June 8th, 2017

Service Accountability: How to Respond When Things Go Wrong

woman standing in front of reporter with microphone

How to set the example for technical accountability in software companies.

If you’ve spent any time online, you’re aware of the many hacks and service interruptions that happen more frequently than many of us like to admit. One of our providers, SharpSpring, recently experienced an issue which interrupted service. This is always a frustrating thing to have happen, particularly from a trusted partner. However, we were impressed by their grace in handling this situation, and thought we’d take a moment to highlight a few things they did to manage the situation well.

This is something to think about if you ever find yourself in a situation, but it’s also a way to assess some of your own providers. How do they respond? An interruption of service can be alarming—particularly if the service is critical. But the way your software company handles the interruption can serve as a reassurance of their quality of service in the future. Here’s what to look for.

1. Be transparent about what happened.

When handling a crisis, there’s always the temptation to hide your mistakes. It’s easy to play the blame game. But unfortunately, the message this sends to your customers is that you don’t have control of the situation. The email we received contained quite a bit of technical language, but the author took care to explain the precise nature of the incident as clearly as possible. Because we work in a technical industry, we could follow the chain of events and understand the situation much more thoroughly than if the details were kept vague. Knowing is better than not knowing. Transparency is reassurance.

2. Describe what you did to fix things.

After laying out the circumstances of the incident, our software company walked through the steps they took to fix things. This included some details about why the issue was difficult to address in the first place. This clarity about what was going on helped us feel more confident in their assurances that they really had solved the problem.

3. Create a plan to prevent the problem in the future.

Knowing they’ve solved the problem in the present isn’t the same as knowing the problem won’t arise again the future. Along with the explanation about what happened and how it had been fixed, we also received a full account of the steps they had taken to keep the problem from happening again. The result left us confident that we would not see a repeat of the incident.

4. Stay accountable.

Our service provider didn’t pull any punches in their apology. They sent an exceptionally candid email, recognizing that although the problem didn’t originate with them, the ultimate responsibility rested on their shoulders. They also acknowledged the pain this event caused their customers, particularly as it had an adverse domino effect on some of their customer relations.

You are a target (so prepare like one).

It’s hard for many of us to believe that we are a potential target for online attacks. We know that we should follow security procedures, be we’re tempted to let down our guard. Our security protocols often take a back seat in favor of more pressing concerns. You know you should enable multi-factor authentication, set strong passwords, and make sure your employees use secure connections when accessing sensitive data in a coffee shop. But in the meantime, you have a deadline to hit, a meeting to attend, a sale to close. So you put it off till you have a free moment to take a look at your systems more carefully.

But the truth is that, on the Internet, people are working against you all the time. Malicious users are a fact of life, unavoidable in any service industry, and even conscientious providers can fall prey to an attack through some unforeseen hole. The best you can do is be accountable to your failures and transparent about what you are doing to address problems if and when they happen. This is the true differentiator between businesses which have their customers’ best interest at heart, and those who are more concerned about saving face.

We’d like to tip our hat to SharpSpring for their exemplary response to a painful situation. We know these things happen. But it comes as a significant reassurance to see how our internet service providers handle them when they do.

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