Carter already told you that it’s crucial to communicate about your issues. But where do you communicate? This is something you need to figure out in advance because emotions will be high when your crisis is occurring, and you don’t want to be debating the merits of tweeting outages.
0. Support Tickets
I would hope this goes without saying, but respond to any support tickets you have gotten about an issue!
1. Social Media
The first place many folks are going to go during an issue is social media. If you’re lucky, they’ll check your profile first (many will just start complaining). If you don’t have anything posted they’re going to see you as unaware of the issue and incompetent.
Don’t freak out about a bunch of people seeing your failure. 71% of tweets aren’t responded to. Only a few folks will see that you’re having an issue, but what’s important is that those looking for it (those who have spotted the issue) see that you’re on top of it.
Sorry for the unannounced downtime, One of our servers decided to give us trouble. We have moved some things around for the time being.
— Artician (@Artician) April 28, 2013
(We don’t generally post issues on Facebook. Facebook posts can have a longer half-life than Twitter and that can actually be misleading if the issue is already resolved. That said, we’re a business-to-business company and most of our customers are on Twitter. For a consumer brand, Facebook might make sense.)
Sidebar: Main account or secondary account?
There’s a lot of debate about whether outages (and support in general) should be handled on a brand’s main social media account (@uservoice) or a support-focused account (@blackberryhelp). I personally think the damage of splitting outweighs the risk, and Chase Clemons of SupportOps agrees.
“I’d definitely recommend doing support on your main Twitter account. I use an app (who shall go nameless for now) that has three different Twitter handles – a main one, a support one, and an ops one. Which one do I interact with? Where do I go when I need to find out why their app is down? Why does one answer sometimes but the other rarely does? It’s a horrible, segmented experience.
Have one handle that does everything. Helping customers, marketing new tools, updating on downtime, etc. Customers want a central place to go for in. Potential customers like seeing that you’re active with your customers. Your team gets one place to keep up with things. It’s neat and clean with everyone winning.”
Keep in mind that it’s not necessarily bad for folks to see you dealing with support issues on Twitter. In fact, it might help generate sales. It shows that you care and pay attention to your customers…wheras Blackberry customers will see @Blackberry tweeting quizzes while they’re experiencing issues.
If an issue is significant (you can see how we define “significant” in our critical issue process), I recommend putting it on your blog. Why? Because that’s another top destination for folks seeking information about issues they’re encountering.
Some folks like to have a separate statusblog. I have similar concerns to the “second Twitter account” concept, but I think it can work if you clearly link to it from your main blog.
3. To your team
This one is often overlooked. You solved the issue and answered customers, so now it’s Miller Time, right?! Unfortunately, not informing your team can have negative consequences. What if a sales rep is talking to a major client and says “we’ve been outage-free for three months”? The client isn’t going to be happy or impressed when that rep follows up with him and says “oops, I was wrong.”
Make sure anyone who interacts with customers is aware of the issue. For companies smaller than one hundred I actually recommend emailing everyone on the staff. It’s useful for customer-facing staff and a good reminder to development staff that they need to check their code.
Making these decisions in advance save you from the inevitable debate as to whether you should share an issue. Have a plan, have channels, and when the time comes you won’t have to hesitate.
Bug photo courtesy of Guitavares.