Burden of free hosting proves too much for Jumba

Customers in uproar over withdrawal of free service

In a move that has sparked a commotion amongst its users, Web hosting service provider, Jumba, has announced that it will withdraw its free Web hosting service as of December 8. All existing free customers, with the exception of a select group of 70 non-profit or charity Web sites, now face an ultimatum: upgrade to a paid service, or have your site taken offline.

Repercussions were swift for the Melbourne-based company, as dissatisfied customers turned to Australian broadband forum, Whirlpool, to vent their frustrations.

Just eight months ago Jumba's new business development and customer service manager, Adam Ferguson, assured Whirlpool users that the company had every intention of keeping its Web hosting service free.

"If we turned around and stopped offering our free hosting and told people to upgrade to a paid account," he wrote prophetically, "any 'reputation' we had on Whirlpool would be all but gone."

But the abolition of its free Web hosting service is only one of several complaints that Jumba has accumulated on Whirlpool. The company has been labeled problematic, disappointing, "incompetent" and "a joke". And while there have been a faithful few customers supporting Jumba, they have been unable to counter the recent onslaught of censure.

Meanwhile, Jumba has been busying itself with improving its level of customer support, and its ability to deal with a fast-growing paying customer base, according to company director, Michael Banks.

"It's now been over 12 months since we originally started offering that particular [free hosting] service. We now have to shift our focus to our paying customers," he said. "A lot of our paying customers were either not referring clients to us because we still had free customers or didn't feel that we were at the level of professionalism of other companies, because we still had what they called a 'burden' of free customers."

Banks explained that the past year has seen Jumba's customer base grow from 400 customers to nearly 10,000, only around 1,600 of which are free accounts. Managing the growth was a challenge, he said, as the company was simply not prepared to take on the sudden load of new customers.

"When you weigh up the fact that customers aren't referring people to us because we have this free hosting burden, you have to look at it from both sides," he said. "We looked at it long and hard, and we can support these customers better and the rest of our clients better by not having this burden on us anymore."

Besides discontinuing its free hosting service, Jumba has also increased its staff count from 10 to 12 people during the past six weeks. It has also appointed dedicated, full-time system administrators, and will introduce a custom built customer service system, JACSS (Jumba Advanced Customer Service System), early next month.

JACSS will allow customers to use one central system to view invoices, pay bills, update credit card information, store and manage cPanel sessions, as well as manage domain names. Customers will also be able to submit forms and request information via the service, and view where they are in a queue of support requests.

"If customers can self-serve with things like viewing invoices, paying accounts, requesting basic information, that is 90 percent of our workload at the moment," Banks said.

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