Taking Advantage of Small Business Ignorance

April 10, 2014 | By Paul Mackenzie Ross | Filed in: business, Internet, tech.


I recently received a phone call from a local small business, asking for my assistance. Owning a mass of domain names, websites and email accounts, they were having trouble understanding and managing their portfolio, so I agreed to step in to organise and consolidate their web assets.

With very little information other than the names of the domains themselves, the first job was to track down and transfer all the TLDs away from multiple registrars to just one. Despite the complexities of the task, all went comparatively well until dealing with one registrar – hibü.

Now, for those of you who may not be aware, hibü is the new (2012) name for Yell, itself rebranded for online differentiation from its traditional print business with the iconic Yellow Pages telephone directory. When I investigated the whois for one of my client’s domain names, the registrant was listed as being Yell Limited, part of this Yell/Yellow Pages/hibü group.

I called hibü on the 0800 telephone number listed on their website and had a conversation with a member of the support team about what I needed to do to assist our mutual client. I was informed that my client would need to cancel their website hosting contract with hibü and, if there were no outstanding payments on the account, the .co.uk domain name would be transferred away at no cost.

Sounds straightforward doesn’t it? Well, not owing hibü any money, the client cancelled their hosting and requested the transfer of their domain name. What they were met with was very strong resistance to their intent of taking their business elsewhere. I was actually present at the client’s premises attending to some IT jobs when the conversation about the cancellation and transfer occurred. I was even invited into the discussion with the hibü rep when it came to the “tech talk” (our client is self-admittedly not tech savvy).

What I did hear, when the client kindly shared his part of the call on loudspeaker, was a “hard sell” from the hibü rep to try and persuade the client to stay. What I overheard was a comical mix of ridiculous analogies, thinly-veiled threats and dramatic language. Despite being told that the client was arranging hosting and a website elsewhere, the support rep’s analogies about removing foundations from houses were just plain silly. The threat that the site would lose its easily-obtained Google ranking for a particular keyphrase made me laugh out loud and the wounded tone of the hibü rep, complaining that the client would be destroying the production-line website of the sort that Yell have churned out for years, sounded just a little bit desperate.

I took the phone once again and gave the rep a clear set of instructions: cancel the hosting and transfer the domain name, providing them with the IPS tag of the new registrar. But this could not be done, I was told – the domain name was registered to and belonged to hibü not the client who was under the impression that it was their domain name (Lesson of the day: read the small print!)

Now, it’s not best practice have a host or web designer’s name as the registrar for numerous reasons, (although there *are* sometimes benefits to do so) but if that is the case there’s an unwritten gentleman’s agreement that if the client needs their domain transferred then you just do it. Not hibü. They wanted £45 + VAT to transfer the domain away despite earlier confirmation that this was supposed to be free of charge. The client was rather annoyed to say the least. I made clear the situation and instructions to the hibü rep and added that not only had they raised their voice, were rude, interrupting and unprofessional but these obstructionary tactics were a waste of everyone’s time and that we required immediate action on this and with no additional charges.

End of conversation.

The phone rang just a few minutes later and the rep’s tone had changed – he stated that the call was being recorded, so there was no need for us to change our pitch at this end, but our friend at hibü was suddenly on his best behaviour. He not only promised to waive all the additional fees but even volunteered his own details (name, rank and serial number) in order that we could contact him again to speed up the process. That was the result we needed, progress had been made.

But the story doesn’t stop there – why such hard ball play from hibü? It’s extremely rare that it happens, but I can appreciate not wanting to lose clients. However, our mutual client said he’d heard that the former Yell business was in trouble in America. Investigating this, I read that hibü had gone into administration in November last year!

The “financial restructuring” that goes along with a business being in administration explains a lot – our friends at hibü are obviously out to get as much as they can and I wouldn’t be surprised if the rep was on a commission for retaining as many clients as possible. All I will say is that there are ways to be persuasive and the best one is to be completely honest and straightforward and if that doesn’t work, just let the client go – maybe they should have been treated better in the first place.

Anyway, that was just a little bit of interest for you on a sunny Thursday afternoon. I certainly take a dim view of firms that like to take advantage of small business’ ignorance – if a client is not tech-savvy  then I believe it is the job of the supplier to educate clearly or at least handle the matter with an understanding and sympathetic manner.

So, good luck to hibü who have only just recently restructured and if, like KnowHow and PC World, their staff need some help then handing out copies of Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People (in the digital age) would certainly keep the conversation more agreeable.

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