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Communicate With Your Clients When Things Go Wrong

When your company faces an issue, don’t hide it. If you act with honesty and integrity, you will actually end up building more trust and loyalty.

Woman shocked, holding face while looking at phone

When things go wrong, and they will go wrong, be honest. It might work better than you expected.

If you run a business, sooner or later, something will go wrong. That’s just the nature of things, and as much as we can work to minimise the risks, some things will always be outside our control.

What’s important to remember is that, when something does fail in your business, you won’t be recognised for the issue itself. Instead, what your customers will recall is how you handled the difficult situation. Whether you kept them informed of what was going on, if you provided a timeframe for fixing things, and how supported they felt through the whole process. Fortunately, this is something you can, indeed, control.

This article will cover something that recently happened to our company and how we decided to address it.

Our First-Ever Downtime

Last week, and for the first time since we created beSlick (at the time of the incident we were called Process Bliss) four years ago, we had to deal with some significant downtime. In total, it amounted to six hours, a period during which customers weren’t able to access the platform’s services.

As soon as we realised the system had an issue, despite this urge to not want to talk about it, we decided it was paramount to open a channel of communication with our customers. We wanted to make sure they were in the loop and constantly updated about the progress of our dealings.

We decided to write a series of email messages. They contained some explanations regarding what was happening at the time and included a way for customers to contact us if they had any questions. You will find the details of this process below.

Email 1: Alerting Users There Was An Issue

The first thing we felt compelled to do was to explain we had a problem with the server. We wrote an initial email alerting our users. This is the message we sent to all of our customers as soon as we noticed the system was down:

Sample email template for communicating to customers

Image alt: We sent this message as soon as we noticed there was something wrong with the server.

We opened the message addressing the problem (the application and website were down). We also made sure to include the timestamp so users reading the massage later would know how long we had had the problem. Lastly, we wanted to mention that we had our users’ best interests in mind, and we were sorry for the inconvenience this issue had caused them.

While our team answered calls and emails, the developers were working hard, trying to identify the cause of the problem. We soon discovered it seemed to be coming from an administrative issue within Amazon Web Services (an on-demand cloud computing platform that ensures beSlick is available through different devices).

This issue, we found out later, was something that could have been avoided. But that was a thing we would investigate later; for the time being, and when we decided to send that first email, the only thing we wanted to focus on was to try to understand the exact cause and solve the problem as quickly as possible.

When we communicated the problem to our customers, we still didn’t know how long it would take for us to resolve the issue. However, we were clear about one thing: We knew we wanted to warn people before they logged into the system and discovered they couldn’t use it. At least now they knew where they stood, and they knew we would update them as soon as we learned more.

Email 2: Informing Progress

Soon after that first message, we manage to get to the bottom of the issue. We worked out the problem with AWS and, unfortunately, realised it wasn’t something we could resolve quickly.

We knew we might need more than 24 hours to fix it, so we decided to communicate this in another message. It was horrible having to tell clients that we might have been out of action for 24 hours but we felt it was important that we managed expectations. Even though we still had a long day ahead, we were confident we would eventually get to a solution. To be honest, we were also quite happy we were sticking to our promise of keeping everyone updated on our progress, so we were confident it was just a matter of time until things went back to normal.

Eventually, we fixed the issue and got the platform back online. Then, we sent a final message explaining what had happened.

Email 3: Solution, Retrospective And Commitment

We were extremely relieved when we were finally able to send this message to all of our users:

Sample live chat message to communicate to customers

Image alt: Our message, which we sent after solving the issue with the server.

The message above explains, in detail, what had caused the issue with the server. We believed it was essential for our customers to understand the origin of the problem. Still, we also wanted to make sure they knew they could contact us at any time if they had questions or feedback about our communication process. This was the first time we were facing this type of problem, and the process for dealing with this sort of emergency scenario was being polished in real-time.

More importantly, we felt something we needed to include in that last message was an explanation of how we would prevent any similar situations from happening in the future. We had learned from what had happened, and this is also something we wanted to communicate to our customers.

Now we know this particular issue won’t cause downtime again, and beSlick users are aware of this too. We were also able to see how our process for dealing with software issues worked, which was an interesting exercise for all teams involved.

The Response

The response to these intense six hours of troubleshooting and communicating our progress was simply amazing.

Here is an example of an email we received from a customer after the platform was back online:

Keep up the wonderful work you guys do!

We are so grateful for the transparency and for your ongoing communication.

We understand that these kinds of things happen and our thoughts were with you as we know

you always resolve issues as soon as they appear.

Thank you again for all that you do.

We were surprised to receive such a positive response. After all, we had made a mistake. But we had decided to be transparent about it, and our customers appreciated that.

Why You Should Never Cover Up Your Mistakes

When things go wrong, and they will eventually go wrong, there is a temptation to hide the problem, don’t! Nothing good will come out of that approach, as time has proven again and again, ‘the truth always comes out, one way or the other’ and when it does you will have caused massive damage to your reputation and destroyed the trust of your clients.

The worst thing that can happen to a company is to be discovered trying to cover up a mistake, pretending something never happened and hoping people won't notice the error before it's fixed. It’s always better to just be open and honest and show your business acts with integrity. Our inclination is often to not tell, especially if you’re not even sure what is causing an issue in the first place and you don’t have a good answer to why this happened, but this makes no logical sense and would not stand true to our Company values.

A far better choice is to involve customers and explain you’re having an issue. Because, chances are, they are going to find out anyway. And when they do, they will resent you for trying to keep the truth from them.

If we hadn’t said anything, people would have logged in to beSlick and not understood why it wasn’t working or when it would work again. They would have probably wondered if the issue was in their devices, losing valuable time trying to troubleshoot the problem themselves. And eventually, if the downtime and the silence continued, they would have lost trust in our company.

This is how many companies deal with such issues, and it’s not right. It just leads to a loss in confidence.

You should always communicate when things go wrong, with your customers and explain what’s happening. After all, what better way to show you can be held accountable, adapt when there is an issue, and find the right solution? Because once the storm has passed, your customers might actually trust you more than before.


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