There are two parts to every technology failure: the issue itself and the difficult process of explaining the problem to unhappy customers. Although technical failures are unpredictable, end-user satisfaction is usually a function of management rather than technology. Given the high stakes, it's important for all technology companies to develop an effective failure communication plan.
Jonah Paransky, VP of Marketing for software infrastructure testing vendor, StackSafe, blogged 7 tips for handling post-failure communications:
- Have a communication plan in place and ready to go
- Direct communication with your customers is the number one concern
- Be prepared to communicate over multiple channels.
- Over-communicating is better than under-communicating
- Expect the failure to become public
- Humor probably isn’t the right call
- Don’t underestimate the communication necessary after the failure is resolved
THE PROJECT FAILURES ANALYSIS
Systems frequently go down; communication management can make the difference between quick recovery and mass customer defections. I asked Jonah to comment on the consequence of inadequate post-failure communication:
Failures happen. Our customers judge us not only by how well we technically recover from these failures, but how we communicate the nature of the failure, the process for recovering and the steps we take to insure the failure will not happen again. Poor communication after a failure can result in a magnifying effect, often significantly increasing the negative impact on brand, satisfaction and sales that is already prone to occur when an IT failure occurs.
As a positive example, Technorati managed downtime well:
Technorati’s short blog post explained an arcane problem, helped calm jumpy users, covered the company’s collective butt, and showed the place is run by pros.
Likewise, Flickr's outage handling offers a great example of post-failure communication:
Although the outage was serious, and the site stayed down for hours beyond the original estimates, the problem was handled responsibly and well.
In contrast, Sykpe handled failure poorly:
Although software failures happen despite the best of intentions, customer service and communications are another matter entirely. Skype, I give you a “C” grade on your handling of this incident. Next time, can we please have more information sooner?
If your post-failure communications are honest, timely, and straightforward, users will cut you a lot of slack. Although the truth may be painful, it's a necessary ingredient in successful post-failure communication.