Rob Addy

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Rob Addy
Research Vice President
5 years at Gartner
More years than I care to remember in the IT industry

Welcome to my blog! I post about all things product support services related from the provider perspective. End-users are welcome to read but please be aware that you may sometimes find its content unsettling. I will endeavour to post frequently (as it's a lot cheaper than a therapist) but please forgive me if other more mundane activities occasionally get in the way...Read my official Gartner bio here

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Communication Creates Calm, Confounds Critics and Cements Customer Confidence…

by Rob Addy  |  February 10, 2012  |  2 Comments

Sometimes things go wrong. It’s not inevitable but it happens. How one deals with it when the proverbial brown stuff hits the proverbial fan is one of the ways in which support organizations differentiate themselves whether they mean to or not… Many support providers do not have formal response plans prepared for major issues. They should. But they don’t. 20-20 hindsight is a wonderful thing. But 20-20 foresight is even better. Even those that have thought ahead and planned what they would do if the worst case scenario were to happen often forget to develop a communications plan to be implemented when the chaos ensues!

Below is one approach to a communications play for a major incident. It’s not perfect and it may be overkill for many scenarios, but it shows the way that communications could, and perhaps should, be handled during the various phases of the incident lifecycle and provides examples of the types of content you may want to consider sharing.

When the lights go out…

  • “Houston, we have a problem!” And we are really sorry but we think that you do too…
  • These are the symptoms you may have identified / This is how the problem appears to be manifesting itself
  • Please let us know if you are being impacted in any other way so that we can share that with your peers
  • This is the likely harm / loss / pain that you are likely to experience (again we are very sorry)
  • This is how we suggest you mitigate these effects
  • System access has been restricted to prevent you losing data as we work on the problem /  Please be aware that updates made since the issue was identified may be lost and may not be recoverable after the service is restored.
  • This is what we think is wrong and why we think that
  • These are the people we have working on it right now
  • This is what we have already tried and the results of those attempts
  • This is what we’re currently doing to try fix it and our immediate follow-on remediation plans
  • This is how long we expect it to take. We will know if this timeline is realistic (after hh:mm or by dd/mm/yy) and we will let you know as we find out.
  • In the meantime, you may want to consider the following options whilst we work on it…
  • We will next be giving you a revised timeline for resolution and/or status update at hh:mm on dd/mm/yy
  • This is what we need from you to help us to track down the issue quicker / more accurately
  • These are the steps that we will be completing to resolve the issue
  • This is the testing plan for us to be sure that we have really resolved it and not just dealt with the immediate symptoms
  • Here is a link to a site where you can find up to the minute status reports on our progress

As the issue continues…

  • We are really sorry that we have not yet resolved the issue
  • This is the revised estimation of how long we expect it to take. We believe that we will know if this timeline is realistic (after hh:mm or by dd/mm/yy) and we will let you know as we find out.
  • In the meantime, you may want to consider the following options whilst we work on it…
  • We will next be giving you a revised timeline for resolution and/or status update at hh:mm on dd/mm/yy
  • This is what we now need from you to help us to track down the issue quicker / more accurately
  • These are the next steps that we will be completing to diagnose and resolve the issue
  • Please do not attempt to use the product / service at this time as your work may be lost as we are unable to guarantee that updates made subsequent to the issue manifesting itself will be transferred.

When the end is in sight…

  • We believe that we have now isolated the problem and are preparing a fix
  • This is the testing plan for us to be sure that we have really resolved it and not just dealt with the immediate symptoms
  • We could really do with your help to make sure the issue is completely resolved, if you are willing to help us to help you then please do get in touch…
  • These are the actions that you should do to make the service reinstatement / restoration process as simple as possible

As calm begins to descend…

  • We apologise for the problem and for the time that it has taken to resolve it
  • We believe that the problem has been dealt with. Please please please let us know if you think differently.
  • This is what we believe happened and why
  • We are very sorry for your inconvenience (and this is how we intend to compensate you for that trouble / pain / anguish…)
  • This is what we plan to implement in order to prevent a recurrence
  • This is why we believe these actions will prevent further incidences
  • This is how you can help us to avoid this situation (or similar ones) in the future
  • Our intended timeline for the implementation of these action is as follows
  • We will let you know how well the implementation of these preventive actions is going on dd/mm/yy

After the dust has settled…

  • You will remember the issue you experienced on dd/mm/yy, We would like to explain the measures that have been implement to prevent the issue recurring.
  • Our investigation showed that the issue was caused by…
  • We have implemented the following controls to mitigate the risk of this happening again…
  • We thank you for your assistance and patience in dealing with this issue

Maintaining radio silence is silly. Washing all of your dirty laundry in public is also less than clever. But burying your head in the sand and hoping it will be all alright is equally ridiculous. A communications vacuum will always be filled. If not by you, then by your harshest and most vocal critics. Do you really want that to happen? In an world were negative commentary can persist on the Internet in perpetuity do you really want that kind of coverage to be the only thing out there? If you are to protect your brand and your reputation you must be prepared to lift the veil a little and show that you are human.

Fallibility is not a crime. But covering it up due to a mistaken sense of  pride or arrogance should be!

The key things to remember are; Get in early, Set messaging expectations, Meet those expectations, Give regular updates, Show some vulnerabilty and humilty, Empathise with your customer’s situation, Help customers to understand why it happened and why it won’t happen again, Encourage their particpation in the process, Close it down cleanly.

TRKFAM :-)

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