Communicating with customers when there is a problem

A great way to judge a company is what happens when they make a mistake. I say “when” because eventually it always happens.

Some companies have defined themselves by how they handle mistakes, while others have failed.

In the end it comes down to how well you prepare for crisis management.

Recently Google acknowledged the problem with the Google reader and let people know what was happening.
Here is the full blog post:

This afternoon we experienced a brief outage, during which about half our users seemed to lose their subscriptions. This can happen when one of the many complex systems that power Google Reader experiences a glitch. We work hard to avoid problems of any kind, but occasionally something like this happens. The good news is that no data was actually lost, it was just temporarily inaccessible. Google’s systems store data redundantly to minimize the chance of anything becoming permanently lost.

We were able to identify, diagnose, and fix today’s outage within an hour, which is the kind of response time that we strive for. We’ll continue give quick status updates to problems like this in the future so users who have trusted us with their data can feel comfortable doing so.

What is missing?

How about some understanding of the frustration people went through?

As Seth Godin regularly points out on his blog, simply acknowledging someone’s frustration can immediately put an irate customer at ease.

They accomplished almost all of what is necessary when admitting a blunder:

1. Admit the problem
2. Explain what happened
3. Fix the problem
4. Attempt to prevent it in the future

and finally the most important
5. Apologize and acknowledge the frustration the problem caused your customer, user, client.

Google rarely drops the ball when speaking back to customers – but the amount of people affecting by this outage demanded at least some acceptance of blame beyond a “glitch” in the complex systems.

[tags] Seth Godin, Crisis Management, Marketing, Marketing.fm, Google Reader, Outage, service downtime [/tags]

  • http://www.crimson-consulting.com/blog_glenn.html Glenn Gow

    Eric,

    Let me take your point just a little further. Whether we are individual consumers or enterprise customers, we want to know the company with which we’re dealing CARES!

    Your final point (5) says this – almost.

    We recommend to our clients that they go a further step and tell the customer/user that they care about them as a person and as a company and that they’re committed to their (happiness, satisfaction, success, etc.).

    Yes, point 5 is excellent. “Gosh, we’re really sorry, and this probably made your day difficult”. Then, a company should say “We don’t take this lightly. We want only the best for our customers. We want you – personally – to know that we care about you and will endeavor to provide you with unparalleled service in the future. Thank you for understanding.”.

    The personal touch goes a LONG way.

  • http://www.crimson-consulting.com/blog_glenn.html Glenn Gow

    Eric,

    Let me take your point just a little further. Whether we are individual consumers or enterprise customers, we want to know the company with which we’re dealing CARES!

    Your final point (5) says this – almost.

    We recommend to our clients that they go a further step and tell the customer/user that they care about them as a person and as a company and that they’re committed to their (happiness, satisfaction, success, etc.).

    Yes, point 5 is excellent. “Gosh, we’re really sorry, and this probably made your day difficult”. Then, a company should say “We don’t take this lightly. We want only the best for our customers. We want you – personally – to know that we care about you and will endeavor to provide you with unparalleled service in the future. Thank you for understanding.”.

    The personal touch goes a LONG way.

  • http://www.crimson-consulting.com/blog_glenn.html Glenn Gow

    Eric,

    Let me take your point just a little further. Whether we are individual consumers or enterprise customers, we want to know the company with which we’re dealing CARES!

    Your final point (5) says this – almost.

    We recommend to our clients that they go a further step and tell the customer/user that they care about them as a person and as a company and that they’re committed to their (happiness, satisfaction, success, etc.).

    Yes, point 5 is excellent. “Gosh, we’re really sorry, and this probably made your day difficult”. Then, a company should say “We don’t take this lightly. We want only the best for our customers. We want you – personally – to know that we care about you and will endeavor to provide you with unparalleled service in the future. Thank you for understanding.”.

    The personal touch goes a LONG way.

  • http://www.librador.com vilcans

    You know you’re addicted to feeds if you think an hour’s outage is truly frustrating. :-)

  • http://www.librador.com vilcans

    You know you’re addicted to feeds if you think an hour’s outage is truly frustrating. :-)

  • http://www.librador.com Martin Vilcans

    You know you’re addicted to feeds if you think an hour’s outage is truly frustrating. :-)

  • http://www.green-consulting.net Andy Green

    Remember, Google Reader is a BETA project and is not in production. People who use beta stuff know, and quite frankly, expect problems will happen in this phase.

  • http://www.green-consulting.net Andy Green

    Remember, Google Reader is a BETA project and is not in production. People who use beta stuff know, and quite frankly, expect problems will happen in this phase.

  • http://www.green-consulting.net Andy Green

    Remember, Google Reader is a BETA project and is not in production. People who use beta stuff know, and quite frankly, expect problems will happen in this phase.

  • http://elgaffney.blogspot.com El Gaffney

    it’s great to have this debate. and also kind of funny. in my work (and experience as a customer) with the insurance industry, there are still companies that have not taught (or scripted) their claim center reps to empathize/care/even say i’m sorry. if my house was on fire or car in a major accident, i don’t even get the second part of glenn’s #5.

    another interesting thing to remember is that to a claimant ever claim (call) is a major catastrophe. not just katrina, but also when my screen door has broken off.

    caring matters and must be genuine. the company has to be truly sorry but not overapologize if you ask me. agree with andy, let the apology fit the mistake.

  • http://elgaffney.blogspot.com El Gaffney

    it’s great to have this debate. and also kind of funny. in my work (and experience as a customer) with the insurance industry, there are still companies that have not taught (or scripted) their claim center reps to empathize/care/even say i’m sorry. if my house was on fire or car in a major accident, i don’t even get the second part of glenn’s #5.

    another interesting thing to remember is that to a claimant ever claim (call) is a major catastrophe. not just katrina, but also when my screen door has broken off.

    caring matters and must be genuine. the company has to be truly sorry but not overapologize if you ask me. agree with andy, let the apology fit the mistake.

  • http://elgaffney.blogspot.com El Gaffney

    it’s great to have this debate. and also kind of funny. in my work (and experience as a customer) with the insurance industry, there are still companies that have not taught (or scripted) their claim center reps to empathize/care/even say i’m sorry. if my house was on fire or car in a major accident, i don’t even get the second part of glenn’s #5.

    another interesting thing to remember is that to a claimant ever claim (call) is a major catastrophe. not just katrina, but also when my screen door has broken off.

    caring matters and must be genuine. the company has to be truly sorry but not overapologize if you ask me. agree with andy, let the apology fit the mistake.

  • Barbara

    I have a problem on my business address with google who would I contact

  • http://www.marketing.fm EricFriedman

    I would suggest trying to fix it via wherever the error is occurring as getting in touch with google can be tough

  • Barbara

    I have a problem on my business address with google who would I contact

  • http://www.marketing.fm EricFriedman

    I would suggest trying to fix it via wherever the error is occurring as getting in touch with google can be tough