54: Panel: Customer communications in a crisis

54: Panel: Customer communications in a crisis

This fourth panel discussion talks about crisis communication from all angles. Before, during, after. What we should tell customers, and what we want to hear ourselves as customers. Some spot-on advice and some rallying rhetoric. What more could you ask?


I’d love your thoughts on this episode! Comment below, and like/love/share/support if you found this inspiring, thought-provoking, or useful!

Charlotte Ward 0:13
Hello and welcome to session 54 of the customer support leaders podcast. I’m Charlotte Ward. This week’s special is another panel of customer support leaders talking about customer communications in a crisis. So today I’d like to welcome a number of guests to the panel who have all been previous guests on the podcast. First up is Craig Stoss. Craig is senior lead of Shopify Plus escalated support. Next up, we have Matt Dale Matt is VP of support at Illuminate Education. Welcome back also to Natalie Petruch-Trent Natalie is technical account manager at Pandium. Welcome back to to Ash Rhodees. Ash is joining Director of customer support at vidIQ. And welcome finally to Greg Skirving. Greg is a Support Manager at Broadcom in the Symantec enterprise division. Let’s jump straight in. So the topic for this week’s panel is handling crisis communications with our customers. And as with all panels, I’ve got a number of discussion points I want to hit so Welcome dear panellists. The first thing I’d like to talk about is we all have something I think of a spidey sense when it comes to crises on the horizon. And when you have a sense that things are about to go very wrong for your one of your customers, or maybe even globally, with a vendor or with a virus, whatever the thing might be. Things are about to go wrong. What What do you do first, how do you manage the looming crisis? How do you manage communications? What do you put in place as as we, as we see that crisis approaching us?

Craig Stoss 2:12
I would, I would argue the first thing you should do is take a breath. One thing that is always common in these types of scenarios is panic. And panic helps absolutely no one. It causes more confusion. I find even today with with tools like Slack, where things like this might, you know, rumours or news articles or, you know, YouTube clips get posted, and the communication just feeds on itself, the fire just burns and burns and burns. And so the first thing that I always like to do is just take that breath, who’s gonna be members of your team to fix this or to help address it. You know, making sure that there is a common place where updates can be found, and just take that extra second to make sure that All in place before that fire gets out of hand through through rumours and hearsay.

Ash Rhodes 3:06
Well, and you’re you’re totally right. I agree. crises can also, as, as you kind of alluded to, can mean so many things. It can be everything from COVID all the way through to a major outage to to anything. And a lot of them just kind of have certain things in common. It can fail. They’ll either impact your company and users or they won’t. They’ll impact your own department, or it won’t. I think that it’s really good as a general practice to kind of have at least a baseline best practices, crisis response plan in place, even if it’s just your own notes, although ideally they’re in a shared drive of some sort, so that if you’re impacted Other people know what to do. And it can be like, you know, if you’re co located in an area like earthquake, what do you do or tornado or major? Like your internet goes out and does not come back up? Or your main location? What then? And I have worked places where that was like we ran drills on it, like what do you do when the internet goes out? I currently am a remote guy. So I’ll admit that we didn’t see any of this coming. I’m sure like everybody else.

But yes, I think Craig’s right. Like you just have to take a huge breath and start talking with identifying your key players. I just realised I talked. I

Matt Dale 4:53
think we’re all remote workers right now. Right Actually, I mean, like in this this this week, this month, like everybody’s working from home. But But I think when you talk about crisis, you’re exactly right kind of being able to say, hey, what plan do we have? Who’s in charge of comms? Like, is there a single point person or a couple people in a team? And I think it’s really important to, to kind of take more what what Craig was saying is getting your arms around the problem, I think it’s easy in a crisis to go, Oh, my gosh, the sky is falling, or, you know, we need to post this on our Twitter and our status page and all this stuff. But but if you don’t really know what’s going on yet that can be that can be problematic and get the wrong message out there. I think in my world, we see a lot of not so much lately, but a lot of issues. We’ve had a lot of issues with server outages. And I know a lot of us that work in software as a service. That’s like the worst thing that can happen. And knowing that, hey, this is something that we see on an irregular basis. But but it’s maybe it’s more common than a big virus or an earthquake taking on a data centre. You know, what do we do in those places? Who do I talk to on the engineering team? What do we talk to with marketing what what sort of messaging and responses do we already have that are kind of set up so that we can communicate quickly in those scenarios because otherwise, the support Phone Numbers getting blown up because everybody wants to know what’s going on. And so we’ve got a, we’ve got a voicemail message or a phone tree message that we can put up and check out our status page. And, and kind of if you’ve got another issue besides that stay on the line. And that way people know Oh, great, I’ve got a place to go. And we can update that very quickly and not deal with 300 calls all at once. Hmm.

Ash Rhodes 6:23
Sorry, default default to transparency, basically. Yeah.

Charlotte Ward 6:26
Yeah. Yeah. So given all the types of crises that we’ve already described, how prepared Do you think you have to be for every single eventuality? Or do you think that a good few broad strokes at best are enough to get going in most scenarios?

Matt Dale 6:42
I think in our case, at least, like I said, if you know, things that you’re going to experience on a semi regular basis, being ready for that sort of thing is really important. There’s other ones that are kind of come out of the blue and that you’re not really ready for we had one a little while ago where our phone provider went down. It was like oh, shoot, what do we do when that happens? Like the phone providers down, and we kind of had to scramble and figure something out. And now we’ve got a different workaround with our email and with our, our status page and put that out. So. So I think there’s some things you can plan for. There’s other things like a pandemic that affects the whole, you know, economy and workforce. And I’m not sure that something can really necessarily prepare for, but you can have some things in place at least know who on your team is the point person who should be the one that we go to when something bad happens?

Greg Skirving 7:29
Yeah, I think a lot of this is, is preparation. I know large organisations have business assumption planning teams and a whole process so that when there’s a gas leak or an earthquake or the phone system goes out, immediately key people are contacted, everybody jumps on a bridge. What are we doing, assess the situation? Do we need to move people to a different location do we send people at home customer communication, so while we can can’t plan for everything. It’s good to have a plan that brings people together and execute on on pre determined strategies based on the on the situation. So the more that you can do, the better off you’ll be.

Charlotte Ward 8:15
Yeah, I’m always having the building blocks in place that allow you to form a more cohesive plan once you know where you’re going. Yeah

Natalie Petruch-Trent 8:24
Yeah, and I would just jump in and say there at that, especially for smaller or newer companies that might not already have these processes in place. It’s really just a growing process. Very much to what Matt said, if there is something that you can pretty easily foresee potentially happening such as a server outage, or a site being down, you can put together some documentation there. But for other things, it’s really just rolling with it. So over communicating internally and strategically communicating outwards because very much to what Craig said, you don’t want to be bombarding all day. Your customers with all this crazy misinformation or just too much information that they might not really need to focus on at that moment. And then, as far as preparedness teams, if you are at a location or a company that can actually prepare for that, that’s amazing. If not, if you are at a smaller company where people are already wearing 50,000 hats, and I think it’s a matter of just kind of pulling 15 minutes together and just throwing everyone in a room and saying, okay, we need to tackle a, b, and c, let’s just knock down this list. And then we can have, you know, five minutes afterwards just kind of scream at a wall if you have some feelings.

Craig Stoss 9:41
Yeah, I actually really liked that point, Natalie, the the one thing that I see is that we tend to focus on you know, the highest impact things in the quickest and sometimes that’s not always necessarily The what we what is the right thing to do? You know, you look at things like, What is the situation? How does it affect the company? How does it affect a particular team? How does it affect potentially a particular individual? And if you structure your thinking that way, as opposed to, you know, the phone systems down, you know, call all the phone people and and, you know, raise a havoc if you start to think about the structure of the situation. Okay, well, we can’t communicate, how does that affect the company? How does it affect support versus sales versus marketing? I mean, there’s different effects across these teams. So it’s really important to kind of split that up. And if you can get everyone into a room or as Greg suggested on a phone bridge, awesome, but sometimes that’s just not possible.

Charlotte Ward 10:44
So Craig, let’s talk about messaging them and everybody, let’s talk about messaging. As we communicate, we’ve talked we’ve talked a little bit about transparency and about finding the appropriate message both platform and exactly what you communicate. When you communicate is really a part of how you structure your messaging. So what key messages you’re trying to get across? And how do you decide when and where? And the tone? What are you trying to do when you formulate those messaging plans?

Ash Rhodes 11:17
Well, I mean, it really depends on on the crisis. certain companies, I mean, man, every every company these days seem to be sending out various updates regarding COVID. Nowadays, but if it’s something regarding an outage or something like that early and often let them know exactly what’s going on. And we have identified in or we are experiencing issue, we’ve identified the root cause we are fixing it, it is fixed so on and so forth. I very much believe in those kinds of things. I also have In regards to COVID, I’ve seen a lot of companies sending messages basically trying to make a buck trying to sell. It almost feels like profiteering. Everybody needs to stay alive and stay relevant these days. I personally think it’s not the time. But but that’s me. I just I find it unpleasant.

Natalie Petruch-Trent 12:31
I would jump in and piggyback what Ash was saying there. It obviously depends from crisis to crisis. And I think that transparency is a really interesting word to tie onto here. Because as you know, members and customer support, we always want to, for the most part, want to be completely transparent with our customers and let them know what’s going on. But transparency isn’t always completely the answer. I think Jumping into COVID. Here, that’s that’s a pretty great example of a big crisis where there’s a lot of communication going on. And people are trying to figure out how they want to structure these messages. Just like what ash was saying, there is a lot of kind of profiteering messages going out, which for people like me as well don’t really hit home, and actually seem kind of problematic. And then there’s the other messages, the, you know, five emails a day, we’re getting about, in full detail what this company is doing internally to prepare for COVID and how they’re handling that. In my personal opinion, I would consider that a little too much transparency. What I want to be getting from the message and what I think about when I’m preparing any outbound customer communication message is, what would I want to care about if I was that user if I was that customer, I don’t need to know everything that’s going on behind the scenes, but I want to know whether my product will still be taken care of. If the company is, you know, being is holding it together for lack of better phrasing, and also how it’s going to impact me. I think that when you are trying to figure out messages like this, a lot of companies tend to think it it to think about it from like the company perspective and Periscope and less from the customer side. And I think that’s the really important takeaway.

Craig Stoss 14:29
I actually really like that point I listened to a talk from from someone at status page once and they had a really good point that how often do you see something like, Oh, we know there’s an outage. We’re working on it, we’ll let you know as soon as we have more information. And and they use this as a classic example of actually what’s wrong with providing status updates during a crisis because it’s such a vague message, who’s working on it, who do I contact if I need more information? What you know when will the next update be? I mean, if I could say, I’ll let you know what The next update is and and that takes a week to do. Well, that’s not maybe appropriate in some situations, you know, so maybe something like, our IT team is working on it, their contact information is x. And the next update will be in one hour from now or one day from now or whatever makes sense in the situation. And that’s what the customers want to hear. And in fact, I would argue that’s what internally you want to hear to is, is Who do I get ahold of if I’m personally affected? Or who can I be assured that the right people or can I put my hand up and offer my services, those types of things?

Charlotte Ward 15:32
I think that’s a really interesting point that giving your customers the opportunity to come back and, and talk to you more about the situation by just providing them with a contact channel of some sort. Is Is it stops it being a broadcast, doesn’t it? It stops it just kind of where we’re telling you what the situation is now, stay over there while we sort this out for you or for ourselves. It became it kind of opens up the conversation if they need to, if they need that extra reassurance, particularly that you might perhaps be inclined to give them as Natalie said by by being too transparent by being too verbose by saying, you know, or Don’t worry, all of our agents are working from home, but they’ve all got toilet paper, right? It’s just we don’t need to know that we just we just want that reassurance. Right.

Greg Skirving 16:23
I think there’s a couple of things here. So I think the the broadcast messages appropriate as a message to let people know, we’re working on it and not having come through and open cases. I know I’ve been in situations where my team’s been unable to respond to actual customer issues, actual individual customer issues because of a hosted service being down and just letting the lines so I think that’s important. But what’s really interesting with this COVID thing is when you look at it from the perspective of the customer. You know, are you you know, as my vendor, you’re going to continue to provide service, will my service be degraded in any way? So, I think, you know, at least conceptually, we all know how to handle the the major outage or if it’s a business resumption or disaster recovery scenario, customer communication oftentimes isn’t really even necessary because you handle it on the inside. But But this COVID thing, obviously, I’m not so sure, organisations have planned for what communications they’d like to tell their customers.

Natalie Petruch-Trent 17:36
COVID is a really interesting example of a specific scenario where marketing is having to liaise with the customer success team or in the sales team or in ways that they wouldn’t naturally have been doing beforehand. I mean, in an ideal world, an ideal company always departments are inter communicating like the best of But that doesn’t always happen. For the most part, people are doing their jobs, things are getting sent email blasts are being sent out. But at least what I’ve been saying at my company, and friends of mine is that there’s much more concern from a overall corporate marketing perspective. Because end user customers, and then also from the outside, people who aren’t using the service or product might, who might be in the future. They’re looking at this company, they’re looking at the marketing messages that are being sent, and they’re no longer looking at this from, Oh, is this a product that might be useful to me? And I feel that the conversation nowadays is more a little bit. Is this an ethical company that is actually communicating things to me in a way that I can relate to you as a human

Matt Dale 18:48
I think as we kind of take a look at this too, when we’re talking about crises and I think there’s obviously different kinds of different scales, right. we’ve, we’ve kind of alluded to this as a group, you know, hey, There’s the normal servers down or no, an outage which at the time can can lead to really high volumes and can really impact our teams and our customers. That’s on the small side of the scale. And you’ve got the really big side of the scale where, you know, there’s something major that happens to the entire world, and that we’re all kind of facing this. And what does that mean? And I think there’s, there’s probably something kind of in the middle there to where it’s a, it’s not a, oh, there’s a hiccup in a server went down and we’ll get it rebooted in half an hour and everything will be fine. But but there’s kind of like the middle ground to where it’s like, we had it, we had some failure of data or a partner that we work with has gone out of business. And we’re no longer able to sift through that that that vendor does look different for each of our businesses. But But I think in scope one is it picks it within a day. The other is kind of a two days to a couple weeks. And the other is a there’s a lot of uncertainty as we look at the globe in the world, and what is our economy look like? And will this company even be here in a few weeks. And I think it’s important to kind of differentiate between those because there’s different things that we need. To do it each of those cases, on the first like, with what I agree with Greg saying like, Hey, you need to kind of say, Hey, we know there’s an issue so that our team doesn’t go well, the servers down, there’s a problem. And we’ll give you an update every 15 minutes with, you know, our engineering teams looking at, we’ll give you an update. The second it’s like, hey, we’ve just been alerted that something in our business has changed, and we’re working to get our arms around it, here’s our plan, here’s what we’re doing to kind of mitigate that. And then the third, holy cow, nobody knows what tomorrow is gonna look like. Here’s what we’re kind of doing right now. Here’s the concerns we think you have but but I think identifying kind of what kind of crisis you’re in and what your team has done to prepare for it is really helpful. Is this a, you know, is this a pothole or is this a landmine? Like what kind of are we dealing with a bump or, you know, missing limbs here and and how then do we communicate in the right tone and use the right words that our customers feel cared for through it and that they have the right information so that they have that channel for recourse where they can ask questions, but generally, their common questions are already answered, because we’ve already we’ve already done that, like I that’s how To think about as we go hate COVID. And it’s really big, and it’s on our minds. But I think there’s other other kinds.

Charlotte Ward 21:07
I think what’s been really interesting about COVID is that it happened globally pretty much within a week or two for everyone at the same time. So we’ve had a really, really strong comparison. We have a lot of data around how customers are around how companies have responded to this. And we see everything from no communication at all to kind of over communication and, and and maybe even selling opportunities. Right. So I think there have been, it’s been a very strange opportunity to draw some really stark contrasts between different organisations and how they’re handling it. And, Matt, you raised a very valid point, I felt that this crisis that we’re experiencing now is very likely to be a very long run. And within those first couple of weeks, we did see a lot of organisations rush out there and tell us what they were going to do or what they felt we ought to do. What happens next? Do you think over the course? How do we manage the next few weeks? And how do we potentially manage what might be several months? Do you think that we’re still going to see this kind of constant flood? Or do you think that is an effort for everyone’s everyone to get their voice heard in the early rush?

Matt Dale 22:27
It really depends on what we’re talking about to for the service, right. There are some that are impacted pretty heavily like I’ve gotten a lot of notes from from different airline companies that I used to frequent right and and i’m not right now and they’re obviously very worried about their business. And they’re trying to say, hey, look, I’m, we’re being responsible. Here’s what we’re doing. You could travel safely if you needed to, even though no one’s probably travelling right now. I would expect some types of those messages to as as we move through this and have more certainty about what actually is going to happen and how things look. I would expect to see some communication from them. I think it’s important to in this this COVID thing to realise that our leadership and our companies are all trying to go, Hey, you know, what does this mean for us? What does this look like from a cash flow perspective? Do we have what it’s going to take to get through this to weather the storm? Do we have enough runway? And what do we need to do as an organisation internally to to take care of our ourselves and our company so we can be there for our customers? I think, at least I’ve seen it in some cases, I think we’ve we’ve alluded to this as a group here, where companies confused what they’re doing internally to survive, as stuff that their customers should be aware of and should see. And sometimes, it’s actually very unsettling because it’s like, well, I didn’t know that you, you know, laid off half your staff yesterday and wanted to tell me about like, that makes me nervous. I don’t, that’s not the message that I want here. But at the same time, that’s exactly what they needed to do so that they can be financially viable, you know, to weather a storm of six months. And so, I think, I think we’re in this kind of weird place where people might have over shared a little bit because they were so freaked out and because it’s happening, kind of all at once.

Craig Stoss 23:58
I think the I want to Pick up on your point about travel and the messaging. I happen to be out of country when when this hit and blew up, I was travelling for personal reasons. And so I had airlines, I had air fares booked on three different airlines I had hotels booked with multiple different chains. And it’s amazing the range of customer experience I had you know, everything from hotels proactively writing me saying if you need to cancel, it’s free. We’re, you know, our refund policy is being opened up to I went to an airport to speak to one of the airlines directly in person. And the person recognised my problem said I was entitled to a refund but said he couldn’t help me and that I had to go on to their website to go and claim the web claim the refund online and then of course, all of that was the the website actually was broken and said you must call and then I get on the phone call and it tells me that it’s a four and a half hour wait expect so you know that’s a completely different experience there right and and so the communication of all of this vary by company by company you know and again to Matt’s point I you know getting these messages saying hey, we fixed the cabin filters in the aeroplane you’re about to write on I actually my point my flight home I repatriate repatriation flight, they switched aircraft to get the highest level of air filter they could on the flight. That’s a good thing to know, if that made me feel safer. You know, did I need to know a bunch of the extra stuff that was going on and and, you know, the fact that they did layoffs, the you know, the fact that they’re still going to be there to support me and, you know, like, put me in coach type style messaging. I don’t know if that was necessarily appropriate.

Matt Dale 25:38
But on that point, too, I think it’s really good is when we’re communicating with customers in a crisis is important to remember who we’re talking to. Right. So Craig is as an international traveller in the midst of this happening and not knowing what’s going on. I would I would expect it with one better communication from the the vendors that I’m using the airlines, the hotels that whatever transportation, I would think expect that to be customised to my experience, I want to know what are they doing on the flight that I am on? I don’t really care what their global policy is, but I want to know, Hey, is this gonna, like if I cancel this? What does that mean for me and I think if we take that kind of as a as a paradigm, and take a step back, like in a server outage, if it’s affecting one of our servers and a pharma 30 I don’t necessarily maybe want to message to everybody in the whole world, hey, we’re having reliability issues, but I definitely want to be able to reach out maybe practically to the people that are experiencing that and give them more detail more more information, then, then then I would for the whole group, because it’s affecting them in a real way and they want to they want to know, how does this affect me?

Charlotte Ward 26:40
Yeah, it’s absolutely about understanding the context that your customer is in, isn’t it when you’re communicating with them? emotionally and, and in Craig’s case, geographically, maybe but, you know, the, the experience that they’re going through and it the you know, how many internal fires of their own or they tried To deal with at the same time in something like this, or is actually pretty much business as usual and this is your own fire. But it has a relatively minor impact that there are all kinds of variables and, and understanding your customers context in that particular situation is really key to getting the messaging appropriate, isn’t it?

Greg Skirving 27:20
Yeah, I think understanding scope and audiences is always crucial. And having a consistent messages is crucial as well. And, you know, in again, going back to this COVID thing, as you mentioned, it’s it’s going to last for months. This is where the ad account teams can come in and, and provide more personalised messaging. But as Matt said, you know, leadership has, you know, struggling with certain situations and, and, you know, the the message needs to be consistent internally so that when we communicate with our customers on whatever front, it’s it’s the same message.

Natalie Petruch-Trent 27:59
I think Talking about how communication is changing. As recent experience has has shaken up life a little bit, I’ve feel that I’ve started to view businesses as much more like living, breathing and moving operations than I did in the past, even though I practically understand that companies are living and breathing entities. But what that has done to my perspective of communication is translating that to what we would hope other humans in our lives were doing on a one on one basis. So as we see different companies communicating in certain ways, on a mass email way on a personal on an individual level, what I would then hope for is that other employees and employees in positions of power are having things like this panels, discussions, what we can do what we can do better. For example, I loved what Craig was saying about the status page. That’s something thing that I’m going to be taking back and evolving and using in my own life. And I would really hope that, for example, the travel agencies and the different aeroplane companies that you’re looking at are looking at what the other travel companies are doing and learning how they can evolve their messaging as well. Maybe not just taking and stealing what this other companies doing it, but looking at it and say this worked really well. How can we craft this to give a better experience to our end users, and then also, like humans, what I hope that people are doing when this crisis comes to an end, is looking at how they behaved during it, how their lives are changed and impacted, and then coming out and saying, Okay, this is what I learned. This is what I’m doing to be a better person. And I think that that’s the type of messages that we should be expecting from companies and businesses as well.

Ash Rhodes 29:52
I think that that’s actually something that is useful if nothing else from all of it is that there’s going to be a lot of different changes. Not in messaging in company practices and everything. And I think it’s going to be how people, I hope I have fingers crossed, that people will start, for lack of a better term shopping more ethically, they will be looking at how whether it’s the messages that were done, how companies treated their employees, how all of this was was done as a result of this, and let’s tie it right back how people were prepared, or lack thereof and how quickly they responded to this crisis. We’ve all seen those companies that have been in no way prepared and are still just completely reeling A month later. And you have to just kind of wonder, why am I giving you money, what it like, where other what other places are you completely and totally falling down and it’s just kind of eye opening, I hope. I hope that nobody here on this call.

Charlotte Ward 31:07
Sorry. So let’s think about them. Some of the things that we’ve talked about about getting personal with our messaging, and how personal should we be? I mean, how much of your self do you bring to the situation?

Ash Rhodes 31:27
Well, I mean, that’s kind of a it’s kind of a fine line it it. It of course always depends on the organisation and the tone that you bring to your tickets and so on. I’ve worked in places where it’s a very casual I’ve worked in places where the only tone that it’s acceptable is Dear Sir Madam. So on. Best regards, name. It of course, depends. One of the benefits of being in charge is that I get To be very casual with my customers and so I put a lot of my own self in, for better or worse and I also am pushing, I’m pushing the empathy button very, very hard both for myself and for my employees. And happily, my company is is kind of matching, they are all really really going very hard on empathy right now. So, so there you go. And it is it is very personal we our tone has has changed to the eye and the it should always have been the eye but they’re finally listening to me. So on so

Natalie Petruch-Trent 32:42
I completely agree with Ash I second almost everything that you’ve said. And I would also just add that I think it depends on what type of messaging and communication you’re dealing. For example, I have weekly video calls with all my customers now. Maybe it was have been something a little bit different, maybe an occasional email instead of a call in the past, but now is a moment where people are needing human communication and contact. So if I’m on a video call, or conference with one of my customers, they’re gonna see what my room looks like, they’re going to know that my husband is sitting next to me darning socks. Whereas if I was emailing a customer, then they might not know about that. I might not be like, hey, by the way, my husband says hi. Um, so it’s definitely a little bit of a different line. But I think that very much as to what ash was saying, depending on the mode and the scenario you’re in, you have some more flexibility with how much empathy and individuality and kind of your own unique personality that you’re able to bring into that situation.

Craig Stoss 33:56
Yeah, the big again, I agree with Natalie. The biggest thing that I have seen and when it comes to bringing yourself to these conversations is when there’s some sort of a big announcement that, you know, you may be heard in a meeting that we’re discussing, all the servers might be back up at an hour and you go to a customer Oh, well, I don’t not supposed to tell you this, but the servers might be back up in an hour or, you know, things like that, where there’s no certainty behind it, but you want to be the hero because you want it you know, you have that customer facing attitude that you want to bring the good news and, and so, you know, transparency is important, but when there’s a message in flux, you need to make sure that you hold off on any of those interim messages. Because those could call end up causing more anger if the server’s not back up in the hour. And that’s the one thing that I’ve seen a lot of is is you know, having hired a lot of customer experience minded people who want to always share the best news with their customers. You sometimes overshare or or share things that aren’t solidified yet.

Greg Skirving 34:55
That’s just want to say Natalie, that’s good that you communicate with your customers, I think, you know, good organisations, always strive to, you know, colloquially, you know, put your face in the place, which is obviously impossible now other than through video conferencing and I think I think we need to do things to make sure that we’re reaching out. Because if we’re conspicuous by our absence, that may raise some some unwanted dissension or there’s some flags of uncertainty from our customers.

Charlotte Ward 35:35
Yeah, absolutely. Okay. Now, when all is said and done, and this crisis or whatever crisis we are managing, is finally over. How do you deal with the fallout? How do you deal with the climb down actually more than the fallout? How do you deal with the end of that situation? Is it back to business? As usual?

Matt Dale 36:02
I think it depends, again, on the type of crisis we’re talking about. Again, a lot of times in my world, it’s a we’ve had an outage or there’s a problem. And I think it’s important in those cases to provide kind of a wrap up. We, we typically kind of our phases, as we identify, there’s a problem, we give a timeline for updates. And then we provide updates through the problem through the resolution. At the very end, we say, hey, issues resolved, we’re still doing your final testing, okay, the issues finally resolved. And then say, within 24 hours, or within 48 hours, we’ll have a post mortem posted to say, here’s what happened. And here’s what we’ve done to mitigate this in the future basically saying, hey, like, let’s let’s close the loop on this communication. And so I think most of the types of crises that I’ve dealt with in my career up to this point, that’s kind of how we’ve handled it, I think, again, taking talking about pandemics and bigger picture things. That’s probably a different story. And I I’m not sure that we’re going to be even on this call, because hey, this is exactly how we’re going to handle it because none of us have done anything. Quite Big before. But But I think in general, when we talk about those things, being able to wrap it up and let the customer know, hey, this is what we’ve done so that this won’t happen again, or this is what we’re doing to reduce the types of this thing in the future is really important.

Ash Rhodes 37:15
I agree with everything Matt said. In addition, though, we have spoken previously in this call about nobody can be prepared for everything. And it’s good to just have like, at least the building blocks of it all. But with that said, any crisis that we’re fully prepared for, like it stops being a crisis, because it’s just like, cool, I’m ready, like, message out, so on and so forth. It’s, it’s all sorted. It’s an incident, but it’s not a crisis. It feels like I’m happy to be wrong. But when it is an unprepared for thing. It kind of becomes, if not your responsibility, somebody’s responsibility to make sure that it is Never a crisis again, like you need to learn from it, you need to include that in your disaster preparedness doc folder, what have you and have that be part of your post mortem. So that if there is some shiny red button that says, like, delete all servers from AWS, that button is requires multiple passwords or something I don’t know. Um, but just, you know, figure out what went wrong and make it so that it can’t happen again, or it was at least unlikely to so on and so forth. But yeah, that’s, that’s my main thing about when all of a sudden done, do your best to make sure that we have sufficient PPE, and we’ve got, you know, people paying attention tovirus growth and so on. Like, let’s, let’s make sure it doesn’t happen quite this way. It’s gonna happen, but make sure it happens. And some other way.

Matt Dale 39:01
One thing you said there that I just wanted to pause on for a minute, there are cases at least that I’ve seen in my professional life where we actually can’t prevent something from happening again, we had a situation where we had some server architecture that it was impossible to get it fixed in the time that we needed to. And it was during a heavy load season, and we went down on one day had gone down on another day, and we knew it was going to be happening again. And I think in those cases, if we, if you say, hey, like, we can’t, we can’t swap this out yet. It’s going to take some time to get this fixed, being at least able to communicate with the customers proactively say, Hey, we this has happened, this is what we’re doing to mitigate it. But over the next few days, this is going to this, this could happen again, I think having that clear communication for people throughout that or, hey, this, you know, having the team set up and ready to go and having a plan in place takes it from a this is a crisis, like you said there’s something that we’re prepared for an incident and a problem and something we have to fix but but it’s not necessarily the same level of crisis as when we thought the first time so I think that’s important to kind of make that distinction there.

Craig Stoss 39:59
The other thing thing that I can add to what Matt just said is, is the is make sure that when you’re doing these these postmortem type activities, that the the representation is correct. Especially, I mean, coverts probably a classic example. But I mean, mass layoffs is is another type of crisis, business downturns, you know, whatever it might be. There’s an effect at an individual contributor level that doesn’t always bubble up into those post mortems. Right. How was it communicated? How did that make them feel? how, you know, were they nervous? Did they understand what was happening? You know, I’ve been on both sides of the table on layoffs. And I’ll tell you, neither side feels great. But there are ways to make it feel better. And and so when when you are when you are in a crisis situation, and COVID again, being a good example, how did it make employees feel that, you know, they were working at home, they had to take care of kids during work hours, schools were closed, you know, was the union Correct to the individual contributor is not necessarily at the company level or to the customer level. And so, you know, again, ashen matter dead dead on that you need to do these activities and putting mitigation in place. But make sure all the feedback is considered there. I don’t know, or at least represented somehow in those reports. Yeah,

Natalie Petruch-Trent 41:20
I was just going to say, I truly don’t think I could have said it any better myself. And just the last thing to add there is your customers, even though it’s mostly it’s most likely a primarily internal conversation? How did your customers react? What feedback Did you get back in from them? Sure. They might have just been angry and writing some angry emails, but there’s probably at least one gem in there that you can take away from. Or if you have really good relationships with a handful of customers, maybe hop on a call and say, Hey, this is what happens. This is how this is how it impacted you. We’re hoping that this is never going to happen again. But if it does, how can we deliver the best to you.

Ash Rhodes 42:02
One, I think it goes without saying, but even if you can’t find those gems, make sure that you’re representing like, How many? How many people wrote in and make sure people understand the multiple key multiplicative nature of tickets that I mean, it depends on the study, but between four and 25. Each one of those tickets represents, like between four people who are not writing in or 25 people who are not writing in and are still impacted or just silently pissed off. So yeah, we’re our customers advocates when it really comes down to it.

Charlotte Ward 42:42
Yeah, absolutely. We have to advocate for the customer in every single situation. And those port post mortems are really a key part of that we concentrate so often just on the facts, we draw up a timeline, we produce an executive summary. And that’s it. Job done that post mortem motion can be filed, right? Yeah, that’s really, really good advice. Thank you so, so let’s move on to advice. The final final thing that I like to extract from all my panellists right before I let them go, is, is one good piece of advice. So what’s the one piece of advice you would give any one of our listeners for communicating with customers in a crisis? What could or should they go and do right now? And I say that understanding that we are kind of in a crisis situation so I mean, if you like, let’s say, generally, what should they go and do right now? And and what should they really go and do right now because of the situation we’re in?

Greg Skirving 43:41
I think, have a consistent message and be proactive in delivering it to your customers,

Natalie Petruch-Trent 43:49
I would say do your research. Now is actually the perfect time to start planning and prepping for crisis’s. Because we’re in the middle of one. You have all these other companies and businesses that you can go look at How they’re communicating, see how their messaging and what they’re doing and how their users and their not users are responding to it. Because everyone’s having a lot of feelings right now. And everyone might not always have this many feelings. But this is the best time to see what’s working and what’s not working and the best time to learn.

Craig Stoss 44:19
For me, I think it’s empowerment of your employees, allow your employees to have these conversations, to have the tools available. If I go back to my example of speaking to a person in person in an airport who couldn’t fix my airport airline related problem. I mean, that just seems ridiculous to me for a customer experience. So make sure your employees are set up to take the actions that you expect to happen. You know, the the phone calls, the messaging, the consistency internally is delivered to your employees at the right times. So they can use it the data driven stuff that I think Matt talked about, were only notifying the right. people that need to know versus everyone. That’s to me my message Make sure you’re set up to let your employees do their jobs as well as possible, with as little friction as possible and a little confusion as possible.

Matt Dale 45:08
I think on that note, my advice would be that whatever systems you’re using to communicate to your customers, that you have redundancy kind of put in place it goes, especially if you’re if you’re a medium or larger team. I recall one incident a couple years ago when we were having DDoS attacks, basically on the whole eastern seaboard. And our application along with everybody else was down during the time, I was on an aeroplane and the only other person that knew how to do anything with our phone system was on the same aeroplane with me. And so, from from St. Louis, back to I think Salt Lake City, there was a period of time there where we couldn’t actually update the phone system and say, Hey, you know, we’re experiencing this outage, it’s a known issue. It’s something that’s affecting everybody can check status or status page for more information. And our team just got destroyed because no one could change that message. And so, so think through as part of your planning what you’re doing, think through what Have those systems and making sure that you have some redundancy that the people do have the tools that they need, so that you can make those quick changes and update those specific channels. In case someone your main person isn’t there or, or if they are, if they’re planning on going away, making sure that they have someone in their stead so that they can take care of the company during that time.

Ash Rhodes 46:18
Mine is basically bits and pieces from everything people have said, want, just make sure you’ve got a plan, but it’s it’s never too late to start one and write it down. Like literally write it down and put it somewhere that everyone can find. But then also have, have your dream team, let them know that they are part of the Dream Team. And if possible, make sure that there is a second alternate or percent Dream Team and and not just in your own but your guy in dev your guy in marketing your guy in like whatever departments there is make sure that there is someone from every single one of them If there’s a department for it, they’re probably necessary in some way. And like, at the very least, they need to know what is going on. And they, they’ve got domain knowledge that you don’t have, and, and they’re probably going to be valuable. So, like, if nothing else, it’s a good way to get together and talk once every other month and update stuff. So It’ll do you good.

Charlotte Ward 47:27
Absolutely. Great advice. Oh, thank you so much. I’m going to finish perhaps uncharacteristically, for me slightly sentimentally and even more uncharacteristically, for me I’m going to quote a British Conservative politician.

Ash Rhodes 47:46
How very dare you.

Charlotte Ward 47:48
I know, right. I’m not taking my audience into account at any point during the next two sentences, but I will say that a couple of weeks ago in one of the Downing Street Briefings our Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, said something which I think we should all think about in this crisis and any other and I think it would serve as well, personally and in our relationships with our colleagues and customers. And he said this “Now more than at any time in our history, we will be judged by our capacity for compassion…when this is over, and it will be over, we want to look back on this moment & remember the many small acts of kindness, done by us and to us”.

Ash Rhodes 48:35
That’s beautiful.

Craig Stoss 48:36
Yep, couldn’t agree more.

Charlotte Ward 48:38
Isn’t that

Ash Rhodes 48:38
Love it Yeah. Yep.

Charlotte Ward 48:40
And I think that’s how we that’s I think that’s how we all want to feel about, about this whole situation coming out the other side, and hopefully we can remember that as this plays out over the next few months and hopefully all of our are organisations both that we are employed by and that we are Customers have and who are our customers can have that kind of ring in the back of their heads as well. I think it’s a really important piece of advice. I think it’s a really important sentiment. That’s it for today. Go to customersupportleaders.com/54 for the show notes, and I’ll see you next time.


Transcribed by https://otter.ai


A little disclaimer about the podcast, blog interviews and articles on this site: the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text and podcast belong solely to the author or interviewee, and not necessarily to any employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.