Crisis management during a downtime - How to communicate with customers

Crisis management during a downtime - How to communicate with customers

July 16, 2020

A website downtime for any online business can be a time of great concern, anxiety, stress, and panic.

So many questions will go through the mind of the website owner, such as;

  • How is the downtime going to affect the reputation of their business?

  • Are their regular customers going to bail out on their business?

  • What impact will the website downtime have on their ongoing marketing campaign?

  • How will the downtime affect sales and profits?

A website downtime is indeed a nervy period for any online business, but most especially for small and medium scale businesses still trying to find their feet in a highly competitive and unforgiving business environment.

However, no matter how difficult a period of downtime may be, this is when a business should not panic, but rise to the occasion and take care of business. It is a time that separates serious business owners from the unprepared.

Crisis management during a website downtime is one that serious business owners can prepare for. This is because a downtime is an almost inevitable occurrence in the life of every website, whether the downtime is for a short period of time or not.

So, it becomes imperative for online businesses to have a plan in the event of such a crisis. This plan will incorporate crisis resolution, that is, the steps to be taken to resolve the factor behind the website downtime in the quickest possible time. And also, a plan on how the website owners would effectively communicate with their regular and would-be customers.

Incidents do Happen - How you Respond is what Matters!

In the operation of your website you are likely to experience a number of incidents, which are unfortunate situations for which their likelihood of occurring (no matter how small) were anticipated and countermeasures were even proffered and prepared for.

Downtime incidents may be caused by a number of factors, some of which include; hardware failures, CMS and DNS issues, and DDoS attacks. However, regardless of what causes a downtime, whether you are a website hosting provider or a website owner, you have a responsibility to your customers.

You can begin by having a "status page" like this one here. This page will be dedicated to customers and used as a platform for providing official communication to customers.

The status page will offer unambiguous and effective communication. It will serve as a tool for two-way communication as well.

So even though the downtime happened, it could be used to the advantage of the hosting provider or the website owner (as the case may be) to improve their communication and relationship with their customers.

When a website downtime incident occurs, your speed of communication is paramount. You have to be proactive in your communication. This ensures that your customers believe that you have everything under control, and that you also have their best interests in mind.

While a website downtime is detrimental to the website owner, they should also not lose sight of the fact that their customers are equally affected.

Regardless of the products or services rendered by the website, their customers would be unable to purchase these commodities in question.

In addition, customers who were in the process of completing a transaction on your website before the downtime would also be affected, especially if payments were made before an order was confirmed.

So, either way, website owners have a responsibility to ensure that every customer is put in the loop as to what has happened (i.e. what caused the downtime), what steps are being taken to quickly resolve the problem, and the likely time-frame for the website to return to full service.

Why is it important to Communicate with Customers during a downtime incident?

You want to instill confidence in your customers that you are aware of the downtime and take full responsibility.

It is important that your customers are confident in your abilities to effectively and quickly resolve the issue. The last thing you want, is to lose the trust of your customers.

When this happens, you are more than likely to lose profits and worse still, get some bad press from your customers. This can greatly affect your reputation and future progress of your business.

Crisis Management during a Downtime

During a downtime it is important for website owners to understand that the path that their online business would follow in the future is entirely up to them.

They can either completely ruin their reputation and business with their actions or inactions, or they can salvage and even enhance their reputation.

However, for the latter to happen, website owners experiencing a Hard (Full) or Soft (Partial) downtime need to be able to…

  • reachout to their customers in a timely manner,

  • communicate effectively in a clear, concise way, and

  • utilize the most suitable tools in ensuring speedy and effective communication.

#1: Timely Communication:

It is always better to get the information of a scheduled downtime or outage out to your customers before it occurs. For a downtime due to a scheduled website maintenance it is vitally important that your customers are informed before the downtime occurs.

Nothing hurts an online business more than discontent customers airing their discontent on social media channels and other online platforms. Where the downtime is caused by an unplanned incident, then it is important to respond as quickly as possible on your status page for example.

You have to acknowledge the downtime, take full responsibility, express empathy to the plight of your customers, and reassure them of a speedy return to regular service. It is important that your IT support team is proactive during this time.

Your customers enquiries should be responded to on time, you should regularly update your customers on your status page and other official media outlets. This should be done, even when there is no meaningful update available. Let them know that you are currently working hard and fast to resolve the downtime concern.

#2: Concise and Clear Communication:

Your customers need to know what is going on. So, your IT support team should try as much as possible to effectively communicate the problem to them in a simple and logical manner.

Let your customers know what services are affected by the downtime, in the case of a Soft (Partial) downtime. Also inform them on the steps being taken and the likely period of resolution of the downtime.

It is crucial that you control the information that is circulated, to avoid misinformation, speculation, and rumor mongering amongst your customers. You should inform your customers on what is only relevant to the situation. Avoid an oversaturation of information and complex detailing of the cause of the downtime and/or resolution solution to the problem.

Be transparent at all times and do not overcommit by giving promises that are unattainable. By providing clear and concise communication, you will not only be able to effectively manage the downtime or outage situation, you would also be able to enhance your reputation by building trust.

#3: Suitable Communication Tools:

Having a status page is absolutely essential if you want to effectively communicate with your customers on an official level during a downtime incident.

Even with other tools for communication, such as the use of social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, it is still better to redirect your customers to these platforms from your status page.

The control and management of information during a crisis, such as; a downtime is very important. One that should be taken very seriously and with a lot of care.