Eight and a half years ago, I joined a company called Emphasys Software.
I'd been invited to step into a leadership role to help it build better software faster.
At the time there had been several products that were intended to be sold back to existing customers – products that had been promised to customers but hadn't been delivered.
So in the first quarter of my time there I planned a trip for me and my team. We were headed to Cincinnati to meet with their Executive Director to collect feedback and input.
I arrived a day early, before the rest of my team, so that I could get some one on one time with him and his key staff. You know, as a way to hear what we'd be hearing that week, before my team heard it.
I walked into the ED's boardroom and sat on one side of the table. On the other sat three folks, who then proceeded to share with me everything that we'd done wrong.
I took notes.
After a couple of hours, the ED began bringing in department heads who had their own take on how we had been failing them. And this went on for hours.
When I left that day, I was clear about three things.
- The work to turn the customer around would take time.
- Regardless of some exaggeration, much of the feedback was true.
- Some people might not give us a chance, but our best bet was some quick wins.
It's been eight years since I had that meeting, and I'm happy to say things have really turned around.
But this isn't a story about me. Or Emphasys Software. It's a story about GoDaddy.
GoDaddy – the company we love to hate
Maybe your first experience with the company was their SuperBowl ads. If so, then you likely wondered what half-naked women had to do with domain name registrations.
You wouldn't be the first.
Maybe your first experience with the company was a story about their former CEO, Bob Parsons, killing an elephant and making a video of it. Maybe it bothered you.
You wouldn't be the first.
Or maybe your first experience was when your website was performing poorly and you contacted them, only to hear about tons of upgrade offers. Maybe you felt nickled and dimed.
You wouldn't be the first.
Everyone has their own story of why they hate GoDaddy. And those stories are the kinds that can be told and retold over and over until they take on a sense of current reality – even if the new management team is trying to change things.
Because in case you hadn't heard, there is actually a new management team over there. And they're dedicated to making things better. But it's likely you're hesitant to believe them.
You wouldn't be the first.
How do you turn around public perception?
When I think about the challenge facing GoDaddy, particularly in the WordPress community, I consider it to be one of the hardest problems a company can have.
After all, it's a perception challenge and that's not something they control.
Nevertheless, I thought it might be interesting, as a thought exercise (they didn't request or pay me for this article), to consider what it would take to turn that perception around.
To that end, I think it's worth exploring two other organizations that have faced similar challenges – both completely outside of this space, and yet both, I think, very applicable.
Turning Around TicketMaster
You don't have to travel too far back in time to remember when you didn't know what kind of service fees would be attached to your TicketMaster purchase.
You'd pick a ticket for $45 and click thru several steps, only to discover a $25 convenience fee at the very last step which wasn't very convenient at all.
But that's changed. Today you see the service fees up front so that you know exactly what a ticket will cost you.
It's just one of the several changes that have taken place over the last several years under former CEO Nathan Hubbard.
His focus, in improving things there, centered around two areas:
- Building better relationships with ticket purchasers
- Leveraging the networks of those customers
Most ticket purchasing sites let me share with my network (on Twitter or Facebook) the fact that I've purchased a ticket to a concert.
TicketMaster went further to show me, as I was buying seats, where my friends were sitting (alas, in the photo below, none of them have yet to purchase tickets for Hall & Oates in San Diego).
By bringing the total price to the surface earlier, letting me pick my seats (instead of “best available”), and by helping me see where my friends might be sitting, it created greater transparency in the process which developed greater trust.
Trust it takes to the bank as I end up buying more tickets, for more concerts, and share that information with others to invite them to join me.
Trust requires transparency.
Turning Around Pepco Holdings, Inc
If you don't live in Maryland, New Jersey, or Delaware, you might have never heard of Pepco, Atlantic City Electric, or Delmarva Power – all part of Pepco Holdings, Inc.
I'm pretty sure it's not hard to get to that spot if you can't keep people's electricity running. Seems pretty basic to me.
But the challenges they faced, in turning perception around, and how they did it, are lessons for us all.
The first thing they did was establish a new communications team. And even after that was established, they brought in an outside agency to help them with strategic communications.
Then, they created a plan that would push them to be more proactive, rather than reactive.
It meant focusing on more than just information on the status of power outages during storms.
They focused on client education, alerts about changing weather conditions (before things got bad), and started focusing more on the restoration process during storm communications.
But that wasn't it. They created campaigns on topics that were important to their customers:
- How rates relate to their system improvements
- How customers could save money
- Reliability and restoration efforts
- Giving back to the community
And they did this across multiple channels (television, print, on bills, etc).
They also invested in technology much like TicketMaster. All with the intent to engage end users more effectively and more directly.
Continuous improvement requires continuous communication.
Turning around GoDaddy
Step one: Build relationships
One of the tricks Pepco used, and one I regularly recommend to companies trying to manage perception, is to build better relationships with folks in the community they're serving.
Indeed it looks like they've already started this, as I know several friends who've had conversations with their new management team.
Jeff King, their VP of Hosting, is one of the new members of the team, and he's a smart guy with a clear sense of where he's going. The more conversations he has, and the better he builds relationships with people, the more likely people will be to give him five minutes. Or to watch for changes he's making.
Better relationships translate to better “coverage.” People stop saying things like “GoDaddy is horrible” and start saying, “GoDaddy has a new management team and they're starting to make some changes. We'll see…”
After all, “we'll see” is pretty good given the past.
Step two: Quick wins
Much like TicketMaster did, it's time for GoDaddy to review some of their policies or approaches and make some tweaks that might give it a quick win.
I'm sure everyone has their own list, but on mine are services that get automatically renewed which aren't in use. I'm not talking about domain names – I get that. I'm talking about SSL certs, hosting, etc.
If you kill the service, and have other dependent services dangling, it'd be nice if they caught it and stopped billing. Asking me if I really needed them. Something to proactively stop from taking my money for things I'm not using.
Sure, you can tell me it's all my fault, but it continues the suggestion that all they care about is my cash. It's not true. It's changing. But the perception will remain as long as auto-billing keeps collecting money for things I'm not using or haven't used in a long while.
Step three: Win on Big Stuff
I've already seen a couple of performance comparisons where GoDaddy servers are performing better than they ever had.
That's critical, because at the end of the day, availability and performance are the big things people care about. It's why so many people discard them – because their shared servers historically were really poor performers.
But they can't win simply one or two comparisons. They need to start winning them all. Do that consistently, and a lot will be forgiven (as long as it doesn't come with phone calls asking me to upgrade something).
Step four: Keep Branching Out
I know it's counter-intuitive to say not to worry about the WordPress community, but it's focus is small business. And I've said it several times, the small business customer cares about value and features but not technology.
So buy an email services (like they announced this morning). And buy accounting software (Outright in 2012). And build an arsenal of tools for the small business owner so that your reputation focuses on value delivered, and not simply technology based.
What's our takeaway?
If you focus on the small business market, never forget that primarily you exist to solve pain. Because that market has a lot of it. And serving that market is work. So do your homework on pricing. Deliver value. And who knows, maybe one day GoDaddy will come calling.
If you find yourself facing bad PR, then focus on
- Increasing transparency
- Communicate frequently
- Educate your market & give back
- Building relationships
- Looking for quick wins
- Solve real problems
Do that, and I think you'll find yourself in a better spot than ever before.