CaSaaStrophe (noun): a sudden software service failure causing widespread damage.

When caSaaStrophe strikes, you need to act fast. The way you handle customer communication during a crisis can mean the difference between devastating loss of trust and retaining customer loyalty. Do you have processes in place in case of a critical technical failure?

If not, even brief outages can see your customers heading out to competitors. Niamh Reed from global SaaS provider Parker Software, explains how to communicate with customers during, and after, a caSaaStrophe.

 

Why it’s important to communicate

Customer communication when your software is down isn’t about justification. Nor is it about trying to claw back control. (Although your prompt, upfront acknowledge is a step in the right direction.)  

Rather, it’s about honesty, accountability, and expectation management. You need to be transparent with the customers who’ve trusted you with their money, and you need to respond to the stress that a temporary loss of service has caused them.

Your software going down isn’t only angering customers because they can’t access your program. They’re also stressed by the loss of work, time and resources and the costs that implies. They’re annoyed by having backed you, or by not being able to serve their own customers. In a worst-case scenario, customers might also be fearing mass data loss, losing their job or even their own customers.

During caSaaStrophe, then, you need to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Your communication should be quick, open, and help appease alarm. You need to show that you are acting competently, reassure that data is safe (or every measure is being made to keep it safe), and that you understand the customer’s concerns.

 

Start of the caSaaStrophe

When a software meltdown hits, be proactive. Don’t wait for each customer to come to you, contact them first and let them know. When your software is diagnosed as (temporarily) broken, something as simple as informing customers that you are aware of the problem, and are actively looking to fix it, will placate them.

You need to communicate early and often. The sooner you can confirm to customers there’s a problem on your end and you’re fixing it, the less time customers are left stewing on the issues they’re experiencing. Don’t just let customers know there is a problem. Point them to places they will be able to find updates and information about the outage, such as social media or a dedicated webpage.

Proactive communication demonstrates that you are present and there to support your customers. If you don’t act quickly, or pretend nothing is wrong, customers will be left feeling stranded, unappreciated and frustrated.

 

Keep calm and carry on updating

For the rest of the time your software is down, you’ll need to answer customer queries, manage expectations, and post updates. And you need to do so as consistently and regularly as possible.

Social media platforms like Twitter are a great place to post updates and information during a software failure. However, when using social media, make sure you use a dedicated service, feedback or support account, not your main brand account. This way, you keep your updates directed at customers and those affected by the outage.  You’re not interrupting your normal content flow and broadcasting your software failure to leads or followers that it doesn’t affect.

You also need to be able to respond quickly to customers. That means keeping your service accessible and readily available to customers around the world. A live chat channel is particularly useful as it gives your customers a convenient way to reach out and get immediate replies. Stress from a software outage often manifests as impatience, so the instant replies from a live chat channel are a useful way to help calm angry customers.

 

Manage customer expectations

When responding to customers, you need to manage their expectations to avoid them feeling further disappointment. That means that any estimations on when the issue will be resolved should be realistic, not a hopeful guess. Unrealistic hope will hurt, not help.

Avoiding further disappointment means sticking to the promises you make during the crisis. It can help to let customers know when you’ll next post an update, but make sure you stick to what you say.

Be consistent across communication channels. This means that if the software will be mended by the end of the day on Twitter, it’s going to be fixed by the end of the day according to your website, your live chat sessions, and your emails, too. Mixed messages will confuse customers and reduce trust.

 

After the storm

The storm has passed, your software is up and running again. Hooray. But you still aren’t out of the communication woods just yet. After a major caSaaStrophe, no matter how amazing your communication was during the event, there’s still going to be some fallout.  

Large software failures damage the trust and confidence that your customers have in your product, and by extension, you. So, when the dust has settled, you need to start picking up the pieces and repairing any damage.

This is achieved by following up with customers. If they complain — or mention the event at all — on social media, answer them and ask if there’s anything else they want you to do to help. You should also release a post moratorium — a report that outlines what happened, why, and what preventative steps are being taken to address the root causes.

In the aftermath, demonstrate to customers that you recognise that you messed up, that you’ve learned from the incident, and that you’re taking preventative measures. This acceptance of responsibility encourages forgiveness, and puts you on your way to restoring any lost trust.

 

Every cloud

Life isn’t perfect, things go wrong. But your software going down doesn’t have to set you back. The way we handle crises is telling of our character. In business, responding to a crisis competently shows your mettle.

Of course, unplanned downtime is never what you want, and it’s never what the customer wants. But the silver lining of an outage is that it gives you an opportunity to demonstrate to your customers that you’re dependable, even when caSaaStrophe strikes.