is tough, in fact it is really tough! That is is why I figured I could be successful running a website maintenance focused business rather than a web development business that also does website maintenance / website support.
Though advantageous for me, I talk to many clients and potential clients every week who are dissatisfied with the their chosen webmaster to date. The number one complaint is the lack of responsiveness. Though this may just come down to general business practices, I believe a lot has to do with the tools they use, the communications policies they have and most importantly the priority they put on webmaster services versus the other services they provide; development, design, consulting, etc.
What to Consider When Seeking Webmaster Services
What priority does your firm or contractor give webmaster services over the other services they provide?
For almost 10 years I was a partner at a design studio in Washington, DC. We designed and developed websites in addition to providing band / logo design, print design and other related services. I can tell you, that for us webmaster services were not primary service. In fact I would argue that we provided such services out of expectation and for the sake of sales.
Even at a respectable hourly rate, it was hard to balance client support requests with the larger projects we had going at any time. In fact it often seemed a nuisance and became a scheduling and project management nightmare. This was simply because providing webmaster services was not a core offering.
I highly recommend working with a company or individual (such as FatLab – sorry shameless plug), that treats webmaster services as a primary and priority service offering, has a dedicated support desk and does not simply offer website maintenance and support services as an add-on.
Does the Provider Use Project Management Tools?
Email is not a project management tool. Sure many of us use it that way, but the truth is that things get lost, archives are hard to search through and there is always that pesky spam trap that seems to always grab the most important message of all.
I highly recommend that you work with a company or individual that utilizes a project management tool to track current requests, archives historical communications records and allows you as the client to follow the status of any particular work order with ease. For my business I chose Zendesk for a support ticket system. I have been very happy with it as have my clients.
How is Billing Handled?
Next to responsiveness, the next most common complaint I hear from new and prospective clients is ‘surprise billing’ from their previous webmaster. Constantly being quoted one price only to billed a higher price is a frustrating experience. I can certainly attest to the fact that estimating a web maintenance task is hard and there is no science to it. I get that the actual tasks many times take longer than expected, however the client should be protected against surprise billing.
Ensuring There are no Surprises
Personally I work on guaranteed estimates and a system of billing notification so there are no surprises at the end of the month. For each task, I give an estimate and I do my best to stick by that estimate. If a task takes longer than expected, I eat that time as I figure this is the cost of happy client who will continue to work with me. With that said, I’m also careful to protect myself by letting clients know right away if there are circumstances that greatly effect my original estimate. This way they can consider the cost, we can explore options and neither of us feel screwed over at the end of the day.
Webmaster Response Times
Like I said, the number one complaint I hear from organizations that hire outside for webmaster services, is the lack of responsiveness. When considering a firm or individual make sure they provide some kind of expectation for how communication will be handled and in what timeline.
At FatLab, I try my best to get back to each client request within two hours during business hours. By no means does this mean I have the task complete. I let them know that their request was received and if I am able, give an indication of when they can expect it to be completed. In addition the ticket system I use, sends an automatic response for each time a ticket is submitted to the client. This way the client is assured their message was received and awaiting my attention.
I’m also currently working on a new ‘communications policy’ so that my clients have it in writing what they can expect. A sort of SLA for a webmaster. I’ll get that posted online once complete.
A complaint that I don’t hear as often but definitely sends a client shopping for a new services provider is that they experienced an urgent issue, such as an outage, and they were unable to reach their webmaster for a considerable amount of time.
Ensure your webmaster, has systems and processes in place for urgent issues. Generally folks don’t hire webmasters that they expect to be available 24/7, but they want to know what the procedure is if they should have an urgent issue outside normal business hours. Each individual and firm will handle this differently, I simply recommend that you know what this protocol is and understand it so that you can set your expectations.
At FatLab, I work East Coast business hours. Given the nature of my business I do provide my clients several methods of communication should something urgent happen outside business hours. These methods include being alerted to a new support ticket, after hours instructions on the phone system and of course my own communication policy which is to check in every few hours at a minimum. Emergencies are handled as they occur to the best of my ability. I consider myself on call at all times, just by nature of this business. However I also expect that my clients understand what is an emergency and what can wait until Monday morning.
Based on your organization’s particular needs each one of these items will have different expectations. I simply encourage you to evaluate each point I have given and what they answers mean for you. Not every company or individual offering webmaster services will be a good fit.