Why I feel that Dreamhost is patronizing me.

Every company makes mistakes, and I’m actually quite forgiving about it, what they do next is what will make or break me as a customer, and I have the habit of telling a few thousand people.

I’ve been a customer of Dreamhost since I’ve had this domain and have had quite a few outages, and recently my blog was 403 (forbidden to others), as they forgot to fix all the settings when I moved to a dedicated server. Despite these hardships (which I’m willing to let go, you know I used to work at Exodus, a web hosting company) I’m sympathetic towards web hosts.

Despite my willingness to forgive, I have a hard time when I feel like I’m being patronized when I received the following email:

Hi jeremiah!

Ack. Through a COMPLETE bumbling on our part, we’ve accidentally attempted to charge you for the ENTIRE year of 2008 (and probably 2009!) ALREADY (it was all due to a fat finger)!

We’re really really realllly embarassed about this, but you have nothing to worry about. Please ignore any confusing billing messages you may have received recently; we’ve already removed all those bum future charges on your account (#198980) and fixed everything up.

Thank you very very much for your patience with this.. we PROMISE this won’t happen again. There’s no need to reply to this message unless of course you have any other questions at all!

The Foolish DreamHost Billing Team!

To add insult to injury…

Despite the misspelling (embarassed) what really caught me was the blame of a ‘fat finger’ (I subdued my original title for the post). That’s not the cause, and companies need to take accountability in a human, and up front way of what the problem was. Later, I discovered an apology and explanation blog post, entitled “Um, Whoops.” sadly, they used cartoons (Homer Simpson) and images from pop movies (as well as elsewhere on their blog) to back peddle. I don’t need language written in chat-room-type language, I expect professional and sincere communications. The Dreamhost status blog (is this run by a different group? it must be) provides the information in a succinct, yet sincere manner.

While we complain about the cold heartless press release, I think the Dreamhost communications is a swing too far to the left, and recommend that we all find a place somewhere closer to the middle. I’d rather see pictures of the employees working on the problem (or live streaming) from the data center to demonstrate to me how professional they are working.

This patronizing doesn’t get my sympathy, instead it makes me irritated.

34 Replies to “Why I feel that Dreamhost is patronizing me.”

  1. I completely agree with you. After reading your Tweet this morning I’ve found 2 of my bank accounts overdrawn with penalties. Got the same email. too. Luckily, I host with Lunar Pages for my main website. The billing errors have yet to be fixed and the Dreamhost Blog is just too infuriating to read, and too soon for me to comment in a calm manner. Thanks for this post.

  2. I got the same notification yesterday, though my card was not billed. I ALWAYS turn off the “automatically renew” or “save my card information” feature on sites like that in the fear of just such an incident.

    I can only imagine which fat finger a lot of people are extending to them this morning…

  3. I think it was a mistake. They tried to show they were human and apologize for the mistake. Yet at the same time their message seems to trivialize the issue.

    I would rather have received a professional apology and some bullets on how they were going to prevent this type of issue in the future.

    They can show a lighter side in the rest of their communications. This “Fat Finger” mistake caused real problems for some who cannot overlook it.

  4. This has actually happened before and one reason I no longer use them. Four years ago, I was billed for a year, then they credited me back twice, and when they went to correct that mistake, billed me twice, which left me back where I started. It took 2 weeks to get it straightened out. I won’t even go into the nightmare that happened when I tried to change hosts and move all my files. Good luck.

  5. Jeremiah,

    I am probably treading on hot water here since I work for a web hosting company Network Solutions.(This comment is my personal opinion). I agree with Sal DiStefano “…it was a mistake. They tried to show they were human and apologize for the mistake. “. I am not a Dream host customer so I can only sympathize.

    Everyone makes mistakes . Billing is something that there should be sufficient checks and balances to avoid any human error. I know as a former Product Manager it took a long time for us to throughly test billing issues but hopefully it prevented errors like this.


  6. The interesting thing is that the honesty conveyed in that jokey fat-finger explanation reveals how unprofessionally their billing department is run. The fact that there were no checks and balances in place to guard against an error of this scale makes me think that the entire company is hanging on by a thread.

  7. This letter is outrageous! I guess this is what happens when companies are trying too hard to get away from stuffy corporate speech! I’m with you, the tone of the letter is inappropriate, this is not a cutesy joke, it would be if they billed $2 by mistake, but that’s obviously not the case. Besides, what if someone needs to show this letter to credit card companies, would they take it seriously?

    It’s hard to find that authentic, honest human voice…

  8. I know I’m going to be in the minority here – but I think it’s not that they were trying to patronize you – or anyone else for that matter – it’s that the apology was written by someone with less than stellar communication skills.

    It is very hard to communicate emotional context through email. Yet we all try to do it.

    Read one way, that email comes across patronizing and mildly smarmy. Read another, it comes across as sincerely contrite and overly self-abasing.

    Translating the written word into the appropriate/intended vocal context is damned tricky… hence the archetypal joke of the actor trying the same line out a dozen times with a dozen different emphases.

    Somewhere at Dreamhost, there is an employee who tried to make good by trying to use humor to diffuse a lot of wrath – and is now reeling from finding out s/he compounded the error. Hopefully, it becomes a learning opportunity for him/her rather than just the event that cost them their job.

    Along with a class in credit, balancing a checkbook, and how to get a mortgage, they need to start teaching classes in high school on how to send business email.

    I’m inclined to think that wrath toward the billing department over the misbilling is appropriate, but wrath over the poor attempt to ameliorate the hard feelings with humor is misplaced.

    It was, as others have said, a mistake. Unfortunately, one that will probably cost the company more money than the original one.

  9. After clicking thru to their blog/explanation, I’m even more convinced of what I said.

    “If the tone of this blog post seemed a little light, I apologize I don™t mean to offend and I realize how serious an issue this is. I™ve been up since 3:50am trying to undo the damage and maybe I™m a little shell-shocked.”

    “If, because of this billing mistake, you somehow incurred some fees from your bank or credit card company, please let us know after tomorrow (today we are just replying to all 10,000+ billing messages with a generic explanation) and we™ll do our best to make it right for you.”

    Honestly? It seems like a genuine mistake, and a poor choice in email communication.

  10. yndygo

    Thanks for that perspective. I understand your point, and the if you’re right, the intention the Dreamhost staff is trying to do.

    Regardless, this is a business, and they are impacting other peoples obviousnesses and lives.

    We expect a business message in times like this. I love an honest and open apology, and sometimes actions speak louder than words when it comes to correcting the issues.

  11. I don’t think this is a huge deal…it’s a tongue in cheek mea culpa for an issue that they caught and resolved. A minor issue at that.

    This wasn’t a heart transplant gone wrong, this wasn’t a space shuttle exploding on launch, it was a billing mistake, which happens ALL the time and is usually handled with a much more draconian “we are the infallible business” attitude. Personally, I would prefer the former over the later – especially since they fixed the issue.

  12. I don’t think they’re attempting to be patronizing. Dreamhost tries to present itself as a “human company” with this sort of communication. They do it on the blog, in their emails, and in their e-newsletter.

    Personally, I find it kind of annoying, and would prefer something a bit more neutral than this (without being dry and boring, like most corporate communications), but I don’t think they’re trying to make light of the situation, as much as they’re trying, as yndygo said, to defuse the situation with humour. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite come across that way.

  13. Really? Patronizing? As you read the email, did your tie roll up & smack your Evian water bottle, as you drove your Beamer off into the sunset? 🙂
    I am in the corporate world and appreciate genuine email “speak” rather than some stuffy, un-feeling, stiff, so 1980’s corporate speak.
    So it was funny!
    Hopefully someone didn’t get fired due to the over-reaction of the email verbiage…and not the huge mistake of the “fat finger”.

  14. Interesting that you felt patronized. I see it more as carelessly flippant. I think that if a company sends you a notice that they’ve made a mistake with your account and overcharged they should be polite, professional and sincerely apologetic. Humor has its place. This isn’t it.

  15. superlisa (and others who made the same comment)

    you’re probably right, it may not be patronizing but I think we all agree it could have been handled better.

    Jen, for some folks (read the comment #1 from Lilly who is now overdrawn) it isn’t funny. This is more than Facebook showing ads to my friends with my face on it, this has financial implications for some.

  16. The rule is if you’re dealing with your customers’ money, you’d better serious up, and fast. You can use a sincere, conversational tone without being condescending.

    I have a feeling they didn’t fully realize the implications of their mistake when that light-hearted explanation was posted.

  17. Speaking of patronizing:
    You used the wrong spelling of pedal. That is, you used “back peddle”, instead of “back pedal”. I usually wouldn’t comment, but in this case it’s deliciously funny because it could be taken to mean they were trying to reverse the sale 🙂

  18. This bandwagon is moving way too fast for me to jump on…

    I got the same message and was fine with it. When something like this happens I don’t want to wade through tons of marketing speak or explanations of what happened and why. I simply want them to acknowledge what happened and assure me that it won’t happen again. That they did it in this tone is completely in line with all of Dreamhost’s communications. I don’t know why all you killjoys are so surprised.

    And to commenter 21 – thank you for pointing that out. Irony’s a bitch, ain’t it?

  19. Dude, Dreamhost is completely incompetent with billing. I’ve had repeated problems with this. I don’t mind the silly message(s) I get from Dreamhost, I just want them to figure out their billing system.

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  21. I got this error and laughed about it when I got the notification for the fix. I see nothing wrong with how Dreamhost handled the situation. I’m dirt poor and have about 60 dollars to my name at the moment since the rest of my money goes to rent, school, food, gas, etc. So this isn’t simply a matter of me having too much money to care about the error since it would have really set me back. In the end, they aren’t underreacting, it’s you who was overreacting.

  22. Dreamhost customer support emails are often patronizing simply because their reps don’t bother to read the email history before responding. They superciliously inform the ignorant customer to do something that’s already been tried when it has been established in umpteen emails that it’s Dreamhost’s problem anyway.

    DreamHost’s poor customer service has led to a serious privacy invasion. When my client attempted to sign up for an account, the transaction hung halfway through. When customer service (which can only be reached by tedious email exchanges) “fixed” the problem, the pay by credit card option was no longer available. The customer service representative insisted that we use Google Payments. I proceeded, and then my client realized his financial information is now in the Google system. The worst possible scenario then came true. Instead of completing the transaction, Google called my client’s bank for “preapproval”. This was not to complete the transaction (which was never completed), but to gather information for Google’s marketing. My client is furious, reviewing everyone’s privacy policy, and is looking into ways to bring this problem up at the political, and possibly the legal, level.

    Throughout this whole situation, Dreamhost has been nothing but pig-headed. Every customer service representative ignores the case history and either refers us back to Google Payments or says patronizing things like we could have paid with the original credit card system. I offered them a solution where I quietly pay for the account using Google transactions, and they won’t even let me help bail them out!!!

    I will never refer another client to dreamhost. Right now I’m looking for the best place to air this complaint publicly in as many places as possible. People have to know that when Dreamhost pushes people into using Google Payments, Google then has their financial information to aggregate and deploy for their own purposes.

    Addendum: Dreamhost’s customer service reps also flame customer’s who complain on their forum. I know because one used his forum ID while responding to an email with the customer service issue header on it.

  23. Dreamhost is okay however I’ve had better customer service and faster load times for about the same price with HostGator. They are definitely worth checking out.

  24. I got to tell you, I disagree with all of the above people who expect “professional” communication.
    I like to see humor and personal touches in messages (from anyone, even a company).

    If there is one thing I hate to see it is the endless and emotionless, dragged on messages I get sometimes from companies(those kinds of messages sound very insincere when they are apologizing).

    I expect them to act human and reply human, not “professionally” and insincere (like saying “we are very sorry for this” and “I understand the inconvience you have because of this”; both of those are from my recent reply from Microsoft Support).

    Unfortunately, I am not a DreamHost costumer, but if I was, I would love to get messages such as that one you got (except without the billing stuff).

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