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“Accountability and responsibility.” My dad repeated this to me ad nauseum from the time I could speak until, well, still. No matter what I did I had to be accountable for my promises and responsible for my actions and their consequences. Being responsible for those consequences was easy when I did something good, but pretty challenging when I screwed up. In my house it was always understood that missteps happen to everyone, but we had be honest about them when they occurred. I hold companies to the same standard my dad held me to. For instance, if a company webpage goes down, I expect them own it and inform their customers. For instance, last week I was staring at “Internal Server Error” with no explanation….anywhere.

It was pay day and I was very excited to log into Bank of America to transfer my funds around (a favorite activity of many recent grads receiving their first ‘big boy’ paychecks). I logged into the site and then there it was: Internal Server Error. “Weird! WiFi must be down!” To check I went to Google+. Nope. Internet worked. Alright, I’ll try logging in again: Internal Server Error. “Third time’s the charm?” Internal Server Error. A quick review of Bank of America’s Twitter revealed no info. It was business as usual and there had never been a better time to mortgage my new home (apparently)! I tried again: Internal Server Error.

They say that a sign of madness (and idiocy) is doing the same thing over again and over again expecting different results. I didn’t think I was crazy (or an idiot), but Bank of America was telling me that everything was normal. “But….but….it isn’t.” I tweeted Bank of America, confused and frustrated. I wasn’t actually angry until I got this tweet back a few hours later amid many others just like it: “@CarterGee issues have been resolved. Site is back up ^EG”

Exactly how I felt

Exactly how I felt

….Oh. You mean you knew about your issues but you didn’t tweet your outage? You thought that it’s best to not “look bad” to your customers by telling them something’s wrong? Well now I’m about 50 times angrier because I didn’t know about the outage. It would have taken me one minute to check your Twitter account to see that I couldn’t access my account if you let me know you were having trouble. We use a ton of services everyday and an occasional “oopsie daisy” is expected (keyword: occasional). We’re most likely going to understand a hiccup, so tell us that there was one lest we spend far too long driving ourselves crazy thinking the WiFi is down and then redirecting that frustration back at you.

Refusing to acknowledge mistakes like outages isn’t a problem exclusive to Bank of America. There seems to be an attitude of “let’s hope no one notices and retroactively apologize if they do” in the tech industry and it’s pretty unbecoming. Too many companies are afraid that publicly reporting outages would anger their customers. To those companies I suggest that hiding mistakes is a far bigger breach of trust than informing customers something went wrong and that you’re working to fix it. Not letting your customers know something went wrong shows an organization that doesn’t take responsibility for its mishaps. It’s probably best for you to tell your customers you’re down before the press tells them for you. And hey, communicating your outage might actually make you money too.

I don’t expect everything to work perfectly all the time, but I do expect honesty and communication (it’s like dating!). So. Companies and the people who manage them – help me love you. You’re not doing yourself any favors trying to hide your missteps. Us customers are smart! We know when something’s awry. Use all those fancy social media tools to communicate with us – lest we find a competitor who’s more transparent.

And if you’re wondering how we communicate our outages, you can find our Critical Issue Escalation Process here.


 

Carter Gibson

About Carter Gibson