Best Practices for Communicating Service Outages or Downtime
Service outages are more common than many enterprises would like. When they happen, data is often lost or inaccessible, and apps become nonfunctional, costing businesses precious resources. According to a recent Ponemon Institute study, the average cost of a data center outage has steadily increased from $505,502 in 2010 to $740,357 in 2016 — a net change of 38 percent.
No matter the cause of the service outage, the impact on customers and employees matters most. Diminishing that impact is often a matter of communicating effectively throughout the event.
Communicating Service Outages During Disasters
Communication best practices vary with the cause of the incident. For example, if the downtime is caused by a natural disaster, reaching employees and customers may be considerably tougher, as regular channels may be affected.
Most enterprises have disaster recovery tools and backups in place, but without clear communications between responding teams and customers, there may still be a degree of confusion. A good way to immediately enable reporting and collaboration between responder teams, communicate progress to customers and continue running business operations is to use a crisis communications and incident reporting tool.
The right crisis communications and incident reporting tool delivers real-time status tracking on responder activities while sending structured messages and receiving updates across all channels. It also automates an audit trail of every line of communication and integrates disaster workflows in a mobile platform. In this way, your responder teams are immediately in touch with management and with one another. Recovery happens faster, and both responder teams and management have the real-time data they need to make the best possible decisions.
Providing Appropriate Details to Customers
Not all service outages are caused by a natural disaster, but downtime for other reasons can be just as disastrous in terms of organization and customer impact.
Customers are more at ease with an outage and more patient with the repair process if they know the status of your progress. If they hear nothing from you about the downtime, the next thing that happens is outage rage. You don’t want that to happen — ever. When customers reach this point, you can lose them permanently, raising the cost of the outage substantially. As such, it’s important to prevent outage rage by communicating consistently and with the proper level of detail for your audience.
“If it’s something out of your control — an integration partner’s API was down, your cloud infrastructure provider went away briefly, etc. — don’t just pass the blame, but explain that the problem was out of your hands and then tell your customers (in the level of detail congruent with the audience) how you’re going to fix the problem so it doesn’t happen again,” customer success specialist Lincoln Murphy advises on his Sixteen Ventures blog.
For example, Murphy suggests if your customers are “software developers, DevOps or other technical folks, you might need to provide some low-level details, and doing so might even endear you to that crowd.”
However, if your customers are small businesses or department managers in larger companies, they have little use for technical details. If your audience is consumers, giving them a general idea of the cause and an expected time to full functionality will likely suffice. After all, they just want to know when they can use your service again.