I recently had a healthy email debate with a co-worker. The discussion centered around whether an organization should be proactive or reactive when an issue arises. I took the "reactive" side while my co-worker (technically, my boss) was in the "proactive" camp.
To set up the "hypothetical" situation, let's say that your company offers a technology solution that is web-based (think: software as a service). For some reason - that of which is unimportant to this scenario - your application is suddenly inaccessible. Over the course of the few hours that the application is "down," you see two public tweets (from Twitter) asking what is going on, asking if you are aware of issues. Initially, you are unaware of any issues. You dig a bit further and discover that, in fact, your web-based application is not working. None of your clients are able to login or access the program.
You now have a choice. Do you...
(a): Proactively send a (public) notification via a blog post, tweet or Facebook update alerting the world (and the two individuals who inquired) that the application is inaccessible
(b): Reactively respond to the two individuals who have (publicly) asked if there was an issue
(c): Privately message the two individuals
(d): Privately send a message (email, system alert, etc) to all clients
(e): Do nothing and wait it out
First of all, I strongly believe that Option E (do nothing) should never be up for consideration. Doing nothing is negligible and ultimately could put you at risk. The only reason to do nothing would be for some type of legal reason.
Second, Option C (private message to 2 individuals) could work, but you risk looking unresponsive to the rest of your followers, who have no idea you’ve address the concerns they saw someone else post. Remember, that tweet is public and will live on the web indefinitely.
Option D (private message to all) is certainly a possibility, but you still risk the negative impacts outlined in Option C.
I'd like to spend a bit more time digging into Option A - what my co-worker/boss suggested - and Option B - what I think is the best choice.
Option A (send a proactive, public tweet or blog post to all) is what my co-worker/boss suggested as the recourse. His take was that "if I were a client, I'd want to know that you've acknowledged the issue and communicated that you were working on it." I can see that perspective, but why create unnecessary panic for the other clients who may not be logged into the system at the time? Why give your competitors ammunition to use against you in a sales situation? Why give potential prospects a reason to question the stability of your application? That said, it's critical to monitor the chatter. If suddenly you notice more than just those two individuals questioning or complaining, it may be time for Option A.
Option B (reactively respond to the two individuals) is what I believe to be the best course of action. First, you must understand what the issue is and have an idea of when it will be fixed and/or how to resolve it. Next, publicly reply back to the individuals who inquired, informing them that you are investigating the issue. If the issue persists, you may want to send an update. Finally, when the issue has been resolved, reply back to the two individuals directly indicating that all is well and thanking them for their patience and understanding.
You will often be surprised by the outcome. I've seen instances when a frustrated client who vented on Twitter did a 180 and became an evangelist because of Option B. Sometimes clients just want to be heard and acknowledged; most understand that technology sometimes fails. Most are accepting that no company is perfect. However, if you respond immediately with genuine empathy, keep them updated on the situation, and reply when the issue has been resolved, you will be more likely to win a new fan.
So, clearly I believe that Option B is the best choice.
Do you agree?
How you would have handled a similar situation at your organization?
Which option do you think is best? A? B? C? Or do you think something not mentioned above is better?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below!