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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

VeriSign Inc, which is right up there with Microsoft Corp and America Online Inc in the disgruntled customer rankings, says it has made satisfying its dwindling base of domain name registrants its number one priority and has made progress this year,

writes Kevin Murphy

.

According to John Donoghue, senior VP at VeriSign since the start of the year, the company has a way to go, but has measurably reduced dissatisfaction this year by fixing outmoded technology and increasing the effectiveness of its customer support call centers.

"My biggest concern over the last 10 months has been dealing with the customer experience, of which customer service is a part," Donoghue told ComputerWire. "On any given day you can find somebody who has a problem with us, but there are a lot less people that do now than there were a year ago."

Scores of web sites are dedicated to tearing a strip off VeriSign and Network Solutions Inc (NSI, acquired by VeriSign in 2000). Some date back to before the domain market was opened to competition and NSI was a monopoly, but others have been launched as recently as the third quarter this year.

VeriSign's domain market share has been dropping like a rock for the past couple of years. While VeriSign claims the drop is largely due to the demise of the speculation market, a claim with more than an ounce of truth to it, it seems likely many customers are fleeing to the competition.

Hundreds of people have been annoyed enough to hunt down appropriate forums and post their experiences online. Stories vary from names inadvertently deleted and resold and fraud allegations to Catch 22 situations where in order to change your contact email address you must retrieve a password from a defunct email account.

A post to NSIHorrorStories.com tells of a customer who wants to make a citizen's arrest of CEO Stratton Sclavos. Another says he had to complain to his local Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau before his service issue was resolved.

Donoghue said historically "the reputation was well deserved" but says that technology upgrades, workforce expansion and training, and operational efficiencies are paying dividends, with key metrics indicating satisfaction is improving.

According to Donoghue, less than 2% of VeriSign's registrants call its customer service hotlines in any given month, half February levels. Call abandonment is down to 3% from about 30% in February, and average call time has been reduced from eight minutes to six minutes, he said.

"That's still too long, we still have to work to improve that," Donoghue said. "As a company we're dedicated to satisfying our customers."

Part of addressing the problem involves throwing manpower at it. VeriSign recently opened a new call center, its third, and has 500 call center employees, each of which has to take a two-week training course prior to manning the phones, Donoghue said.

The company also had to address the cleanliness of its customer databases, one of which dated back to 1993 and was originally kept on an Excel spreadsheet. One database had no facility for account numbers and passwords, and had to be migrated to newer software.

New web-based self-service tools are being introduced to simplify processes such as transferring a domain that previously would have required a four-page form to be completed, notarized and faxed back to the company, Donoghue said.

However, it seems there still may be room for improvement in VeriSign as a whole. The domain name business and the digital certificate business are "for the most part relatively autonomous", meaning domain support staff cannot help cert customers and vice versa.

This can become a problem because part of the authentication process VeriSign uses before issuing a web server cert is to check that the requesting party is also the registrant of the domain the cert will authenticate. VeriSign's main rival in the cert space, GeoTrust Inc, claims this is driving customers its way.

Donoghue, who works for the registrar side of the house, declined to comment on matters involving the cert business, but said that because the cert customer base is relatively small compared to the domain business, the amount of customer crossover is limited.

© ComputerWire

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