Beware of cost-cutting tech measures

A small business switches to a lower-cost Internet and phone provider, but ends up wasting time and money

Trying to save money in a depressed economy, our company ran into an example of how some cost-saving measures don't always help the budget.

After having the same Internet and phone service provider for over a decade, including moves to three different offices, we decided to change to a lower-cost provider.

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This particular provider mainly offered consumer services but made a great sales pitch about being good for small businesses. The price was right, the service and support were right (or so we were led to believe), and we liked what we found in the research.

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We would have to cut back on some services, which we had anticipated anyway. For instance, we would no longer have 100 direct phone numbers -- not much of a compromise since we have far fewer employees than that and were never able to achieve the large growth that our optimistic CEO had when he signed the contract originally. Our new CEO was a bit more practical.

What we didn't realize was just how much our services were going to be cut back.

The IT person put in charge of the project, "Steve," did a good job of planning and organizing the change. He had done his homework and was more than ready on the scheduled day. He expected the process to take about 2 hours and had warned everyone well ahead of time. He was careful to do everything so that there would be no interruption of our normal work in most of our sites -- the only exception was that at one site we would be without phones or email for a couple of hours while the change was made.

The big day arrived, and everything went according to plan -- except for one thing. For some reason, we couldn't get email from outside the company. We could send it just fine, but not receive it. Steve checked everything, and he checked it again and again -- for four days. He talked to the service provider support line enough times that he could almost recite back to them their standard "script" for service calls. However, there was still no incoming email.

Finally, he figured out the problem: The service provider didn't want us to get any spam, so they blocked the port that allows incoming email. It worked fabulously. We definitely didn't get any spam or any other email either.

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Even better, when Steve called the service provider's support and asked them to fix it, they said that kind of thing requires a more experienced support person with whom you have to schedule an appointment at least 24 hours in advance, not including weekends.

It took Steve about five minutes to temporarily switch back to the old provider (whose contract didn't end until the last of the month), and email flooded our inboxes.

When we finally did get a technician on the phone who knew what he was doing, he and Steve fixed the problem and got us up and running in a few minutes. It turned out to be a setting in our router that the new provider's technicians had checked and said was OK, but wasn't. We made the mistake of taking their word for it and didn't examine it close enough to see the problem.

A small business is still a business and requires business-class support, not hearing, "Sorry your company is severely handicapped, we'll schedule an appointment with our only guy who has a clue. How does next week sound?" Just the cost of spending so much time trying to figure out and fix the problem and the extra time spent communicating in ways other than email was probably more than we will ever save by changing to the "lower cost" service provider.

In these days of stretched resources, it takes only one such incident to show just how thinly spread out they truly are.

This story, "Beware of cost-cutting tech measures," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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