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VeriSign: We're Better, Really We Are

VeriSign , the world's largest registry and registrar with control of .com, .net and .org (among others), has a game plan to fix the mess that has become its reputation.

Dogged for its billing and support mismanagement, Champ Mitchell, VeriSign executive vice president of mass markets, is overseeing the revamp of his beleaguered division.

It's a story customers with a vested interest in the company's success have heard before. But now, after first announcing an all-encompassing restructuring plan, then getting downgraded by the major investment houses, executives are eager to move forward with improvement plans.

"We intend to walk our talk," Mitchell said.

The past year has seen a marked difference from business as usual for the registry/registrar, with technology and manning improvements to improve its operations, he said.

"The key to any turnaround is the people and we've made tremendous strides there," Mitchell said. "We've pretty much changed out the leadership of the mass markets division and cut our head count by about 30 percent. The reason we did that was not because business is falling off, but because we were badly overstaffed. It slows you down and makes you less efficient."

That's the story many are familiar with and associate with a company that's in large part responsible for the stability of the three most popular domain extensions in the world. Long phone hold times, missed invoices and charges of domain slamming have long been the norm.

Mitchell points to new technology, and a little help from an outsourcing company, as the reason for an improved customer experience. He said that in the past several months, several improvements have been made, whether through technology or operational efficiencies:

  • Abandonment rate dropping from 30 percent to 3 percent.
  • Customer satisfaction scores have improved "dramatically."
  • Wait time on the phone cut by more than 90 percent.
  • Number of outages cut in half.
  • Incidences (whether through "lost" domains or financial errors) decreased by 25 percent.
  • Completed phase two (of three) of an XML-based application program interface (API), new portal and new fault management tools for domain resellers.
  • Bulk renewal process to be implemented this month.

"We think that's pretty exceptional performance," Mitchell said. "What we've heard from our partners is that we are ahead or at parity with our competitors as far as their ease in switching."

In answer to the falling number of domain names registered at VeriSign, the mass markets VP points the finger at competing registrars. In the past, VeriSign has leveled charges of "domain slamming" against its competitors, which tricks customers into switching to another registrar.

It's led to a lot of acrimony between the registrars and VeriSign, which last year implemented a convoluted process which makes switching between registrars, namely away from VeriSign.

Mitchell plans to take it a step further, with a mass mailing campaign aimed at keeping its customers and even getting new ones.

"We've started a transfer program where, for the first time, we've gone out and done to others what has been done to us," he said. "For a long time we just laid there and let everybody take our base away. Those days are over and they will not return."

The campaign has been met with mixed reviews from competing registrars -- some who say the "invoices" suggesting domain name customers pay VeriSign to update expiring domains is fair game, while others call the practice akin to mail fraud.

"Can you honestly blame VeriSign?" quipped one. "They're not my favorite company, but many smaller companies have been doing exactly this to them for years."