The 3-Step Communication Game Plan for a Site Outage (One of Our LEAST Favorite Things)

If those von Trapp Family singers from The Sound of Music collectively woke up in a really, really bad mood and decided to write a song about their least favorite things, then it’s a safe bet that not being able to connect to a website would make the list (alongside airline passengers who tilt their seat back, and clam shell plastic packaging).

Indeed, the level of rage that many people experience when their browser presents them with a “cannot connect to that website” message is enough to trigger a blood pressure monitoring app alarm on a smartwatch. It’s the equivalent of going to a store, only to find out that the door is locked. Actually, it may be worse than that, because at least there could be some therapeutic comfort in commiserating with other disappointed customers. But in the virtual world, the journey is usually solo — and so is the misery.

The bad news is that there is no way to absolutely, completely, and ultimately prevent site outages from happening. However, the good news is that companies can — actually, scratch that: they must — be proactive to mitigate the pain and suffering; both across their site visitors, and for themselves. To that end, here is a three-step communication game plan:

Step 1: Tell the story.

Without delay (not even for lunch), companies should leap into their operational digital properties — e.g. social media, email, SMS, chat, widget, etc. — and clearly describe:

  • What’s going on and why the site is down.
  • When the outage started.
  • What is being done.
  • When the outage is likely to end based on all available information and best estimates.
  • Options and workarounds (if they exist).
  • Relevant policy or process changes (e.g. “due to this unforeseen event we are extending our normal 30-day return window, to ensure that customers who are affected can return items without any inconvenience”).

Step 2: Update the status page.

All of the information shared through social media and other channels should be published to a dedicated status page, which — as the name suggests — exists for one purpose only: to highlight and describe the status of a website (or possibly multiple websites that are part of the same brand or portfolio). It is vital to keep the status page updated to reflect the current phase: investigating, fixing, resolving, and resolved.

In addition, the status page should invite visitors to subscribe, so that they can receive real-time notifications when things change — and ultimately, when they get back to normal.

Step 3: Conduct a postmortem and share the findings.

Once the outage is history, companies should figure out precisely what went wrong. Using a top-rated site uptime monitoring tool, like AlertBot, can provide helpful clues, and just as valuably, ensure that there isn’t a repeat performance. This information should be shared with the customer community and all other stakeholders, such as suppliers and strategic partners.

Typically, this information is shared through a blog post, which all social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (etc.) point to. Even if the company is not technically at fault (after all, nobody wants to be assailed by a DDoS attack), the fact remains that visitors were inconvenienced. An authentic apology goes a long way to easing frayed nerves and restoring trust.

The Bottom Line

Site outages are dreadful. Yet, they happen, and companies need to have a communication game plan to minimize the frustration for visitors, and the adverse impact on their reputation. The von Trapp Family singers would approve (and probably turn it into a song that you can’t get out of your head, no matter how hard you try).

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