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What to do during an incident

We know that no SAAS company is perfect and some sort of outage is going to happen at some point. So let’s prepare for the inevitable. How you deal with the outage is critical. Dropping the ball will push your customers away to your competition. But handling things well can make your customers even more loyal to you. Your customers need to know that you’ll take good care of them. If you can do that when the going is tough, it will strengthen your relationships. Taking care of your customers during an outage is a no-brainer. To weather an outage and come out ahead, you need to do two things. You can’t have one without the other.

Communicating with your customers

Communication is number one. As soon as you know that something is going sideways, communicate that. Communicate that to the people affected. Tell them that there’s a problem and that your team is working on it. That was a couple of things at once, let’s unpack that a bit.

Communicate with the people affected. If possible, only communicate with the people who are being annoyed by the problem. We don’t want to bother people who don’t care about the outage. A great way to do this is to place notification banners in your SAAS application that are easy to update. That way the people affected (the ones using your app) will get notified. Customers who aren’t online right now aren’t bothered with the unnecessary notification. If your outage originates with a background task that processes payments. Lookup the logs during the outage. And only send apologies to the people who had their payments delayed. Again, you’re notifying the people affected.

Tell them that there’s a problem. You don’t need to over-complicate this. Talk in terms that your customers can understand. Let them know that something’s not working right. It could be as simple as “email notifications from our billing module are delayed”. You might not know exactly what’s going wrong. But that’s ok, use the information that you have and be honest with your customers. “We’re experiencing some delay in our payment processing”. Often business owners or managers will stall at this point. They’ll say they need to wait for more information. You need to be smart about this. You don’t want to communicate something incorrectly because you jumped the gun. But, as long as your customers are being affected by whatever it is, tell them, quickly. The longer you wait the worse it looks on you.

And then, of course, you tell them that your team is working on it. Of course, your team is all over it. With their skills, you’ll be to the bottom of this in no time and everyone can go back to normal.

Part of good communication is keeping your entire team on the same page. Synchronize the knowledge between ops, development, support and even sales and marketing. If someone calls in from a free trial to talk to their salesperson, don’t leave that salesperson flat-footed. Tell them what’s going on. The support team can head off a lot of unnecessary investigation tickets when they’re in the loop.

But even good communication will only get you so far. You can do an excellent job communicating. But if you aren’t fixing the problem, people are going to get tired of waiting for you.

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Fixing the problem

There’s a lot to do when there’s an incident. There’s a lot of unknowns. There are communication and investigation that all needs to happen. All the while, your team is in the hot seat. Your customers grow impatient and start thinking about using other competitors. You do not want to be in this situation and if you find yourself there, you want it resolved ASAP. Before you find yourself in an incident there are a few things you can do to stay ahead of the problem.