Client Update – Disguised As a Monday Morning Rant

I know a lot of you just want the skinny without all the background and other fluff. If that’s you then go here to see the nuts and bolts version.


Some mornings you just think you should have stayed in bed. Clients, read on for some upcoming changes in the works. Everyone else… read on for an example of how you can lose clients in a rapid and efficient manner.

First, some background.

ince upon a time...

A lot of our clients want to get email hosting that matches their domain. It’s a good idea, as a domain-based email (boss@yourdomain.com) is a significant step up in terms of how a business is viewed in terms of “legitimacy.”

We aim to please, and so we figured that we’d make that option available to all of our clients… we’ve been offering email – that we manage – for $6 per month per user since our “side gig” days years ago. That service has seen some tweaks over time. At first we hosted our own email server, which was a HIGHLY educational experience in how nit-picky email servers can be, and it gave us a new, healthy respect for email administrators and the nightmare that their job can be. 

As time went on, we realized that we can offer better service (and keep prices the same) by farming out the nuts and bolts of serving email to a dedicated email provider. We would still be the contact for all of our clients’ tech support issues regarding email and we would still be managing things like domain management and keeping our clients’ infrastructure in working order… using a dedicated email provider would save us significant administrative time that could be used to improve our other offerings and keep the same quality of service that our clients are used to.

The search begins…

As time went on, we realized that we can offer better service (and keep prices the same) by farming out the nuts and bolts of serving email to a dedicated email provider. We would still be the contact for all of our clients’ tech support issues regarding email and we would still be managing things like domain management and keeping our clients’ infrastructure in working order… using a dedicated email provider would save us significant administrative time that could be used to improve our other offerings and keep the same quality of service that our clients are used to.

The search for the “right” service provider wasn’t anything trivial. We deal with small businesses, and so naturally the bottom line is a critical issue both for them and for us. By and large our clients JUST WANT EMAIL. We understand this, and put significant time and effort into finding a provider that would JUST GIVE THEM EMAIL without trying to up-sell us to a “cloud infrastructure” offering email, calendars, contacts list, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, VoIP,  workspace collaboration, cloud storage, and a complimentary copy of the entire Encyclopedia Britannica for the low low price of $1573.22 per user per month. Yes, that’s an exaggeration – but you get the idea.

We finally found a company that seemed to offer all of these things at the right price point, so we switched off the GmI mail server (it was a sad day… kinda) and migrated all of our clients to the service provider that said all of the right things. They were on-the-spot with responses to all of our questions, and they didn’t insist on the “kitchen sink” approach to offering a ton of services our clients didn’t need or want. We took significant time to migrate all of our clients’ email addresses to this provider and held their hands as they (SO kindly) bore with us during the necessary changes to their email client settings. When it was all said and done, we were free of the tyranny of the email server and my clients were getting better service through better deliverability… for the same price as they were always paying. Win-win-WIN.

The bait and switch?

ace in the sleeve

This morning we received an email delivering the news that the service provider was giving me an update on terms of service. They are asking me to pay for a subscription extension within the next three days in order to “lock in” the price plan we have for email “forever.” Hmmm… well that’s a tight deadline, but prices DO go up, that’s a universal constant, right? We should definitely take a look, right? They’re trying to do us a solid and keep us as a customer… RIGHT?

Wrong. Let’s have a look at what they are proposing.

The email states (and this is a straight copy and paste) – “you can keep paying your current price by renewing before the price increase. Renew for your next term before February 20, 2020 to lock in your current price, and you won’t lose any of your current term. Your next term will start on your existing renewal date.” So decide in the next three days to renew a contract that will not be up for renewal until seven months from now. Got it. This feels like a classic con artist technique of “you gotta act NOW or you’re going to lose this fantastic opportunity!” Now for the kicker… in the event that we don’t pay the ransom respond by the deadline the hostages will be contract will be renewed at a rate of roughly FOUR TIMES the current rate per user per month. Strikes one and two all in one paragraph… but let’s look at the details and make the call. 

We take a look at the link. There are no further details. Only more questions. What happens if we decide to add more users? Is this awesome “forever rate” still in play if we have to add more blocks of users? You know… if we actually GROW a little, say? This information is nowhere in black and white. Strike three. The answer is no.

“But HEEEEY!” you might say. “Can’t you call customer service and get these details?” You’d think so, but we have been –lied to– mislead before by these yahoos – and on more than one occasion. This has taken the form of “gotchas” that ALSO were missing in the black-and-white. Fool us once, and all that. 

The road forward.

Image by DarkWorkX from Pixabay

We were given three days to make this decision. It didn’t take three minutes. GmI was founded on the principle that small businesses are routinely shafted in terms of service quality and availability in technical support and features that are useful to them, and if we are to stay true to that principle we have to take a strong stance on this particular issue. Here’s our take on it:

  1. We will NOT be blackmailed into premature service subscription fees by a company that has proven time and again that we cannot trust their word and uses every opportunity to try to up-sell products our clients don’t want and should not have to pay for.
  2. We will NOT pass on a fourfold price increase to our clients.
  3. We will NOT continue to do business with what we perceive to be shady practitioners.

That being said, here’s the plan for GmI:

image "the next step"
  1. We will begin the process of searching out an email service provider that can deliver our clients the needed services at the needed price points. We will make every effort to maintain our current price structure and offer equal or better services and features.
  2. We will go through the process of assisting all of our clients that need to make the move to the new infrastructure in doing so with a minimum of confusion and zero downtime. Since our current provider has done us the courtesy of making this such an easy decision, we have several months in which to make use of the lessons learned through this unpleasantness and to make the transition at the end-of-year happen smoothly and efficiently.
  3. We will provide all of our existing clients with continuous updates on the expected service changes and any pricing changes WELL BEFORE they need to make a decision as to whether or not to continue using our service at their current rates.

It’s just the right way to do things.

Thank you all in advance for bearing with us. Change is always a little tough, but we think that we can make this particular one for the better.

Thanks,

Your GmI team.

As always feel free to get in touch with any questions or concerns. We’re always happy to talk with you about them!

ADA Website Compliance and the upcoming blizzard…

OK before I get into this I will emphatically state that I AM NOT A LAWYER and I’m not giving any sort of legal advice here, but you can jot me down as a VERY interested party to this particular mess that is currently being made in our legal system. I would also like to make it very clear that I think making your website accessible to people with limited/no sight and the hearing impaired (for those of you that have video content) is a VERY good idea in general. I can spell out why that is later if there’s interest.

That being said, the state of this emerging scene is almost comical in its implementation… or it would be if it weren’t so darn scary to a lot of small businesses trying to establish a web presence. I made a quick Facebook post about this yesterday, but it bears spelling out in great and painful detail since the new rulings have already begun – as so many things in the regulatory arena do – to spiral out of control in a bout of (often frivolous) lawsuits from opportunists looking to cash in on the newly-opened hunting grounds of business ADA website compliance.

Let me make it clear that I am not a huge fan of spreading FUD – it’s a cheap way to try and wrangle business, and it’s generally hurtful to the reputation of the FUDder in the long haul… plus it’s just downright annoying. So suffice it to say that it is not my intent to spotlight this issue strictly for the sake of drumming up clients using cheap scare tactics. With that last disclaimer out of the way, I think there’s a storm a’brewin’ on the horizon. Let me give you some background on how I came to feel it necessary to write this post.

Noticing a trend

As a new small business owner, I spend a lot of time perusing some pretty good forums on entrepreneurship and small business operations. Around late last year (2019) I started noticing a troubling trend in posts. Every day or two would see a new post with a title along the lines of “I’m being sued! Looking for advice.” The increase in these sorts of posts got me curious, so I went back and started to – you know – actually READ them.

What I found in those posts got my attention. In ALL – yes ALL – of these recent posts, the lawsuits were over website ADA compliance. When I first started reading, it was tempting to dismiss this development as yet another online scam of some sort, but as I delved further into these stories, it became apparent that these were legitimate lawsuits. It was not a scam, not a joke, and not limited to business owners that were “above my station” in terms of revenue or maturity. They were attacks on newbies and startups just like mine… so naturally I started to dig into the situation a little more.

A change in the law

As it turns out, all this new activity was a feeding frenzy resulting from a Supreme Court ruling late last year that upheld (via refusal to hear) a lower court ruling that states, basically, that virtual properties – like your website – had to adhere to ADA guidelines just as brick-and-mortar properties do. The real kick in the pants here is that – while many small business will be held accountable to ADA compliance in cyberspace – THERE IS AT THE TIME OF THIS WRITING NO OFFICIAL GUIDANCE ON HOW TO COMPLY. Yeah, you read that right… you better get it done, but as to how to do that and whether your efforts are good enough, well… you’re on your own.

Who must comply?

Well, that’s… ehh… sort of another thing that’s in the process of being determined. As of right now my research has turned up only that places of public accommodation will definitely be subject to this ruling. That’s KIND of helpful, but the scope of what constitutes a “place of public accommodation” is pretty vague and potentially wide-ranging (after all – aren’t most of us considered a “retail store” per the answer to the first question in the link above?) Right now it’s easier to know who is exempt (Private clubs and religious organizations) than to know who is not.

What can we do?

This leaves small business owners in a bit of a quandary. We may or may not be obligated to make our virtual properties ADA compliant. If we are, then we’re compelled to comply with a law that has no guidelines – at least not legally. There are technical guidelines that exist, the flagship of which is the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (A FASCINATING read… if you’re a complete NERD). I fully expect this to be the template that regulatory guidelines use – when they get around to it – to base their regulations upon. Until regulations are further developed it is this template that Greyman Industries intends to follow while revamping its site to comply with ADA and avoid trouble with the Man.

Get in touch with us

Greyman Industries intends to become a local leader and the resident expert in this emerging regulatory framework, and we will keep you up to speed from now until the dust settles and there are definite guidelines in place. Until that time we are happy to help you in navigating through the technical hurdles that this new set of rules throws at you. Feel free to reach out to us with your questions or concerns – we have your back!