Zen shares thoughts on growing with the customer in mind

Established over 20 years ago, Zen Internet has grown from a pioneering ISP into a company that provides the full range of data, voice and hosting services to business and residential customers across the UK. Loyal to the local community of Rochdale, where the business was founded, Zen has grown year by year.

From their first ever award in 1996 for ‘Best Growth Business’ at the Rochdale Chamber Business Awards, Founder, Richard Tang has sought to continuously improve and innovate to grow the business.

In 2014, to help serve their customers better Zen re-organised the business into divisions focused on customer sectors. This shift from being product-led to customer-led opened the way for a greater focus on growing the domains and hosting business.

Shifting markets = shifting priorities

Of course, 2014 was also a time of significant change in the domain name market with the first of the new gTLDs coming onto the market and the introduction of the new shorter .uk domain.

John Baker, Product Manager – Shared Hosting explains, “We knew that these new domains may be especially appealing to our small business customers who were seeking to develop an online brand, so we set about seeking the best ways to provide them these new services. We needed to find a new partner who could provide us with the new gTLDs, but it was Nominet’s focus on the new .uk domain that helped us to get our first success in this new world of domains.”

Zen decided that Nominet’s free .uk promotion to rights holders was a good opportunity to test the water.  They created an email campaign that was sent to 20,000 existing rights holders. The key element of the campaign was to show the recipient’s current domain, with the new .uk domain alternative alongside it. As a result of this approach, registration and renewal rates for the .uk domains increased significantly.

With Zen focusing solely on the UK market, they only had a limited range of TLDs available to them. As a result, they were looking for a partner who could help them expand the range of TLDs that they could offer to their customers.

Zen evaluated the domains available, based on set criteria, and selected the ones which they deemed to be most relevant to their customer needs and wants. As a result of this exercise, Zen now offer over 300 new TLDs to their customers.

This meant not overloading with inappropriate domains that were clearly for markets which their customers would not be interested in, such as not signing up for US-centric spellings and strings.

The new TLDs have been promoted via the website, with customers able to buy them there and then online. To ensure a seamless online ordering experience, Zen developed a new dynamic search function within its existing online ordering process. By removing redundant functionality and improving how customers could search for and buy the new TLDs, Zen was able to successfully drive sales.

Baker continues, “Over the last year we have increased our domain name business by twice the usual growth rate. We put this down to a number of factors. The reorganisation of the business has enabled us to have greater ability to serve what the customers want. With a person dedicated to the domains and hosting business we have been able to expand our offer and provide a better service. This has resulted in significant uptake of these services particularly within the small business and residential market.”

A rounded growth ethos

Beyond the domains side Zen has also been stepping up the action in their hosting business. They have launched a new windows service on Plesk to complement their long serving and highly rated Cpanel service. The quality of these new platforms has enabled them to win PCPro Best Hosting Award, something the team are very proud of.

A core component of Zen’s ethos is its customers, who sit at the heart of everything that they do. This means that ensuring the customer has the best possible solution to their needs lies at the heart of their approach. At times this may mean taking a short-term hit on profitability but done with the long-term customer relationship in mind. An example of this is the recent migration of their web-hosting platform. As a result of this, they were able to reduce the costs to the customer, whilst delivering an improved experience.

This principle of fairness runs throughout the business and is nowhere more prevalent than the company’s desire to maintain its strong links with the local community. Zen is known for its pre-employment scheme where they provide an accelerated training programme on hosting, broadband and phone support to local applicants without knowledge of the industry. There is the possibility of full-time employment at the end of the course dependent on success and business need.

Baker concludes: “Zen is a little bit different in the domains and hosting world. Our growth has been organic, and often word of mouth driven. We even won a Royal Horticultural Society Award for the gardens around our headquarters. It’s these little things, combined with a constant desire to meet our customers’ needs – we’ve just added Microsoft Office 365 for business and our own Zen branded mobile solution – that means the staff enjoy working here and are prepared to go the extra mile for our customers.”