#SMACTalk Episode # 33 – What Should Businesses Do When Technology Fails?
Technology often fails when we need it most. What should companies and brands do to be prepared before a technology failure?
There are really two areas where technology failures adversely impact business. There’s the public relations (customer facing) side of things and then there’s the technical side (internal processes). An example of the technical side of this would be when a failure led to United Airlines flights being grounded recently. That resulted in a PR crisis for the airline when customers took to their mobile devices to share the news on social media. So how should they best respond to this?
I say, “People want to be leveled with. People are looking for some level of honesty.”
It’s about transparency. Say right away that you have a problem and that you’ll keep customers posted with updates as it is resolved. Put the messages out on all available channels and keep people informed.
Brian points out that because of how connected people are via social media, a problem that might have been relatively contained from a PR standpoint in the past is not something that can be swept under the rug today. In this day and age, “It’s being done for you. If you ignore it, you let everybody else control the story. You let everybody else control the voice of what happens,” he says.
Keep Customers Informed.
One of the biggest mistakes brands make is failure to provide updates. They make the initial disclosure that there’s a problem but they don’t follow up on what they’re doing and how things are being resolved. This can stir the pot and make things worse. In a case like the United flights being grounded, they did a lot of the right things. But there have been other situations where other people’s lives were really being affected and brands failed to provide timely updates.
Efforts to respond should correlate with how big of an impact the failure could have on customers. There are various levels of severity as they relate to disruption of people’s lives. The more severe the problem is, the more important a timely and thorough response is provided. A failure with the New York Stock Exchange that affects people’s money, for instance, is more urgent than an article on a website being temporarily unavailable. Companies need to be fully aware of how any failures on their part can negatively impact people and their businesses.
“When it comes to businesses dealing with technology failures, they have to not only be prepared for them but they also have to take enough precaution….” Brian says. Plan B can even have variables so a Plan C and Plan D and so on might be necessary.
Have Good Internal Communication.
Imagine what would happen if there was not only a public relations crisis but at the same time, internal parties couldn’t effectively communicate to resolve the underlying issue? That would only compound the problem for any business. Backup and emergency communication strategies are a must in order to prevent further damage.
Brian points out that it’s a mistake for brands to keep their social communicators (customer service, community managers, etc.) out of the loop with what’s happening inside the organization. This undermines their efforts to communicate with customers and can make the brand look even worse. Emergency communication plans should also include these key players who are relaying information in real time. They don’t have to be involved in the decision making process but they should be well informed about what’s going on.
Have Processes In Place.
When a failure happens, have a planned response in order to save time and get credible information out to customers sooner. For example, if your website goes down and that’s going to negatively impact customers, have a plan in place for how you will verify the information internally and externally. Cover all necessary bases but don’t include extra steps that will cause delays in responding to customers.
“Zero downtime is acceptable anymore.” I say that people will not come back if they have a bad experience. But we are in a world where people will accept your apology. The key is to be prepared enough to respond and not leave them guessing. Internal processes are essential.
Training is of the utmost importance. A company can’t respond to a problem in a timely fashion if its employees haven’t been shown what to do and how to do it. And with so much technology driving business today, it’s critically important that departments work together to understand the tools and each other’s roles. Training needs to be thorough, real time and ongoing. All of this is just as critical for small businesses as for larger ones so efforts should be scaled accordingly.
What do you think companies should do to be prepared for technology failures? Have you experienced a failure of your own? We’d love to hear from you. Follow Brian and me on Twitter and check us out on Meerkat. We stream our SMACTalk recording sessions live there and tweet using the hashtag #SMACTalk.