Last week, I was preparing to send out this newsletter and tried to initiate a test. What I got instead was a weird error message full of symbols I didn’t recognize.
I did what anyone now does in such situations: I went to Twitter to see what was going on. Almost immediately, I learned that the e-mail marketing service I use, Mailchimp, was going through an outage.
Annoyed at first, I wound up shrugging it off. It would soon be resolved, I thought, and in the meantime just think of all those people who would be spared the usual marketing spam!
Mailchimp’s downtime turned out to be a blip compared to a massive wireless outage here in Canada on Monday affecting customers of Rogers Communications. The incident made it impossible to use phone and texting services, though home and business wireline Internet services continued to work.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact duration of the outage, but it lasted a significant portion of the day — long enough that media reports cited experts who suggested it might have dealt a severe economic blow and prevented some people from making COVID-19 vaccine appointments.
(Disclosure: I was once employed by Rogers’ publishing division as an editor. Later I worked for the firm’s enterprise business unit as a consultant, though I have not had a business relationship with them in years. I’m not a customer, though my wife is).
As its services were gradually restored, the company issued statements like the following on social media:
Wireless calls, SMS and data services are now restored for the vast majority of our customers. A small number of services with other carriers are continuing to come back online. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this outage has caused and thank you for your patience.
Why does that not seem good enough in 2021? Customers responded as you might expect. “How about a credit on my bill?” fumed one. Another wanted “compensation for my lost 24 hours.”
A rote apology for an outage of this severity followed little in the way of updates and information beyond the “we’re working on it as fast as we can” variety. Rogers eventually blamed the outage on a software update and chose to name its technology partner, Ericsson, in a move that seemed (to me) a way of extending the sphere of blame.
A complete failure to provide your products and services may not be a typical point mapped out in the average company’s customer journey. The Rogers outage makes me wonder if, instead, companies should develop a different journey map designed specifically for this kind of emergency.
I’m not talking about simply developing a crisis communications strategy, though that’s a good place to start. Most such plans are company-centric: you say as little as possible to shield the company from liability and keep it short enough that people (hopefully) forget about the incident and move along as quickly as possible.
A customer crisis journey map would imagine multiple personas and the emotional journey they would navigate from the moment an outage occurs. This might include moments of initial surprise or shock, irritation and annoyance and all the way up to panic and fear.
These would all be “moments that matter,” and the customer-centric organization would have some kind of message or other action at a every stage.
Rogers may have been reluctant to give too many details initially because it hadn’t gathered any, or because they worried about divulging something that increased the risk of a cybersecurity attack.
Even saying that much, though, would have been better than nothing.
As the outage persisted, even high-level explainers about why these sorts of problems are so complex to investigate could give customers a better experience — one that acknowledged where they are at emotionally.
Rather than a boilerplate apology, a company like Rogers could end this journey with some insight into any steps it was taking to prevent similar incidents, or open up additional feedback channels to better understand the customer impact. This would suggest the company wanted to find effective ways to provide assistance amid similar circumstances.
Part of what made this a bigger deal than in the past, of course, is that the pandemic has forced most of us into primarily digital-first experiences. Some language around that might have conveyed some much-needed empathy.
Rogers will certainly not be the only company to go through this, of course. The point is to get ahead of it. Drawing a customer crisis journey map not be fun, but connecting the dots after the fact is far worse.
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.