Please overhaul the email support system

RLParker - This one’s for you. Thanks for listening…

First, I’d like to say that I love the way DH is set up. If an account owner knows what s/he’s doing and is aware of the fact that the environment is shared, and has patience, s/he’ll probably never really need much in the way of support. Dreamhost tends to resolve most problems efficiently without users even knowing it.

However, if email support involves more than one email, there is no framework within the dreamhost support mechanism for institutional memory. If you reply back to an email referring to a url in previous correspondence, the support people have no idea what you’re talking about. Some support people leave the thread of the support within their reply. Others don’t. There is no guarantee that you’ll be talking to the same support person from one email to another.

Apparently, each time I send an email - even a reply to the previous support email - it gets a new support query number. The support crew in question only have access to that support query email and are not able to refer back in the thread as to what ever I might have been talking about. Each email is a separate support posting, unaffiliated with parts of what to me should be considered the same thread.

For example:
One of my clients is set up as a separate user under my account. Because it is my personal account and he was needing to give several webworkers access to his user account, I thought it best to transfer him to his own account. That way if someone else needed to add an email address or database, I wouldn’t have to give them my personal dreamhost account data.

I asked Dreamhost support for advice on how to proceed with this. I created a new account. Then I asked whether there was a way to transfer a user and all the user’s content from one box to another box.

The first reply said I had to transfer the files manually. I got the files all zipped and transferrered to the new box. I asked a question about the best way to proceed and was given this wiki url:

I read everything about the wiki, only to find that it would be much easier to transfer the user from one box to another as outlined here at the bottom of the same page:

I asked about that. “Travis T” said, ‘Sure, we can do that. Just make sure your databases are transferred, and we’ll take care of the rest. It’s just a user account database change.’ I followed the directions to make the transfer as stated in the wiki and wrote back. I said, in essence, that I needed to know if there will be any downtime and that if there won’t be, just do the transfer. Everything is ready.

Brian S wrote back that in fact, it could not be done and that I would have to transfer the files myself, rather than do a user transfer. Then he said their would be a one to two-hour DNS downtime. (Of course, there should be no DNS delay between boxes on the same host provider - just the time it takes to delete from one account and add to another, if your data is already set up on the new box. But Brian S didn’t know that.) He also seemed to think I wanted to move an entire account - not a user within the account.

I tried deleting a website from the old user, old account and transferring it to the new user on the new account. I get this error:

I figured there must be a mistake. I purposefully used Dreamhost’s front page to navigate to create the account so that I would not have any referrals or promotionals. I have no idea how the referral got on the system. I thought the problem was something else.

I asked why I couldn’t do the user transfer as suggested in the wiki url (and included the url again, just to be sure they knew what I was talking about.)

Patrick M writes back to tell me there’s a referral on my account stopping me from doing the domain transfer, and that I could remove the referral, but then the person wouldn’t get the referral.

I write back, saying I have no idea who ‘richardkershaw’ is and that I purposefully used the DH front page to add the new account to stop any referrals from happening, and asked for the referral to be removed so I can just get the domains transferred.

Dastyni writes back, helpfully removing the referral, suggesting that I must have gotten it from a cookie on the page where I first signed up… I also got helpful directions on how to move a site, and that the transfer might cause a bit of downtime.

I tried transferring a domain again and was successful. As soon as I added the domain on the new box, it showed up. I transferred all the other domains with them similarly showing up almost immediately.

On a whim, I thought I’d ask in reply to my last email:

[quote]Thanks for removing the referral.
I am now able to transfer the sites.
I’m fine with the downtime.
Why does the wiki say user transfer can be done
when it actually can’t be done?[/quote]
To which the reply from Patrick was:

[quote]I’m afraid I don’t understand the question. Please provide me with the
link to the wiki article in question and I will better be able to answer
your question.

Sorry about that! I look forward to your reply!

Patrick M[/quote]
Through all of this, the support people have been courteous and as helpful as possible within the limits of the single email in front of them. However, I’m just one of thousands of people who are all trying to get things resolved, and they have no memory of who I am or what my problems were.

Patrick, Travis, Brian, Dastyni,
You’re all probably very nice people, but you don’t know me, and either aren’t made familiar with what’s going on with my account through the support interface DH is using, or you simply won’t take the time to review the previous thread to see what I’m talking about.

To that end, Dreamhost would do well to adopt an entirely different method for resolving issues.

First: Give me a thread in the support history over which I have control. The thread should have several states over which I have control, including but not limited to:

[code]* Resolved/Unresolved

  • Problem Alarm Level
  • casual question
  • not time sensitive
  • need help asap
  • things are broken
  • people are dying
  • Keep this with one support person/Change support person
  • A Support Person Grade, so I can give feedback as to how
    helpful a particular support person is. Don’t make me go
    somewhere else to give feedback about support. I’m more
    likely to give feed back right there if it’s available.

[code]* The thread should remain unresolved until I say it’s
resolved or perhaps after a week of non-response from me.

  • Compel account owners to close resolved threads.

  • The time it takes (in hours and minutes) for each support
    response to my inquiries should be included with each support response.

  • Support should be measured not by response time per
    post, but rather support time per un-resolved thread.

  • Give DH support panel users the grade DH is achieving
    currently for fully resolved threads based on DH resolved thread time.

  • I should be able to change the level of concern about the
    support item for the thread as things get more or less ‘broken’.

  • I should be able to ask that whoever first gets the
    support question remain with the question until it’s
    resolved so I can get someone who will at least be likely
    to remember the problem.

  • If that support person doesn’t think they can solve the
    issue, they should tell me they’re passing it to someone
    who is at another tier of support who will be able to help
    me. This person should stay with my support concern until
    it’s resolved.

  • If I like working with a particular support person and am
    willing to wait for a response, I’d like that option too.

  • Emails should refer to the same support thread until I
    create a new support thread.

  • I want to be able to respond to the support thread from
    within the panel and not just by email. BBCode might be
    helpful too. That way, I could update the thread
    immediately if I find out I’ve made a mountain out of a
    molehill, or if things are getting worse.

  • I want to be able to view unresolved vs. resolved issues
    so I can look back at the ones that were resolved to see
    what we did to resolve an issue if it comes up again.

[code]* Support personnel should be trained to at least scan the
thread of the unresolved issue if there are several posts in
the thread in order to get a sense of what’s going on -
giving at least a semblance of institutional memory.

  • Pay support personnel better when they have better
    average grades given by customers. I’m not talking about
    a little bonus incentive for each ‘five star’ grade they get.
    I’m suggesting that if they average five stars, they should
    be paid better than an average one-star support person. It
    will give them the incentive to actually read the wiki and
    better understand their jobs.

  • Behind the scenes, if DH wanted to, support personnel
    could rate each client as to how much of a PITA they are,
    how skilled they are, and whether the hosting situation is
    being abused.

  • Notes could be kept about the client that
    are separate from the support threads so that the support
    personnel can be kept apprised as to possible future concerns.
    [/code]Through all of this, I still haven’t found out whether or not DH really could have just transferred a user and its associated content from one account to another, even though the wiki says it’s possible.

While I was able to use the support system to get my issues addressed in a round-about way, it took me several days over the course of a couple weeks to get a problem resolved that could probably have been resolved in a lot less time with a simple user transfer.

Also, unless the main DH signup page refers all new sign-ups with ‘richardkershaw’, support personnel are giving their friend(s) free referrals. Maybe that’s not a big deal, but it certainly hampers a box-to-box transfer of domains from one existing account to another existing account. That might have been apparent to whoever did the account setup if there had been a threaded conversation to which the support person who set up the account could have referred.

To sum: The DH support system needs a major overhaul to increase effectiveness through a pseudo-institutional memory by creating better support measures.

I like to think I’m a pretty patient guy, and my concern was not nuclear critical. Nobody’s site was down because I could leave stuff on my personal account until support could help me wade through the issues. It was a bit like talking with someone who has Alzheimers. Sometimes the response clear, and sometimes it’s not. You don’t know what you’ll get in the way of a response because nobody’s really ‘home’ all the time.

What if it had been more critical? There are always instances in which an account owner has no control over why they can’t do something. This was just one. And I’m not talking about system or box-wide problems that we all just have to be patient with, or special configurations that aren’t covered by support anyway. I’m just talking about little screw-ups like an un-asked for ‘referral’ that probably hindered me for a couple weeks until someone in support actually noticed it might hinder my progress. What if this had been more mission critical? You can imagine I’d have been really steamed.

I’ll write about this in the suggestion panel and point it to this post. It’s awesome that DH has a suggestion panel. I’ve seen some of my own suggestions actually get implemented, so I know the system works. I suspect a lot of people would be happy - both users and support personnel - if DH would follow up on this one.

I agree and think that a better ticket tracking system would help both me and others - including the (presumably) overworked support staff.

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Hey, thanks for the extra work load!That’s what I get for letting it be seen that I hang out in here sometimes, I guess! :slight_smile:

First, thanks for making the effort and taking the time to compose such a professional and well reasoned post. It is great that you have done this. I have already forwarded this to the attention of one of the Honchos, so I know it is being seen at the appropriate levels of the company.

Actually, the great majority of what you suggest is in place, though human error can sometimes make that less than obvious. For instance, the institutional memory you mentioned is in place - every communication between you and support is readily available with every request you submit. Now, the technician does have to read that history. While they are supposed to, and while they generally do, there can be times in the heat of a heavy queue where they miss something vital or relevant.

When this happens, they are help accountable for it, but humans are not infallible beings, so this will happen now and again until we can create or find infallible humans to fill these jobs or finish that Robo/AI Tech project that has been sitting on the back burner for a while now (DreamSavant, I think it is called).

The ticket numbering system is misleading, and is a database record management thing that does not really impact the working tech - he/she sees everything related to your account with every ticket!

Of course, if you have several tickets/items open at once, language can be ambiguous so if this is the case and you don’t want possible erroneous assumptions made, or additional requests for clarification to be generated, the more precise you can make each request the more accurate a response you are likely to receive.

In your example case, there are a couple of things at play here - one was an incorrect (or based on a misunderstood reading of the ticket) response from Travis T. about the handling of moving domains between accounts. The othere other was your experiencing the all too common “referrer scoop” ( where a cookie brought to the signup screen inserts a referrer, and the person signing up did not realize it).

As for the first of these, the wiki information you linked to was accurate for a “sub-account” of the variety that not longer exists (and hasn’t for years). That information is there because some very old accounts still have such “sub-accounts”, so it is needed, but an “account” under your own hosting account for a user, domain, etc. is not what this section is talking about. It is likely the that this is what confused Travis T., as he joined our staff after the demise of the “sub-account”, but picked up your usage of the term and gave you what he thought was relevant and accurate information.

Support work is full of these situations - the meaning of “account” is almost always effected by context (FTP account, DreamHost hosting account, registration only account, shell account, rewards account, etc,) much like the woefully inadequate term of “user” ( you’d quite likely be surprised at how many different ones of those exist at DreamHost ).

The second “gotcha” in your case was that dang referrer. Never underestimate the ingenuity of those that would surreptitiously stuff their referral code into a cookie on your system every chance they get, and it can happen just by clicking a link. Some of the more “interesting” threads in these forums over the years have been about what is “acceptable” and what is “unacceptable” in this area and, while some things are clearly banned, others are still “questionable”. The end result of this situation is that it is very possible, as you discovered, to end up at the signup page with a “referrer attached” without realizing it.

This is of ongoing concern to us, and I know our dev team and senior management are looking at ways to better control this so that no one ever ends up with a referrer attached to their account without them realizing it, and being able to stop it from happening if they choose to do so. I personally detest such things, and practices, but it is one of the things that has so thoroughly permeated this industry that we feel we need to have a program of this type in order to compete.

Note, I am not meaning to suggest in any way that ‘richardkershaw’ was out of line in whatever method he used to pass you that cookie - I don’t know how or when that happened. I am only saying it should not happen that you sign up without knowing that it happened!

All that said, your suggestions are golden! I’m not saying I think all of them would work, but they all warrant looking at. Note that not everything that seems like a good idea at first bears closer scrutiny. One example I can think of is letting the user alone determine when a ticket should be closed - with over 200,000 customers, at every level of experience and “social maturity”, the loudest and the most ignorant of the bunch could monopolize support resources to the point where reasonable and professional requests receive degraded service - and we don’t want this to happen.

Education and training of support technicians is also very important, and is an ongoing process as we grow and our systems evolve. Warts and all, with daily support request loads in the thousands and most answered quickly and accurately, our system is far from broken (but can always be improved).

Most DreamHost users, in most instances, receive a phenomenal value in support for the cost of a burger lunch each month - in addition to web hosting. That is no small achievement, and while we are always looking to improve in every way that makes economic sense, we remain proud of our support apparatus. :wink:

[quote]Through all of this, I still haven’t found out whether or not DH really could have just transferred a user and its associated content from one account to another, even though the wiki says it’s possible.
I can put that one to bed for you now. While almost anything is “possible”, we do not move domains, or users, at the present between accounts “automagically”. That has to be done as described in the first four sections of that wiki page unless you have a very old account and an entity listed as a “sub-account” ini your hosting plan section of the account control panel (and almost no one, at present, does).

You might want to know that you can always request that a ticket, or thread, remain with a given tech, and some users do this regularly, but that has it’s drawbacks. First, not everyone is equally expert in every aspect of everything we offer. It would be nice if they were, but different people excel at different things. Additionally, flagging your request to be handled by a chosen tech can significantly delay your response time - as no one on our staff works 24/7, and we try to give most folks two days a week off in a row.

I’ll also say that a lot of what you have written how support staffers might be “evaluated” and “compensated” is already being done - though our actual evaluation matrix has more variables than those you listed, and is tunable, depending upon remedial need or special circumstance. It’s good to be flexible and encourage folks to take direction seriously :wink: .

Whew, I’m about all typed out, but I wanted to make it clear that you are being heard. Again, the majority of what you suggest is there already, but we will evaluate all your suggestions - we may, or may not, implement them but we are continually adjusting our support operation to support the ever increasing flock of the masses to DreamHost, and all constructive input is appreciated.

–DreamHost Tech Support


Thanks for your excellent reply. I understand a lot better now.

As to the referrals:
If there’s a ‘cookie war’ going on out there that allows people to leave a persistent cookie for the actual dreamhost signup page, maybe the form we fill out to start a new account should reveal any existing referral code and what that particular referral means for all parties involved, along with the ability to remove or change it to a different preferred referral code so we can avoid using a referral code we didn’t mean to use. It’s better to discover this kind of stuff right up front before signing up, rather than having to figure it out by feeling around in the dark (like I did).

In the control panel Account Status, a link to the referral details should show the referral and what the promotional considerations it includes for the account owner and the referrer. When the terms of the referral promotional offer are over, or parts have lapsed or are still in effect, that should be made clear here.

I agree with what you say about experience and maturity of account holders. Maybe it would help to at least give us the ability to close the thread if we solved the problem ourselves while waiting for help, but give the support person leeway to close it if the problem is actually solved, falls outside the parameters of DH support, or a reply from the account owner doesn’t happen within a certain period of time.

I would like to emphasize that specific support concerns need to appear threaded for the account holder. These should be set up like a forum, with non-human stuff showing up in a separate ‘non-human’ sub-forum and human stuff showing in a threaded ‘human’ sub-forum. Non-human stuff should not allow replies. Human stuff should allow replies on line.

If I find a tech that actually remembers me and my concerns, I like the idea of sticking with that tech for non-emergency concerns. We’re all learning something new every day, and if we learn at the same time, the tech might associate me what s/he’s learned in a positive way. I might feel less like a number, and so might the tech.

Any chance the wiki could be changed to reflect what you said about accounts, subaccounts and users?


I’m noticing changes in the support system that look really good. The open tickets section under ‘contact support’ and the ‘tracked outages’ are an excellent addition to the system. When I went to tell support I couldn’t access a particular domain on ‘galactus’ by ftp or shell, it tracked the outage just as I was writing up a ticket about it. When I saw that they were aware of the problem in the tracked outages, I was able to delete the open ticket about it since it was redundant.

This really is better getting better and better.

Thanks for that!. I’m glad you are noticing some of the newish features! In reality, we are constantly tweaking that stuff - our development staff rolls out new code on a weekly basis, and we rarely announce any of this minor (in the grand scheme of things) housekeeping changes - it’s nice to see that they are noticed, on occasion, and appreciated. :slight_smile:

–DreamHost Tech Support