Is Your Team Outage Ready ?
Handling customer service is a tricky job at the best of times; when things are going really wrong it can be terrifying. Having a plan for the crisis is very important. Listing down a few things that can help teams plan better for a crisis.
What’s a crisis plan?
A crisis response plan is a document that you and your team can use when things have gone badly wrong (like a major service outage or a security issue). It will help you make better decisions under pressure, and give better customer service.
The building blocks of great outage communication
While we are in an outage, it’s important to show empathy, coz your customers are often in an even more difficult situation. They are impacted by the outage, but they very less information about what is happening. In many cases, they also have their own customers, asking them for answers.
By being an accurate, clear and timely source of information, you can reduce their frustration significantly. It should:
- Inform : Let them know what is happening and how the changes you are doing are helping them to solve the problem.
- Build confidence: Let them know the situation is being taken seriously and actively worked on
Decide which support channels you will offer
Will you respond on email, on twitter, by phone, on Facebook? Can you realistically do all that in a crisis? Or should you funnel people from those places into one full support channel ? Having a System that funnels all these request in to one unified view helps with having to deal with them separately.
Nominate team members
Decide which role should be responding on which channel, who will deal with internal stake holders who will handle customer complaints. Include a list of escalation points; how and when to contact developers, managers and operational teams.
Create a general response system
Create an easily updatable page where your customers can self-serve to see if there are any known issues, businesses need to ensure that they actually keep it up to date.
Rather than having to come up with the right words on the fly, spend time in advance deciding on what terms to use (the ones your customers will understand!) and share lots of specific examples with internal teams.
Example of a general response structure:
- Acknowledge the issue exists, and let the customer know it isn’t their fault
- Explain the situation to the best of your current knowledge
- Let the customer know how and when they will get further updates
- Explain what is being done to resolve it, and give a timeline where you can
This is when you put your plan into action. So make sure the plan is readily available and up to date.
How bad is it?
Your early warning systems will help, but the faster you can see the scope of the problem the better your customer service can be.
Who can help?
Determine who you need to get in touch with (developers? managers? Business Owners? Brand Managers? third party providers?) and bring them in.
Work on a rapid response
You may have many people contacting you in a short period. Work out a shared basic response that accepts the problem and explains what is happening and get your team using that to quickly respond to every person.
Important: Take the time to modify the response to the specifics of each customer’s case. It makes a big difference to them.
A fast first response is great but if the problem continues with no further details being shared the goodwill evaporates. Work out how often you need to update people depending on the type and severity of the problem. This can vary based on the industry and nature of the problem.
Keep all communication channels open and updated
Someone in customer service needs to be a little pushy in finding out what is going on, on behalf of the customer. It helps both sides so that internal updates are given at regular intervals without any push :) Don’t leave your support team on their own to guess at what is happening and when it will be fixed. Help them to help your customers by keeping them informed.
Maintain a list of people to follow up with, some customers will need to know immediately that the problem is resolved. If you don’t keep a list it is hard to do that in a timely way.
Once the immediate issue is resolved, take some time to apologise to the affected people and improve your system for next time.
Try and Avoid
Avoid the fake “It wasn’t so bad” or “it wasn’t our fault” apologies.
A real apology is
- Very Genuine
- Has a detailed post facto analysis
- Open to a response from the customer
Makes sense to have it come from anyone higher in the organization, some one at the C level helps to calm angry customers.
Generic error messages throughout the provisioning system, some people able to use it while other are getting errors while placing orders, while performing certain actions…
A bad status update title:
“Error Establishing a Database Connection”
“Server Not Found”
These are too specific and require too much knowledge to be useful for most audiences.
A good status update title:
“Some customers seeing error messages and unable to use the product page.”
This describes the issue in the way customer’s will see it, and in the verbiage they’d use if they contacted you.
“Some customers are seeing intermittent error messages throughout their email account. We’re aware of the issue and are working on it urgently. Incoming emails are being safely received and stored, but won’t show in your account until the problem is resolved. We recommend not sending any outgoing messages at the moment.
We’re really sorry to be holding you up today! Please know our engineering and operations teams are working hard to get everything up and running and we will update you right here in 15 minutes with the latest information.”
This covers what the customer is seeing, tells them what is affected, lets them know if they need to change their usage, and tells them when to expect the next update.
Iterate to modify processes and procedures
Review the whole event and see what can be learned for next time. Some good questions to ask:
- Was the crisis plan used?
- Where all the tools your required available to help customers?
- Timely information shared quickly, and accurately?
- Create a home for internal documentation that is updated
- Focus on soft skills for new people, maybe above technical training
How does all this help
Several studies have shown that recovering well from a failure in service can lead to a higher customer satisfaction level than never having a failure at all — the “Service Recovery Paradox.”