I was at the coffee shop, around 8:30 a.m., when the young woman serving me said I could only pay by credit card or cash. The debit system was down. “It’s a Canada-wide outage, apparently,” she said, rolling her eyes.
Assuming she meant it was an outage for the coffee shop chain, I went on my merry way, only to discover what had already been all over the news: that Rogers Communications, one of the largest telecommunications and Internet service providers here, was unable to offer mobile and Wi-Fi.
And would continue to be unable to – for a reported 15 hours.
Over that time, news of the outage and its impact on consumers and business customers would be covered by everyone from National Public Radio in the U.S. to the BBC. In most of those stories – and all across social media – talk about the outage’s severity was only matched by shock at how Rogers communicated to customers as it was resolved.
“We know how important it is for our customers to stay connected,” the company’s statement on Twitter read. “We are aware of issues currently affecting our networks and our teams are fully engaged to resolve the issue as soon as possible. We will continue to keep you updated as we have more information to share.”
That was pretty much the standard line for most of the outage, including appearances from a Rogers SVP on television that was likely conducted to get a sense of the progress being made. The “we apologize” tweet came later, followed by a recognition of what customers were going through and how hard the company was working to resolve it.
Although I worked for Rogers between 2016 and 2018, I am not currently a customer and was largely unaffected by the outage. Of course I empathized with its millions of customers, particularly the small businesses whose operations were affected.
Looking back now that services have been restored, however, I wonder at how much the company could have done differently. Rogers has already been sued in the past over advertising claims that it offered “Canada’s fastest, most reliable network.” Though not described by the company as such, this is a customer experience (CX) promised on which it has failed to deliver on at least two occasions.
While it might seem like common sense to at least provide some educated guesses at the cause of the issue, I can imagine the company’s lawyers discouraged any speculation for fear of potential liability. The apology should have come immediately, and some additional context around why it was unable to speculate about the root causes might have helped. It has since offered five days’ worth of credits to customers, though that apparently wasn’t enough to stop a class-action lawsuit that was filed this week.
The real CX takeaway from the outage is the vulnerabilities it exposed in so many other companies’ digital experiences. Forget about offering VR shopping or AI-driven e-commerce. What customers really care about is being able to access their bank accounts, to buy what they need and, in an emergency, to call 9-1-1. The outage rendered all of those experiences moot for millions of people.
Rogers has shown CX leaders and customers alike that the vision of an all-digital, cashless society rests upon a technical foundation over which they have absolutely no control. If you can’t take your Internet service for granted, the only customer experiences you can provide with full confidence will be those that happen offline.
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.