How to Create an Outage Communication Plan

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Customer Experience : 7 min read

How to Create an Outage Communication Plan

Want to hear a scary statistic? According a 2017 study, 46% of companies experienced more than four hours of IT-related downtime over 12 months, and 23% said that they incurred costs ranging from $12,000 up to more than $1 million per hour.

That’s a lot of time and money.

Because you already have the potential to lose so much, keeping customers loyal and happy should be your number one priority.

People love being kept in the loop, and service insight and knowledge are key to providing a good experience (according to 62% of consumers). Similarly, according to Ameyo, 67% of customer churn is preventable if issues are resolved properly the first time they happen.

Luckily, it’s pretty straightforward to turn a bad experience, like an outage, into a positive one for your customers—The Carey School of Business found that when you tell a customer that you are sorry, satisfaction increases back up to 74%.

So, what are some of the best ways to keep your customers in the loop while making sure you tackle the outage at hand? Here are a few outage communication best practices to follow to keep both your support team members and customers smiling.

Find the issue and confirm with your team

When a few similar reports start to roll in from customers having trouble, it can be really tempting to sound the alarm or automatically lump them together. Unfortunately, 44% of consumers say they've received the wrong answer from a customer service representative in the past—and if you jump to conclusions, you might be a part of the problem.

Take the time to bring the reports from customers to your engineering team before making any decision on action. They're the best members of your team to give you insight and, if you don’t get the full story from them, you’re not going to be able to convey it to your customers properly.

Acting too quickly could lead you to spread misinformation, frustrate customers, and cause even more pain than necessary in your outage process. Once the engineering team has confirmed what the issue is and if it’s actually an outage, you can start to move forward!

Create a status page

There are a lot of awesome tools, like Statuspage, that help you do this if you don’t have the resources to build one yourself, but status page updates are an excellent way to keep your customers in the loop.

Not only that, it also gives your customers a place where they can go and check for outages or service impacts without having to contact your customer service team. In 2018, Statuspage had one customer that had 15,000 hits to their page each second during an outage—imagine if all of those people were coming through via email!

A good rule of thumb is to update your status page every 20 minutes, and keep your updates in language that's clear and not overly complicated to your end-user. So, if your customers aren’t a bunch of engineers, providing details about the actual nitty gritty code issues causing the outage may just cause more confusion.

Clarity, brevity, and transparency are super important—especially when it comes to communicating about outages. Here are some examples of how to do it:

crisis communication examples

Some companies also opt to send out an email explaining the outage to anyone who might be running into trouble. This does run the risk of increasing volume for your support team because it could mean notifying customers who otherwise wouldn’t be aware of the issue.

If you do choose to do this, target carefully and be sure to provide context and a link to your status page, just in case readers don’t get around to reading it until hours after the event.

Inspiration: 3 standout status pages

Twilio: This status page not only includes detailed information about the status of each service and any past incidents, but it also includes helpful links to get help if you need to contact support:

twilio outage status page

Olark: This status page is straightforward and easy to read. It also makes it simple for teams to subscribe to updates. Because Olark is a critical business tool for many websites, it’s important that their clients get updates as quickly as possible:

olark status page

Shopify: This status page breaks down the Shopify services into an easy-to-understand list. It’s also clearly on-brand and fits in with the rest of the Shopify website:

shopify outage status page

Create saved replies and tags, then respond

People want to be heard and know that you care about them: 61% of customers feel that they are treated like case numbers rather than people. Further, 59% of customers said being treated as an individual was more important than how fast the issue was resolved (53%).

So, how can you communicate people on a personal level, while also being efficient with your time?

Create a uniform saved reply (also known as an email template) that all of your customer service representatives can use that includes the following information:

  • When did the issue start?
  • What are the symptoms of the issue?
  • Who does the issue affect?
  • What caused the issue?
  • How long the issue has been going on for, and when might it be resolved?

Using automation, you can also use your emailing platform (Mailchimp is a popular one, or you could just hook up your CRM to Gmail). to automatically tag any conversation that you use this saved reply with. This is useful because it gives your team a way to track the impact of the outage, and also ensures that you can keep track of everyone who reached out.

Keeping everyone in the loop as the issue progresses or changes is so important, and being able to look at all the conversations that've been labelled with a specific tag is a great way to do this.

Inspiration: responding to customers during an outage

To help you put together your own canned response, we’ve created a handy template below. Borrow, edit and use as needed!

Hi [Customer],

Thanks so much for contacting us about the issue you’re seeing around [INSERT ISSUE]. We’re aware of the issue, and our engineering team is currently hard at work getting it sorted. During this time, we recommend [INSERT RECOMMENDATIONS HERE].

We’re keeping our status page up to date here [INSERT STATUS PAGE] and we’ll update this ticket with any new information and to let you know when it’s fixed. Thank you so much for your patience.

In the meantime, if there are any other questions we can answer for you, please let us know. We’re here to help!

[YOUR NAME]

[YOUR TITLE]

Update people when it’s over

If you’re having an outage, customers may leave your interface and do something else. Take, for example, everyone turning to Twitter when Facebook is down, or vice versa:

social media platforms outages

Because of that, it’s valuable to find ways to update people about your outages outside of your app—usually through your status page, or via email. You don’t want to leave your customers unsure of where to get updates.

Along with updating your status page once the outage is over and resending an automated email, make sure that you respond to every customer who reached out about the outage.

It’s never fun to wonder what’s going on and feel like you’re in the dark, and that’s especially true if it’s around a product that you pay money for and are waiting to be able to use.

Reach out as soon as you have an answer, and let your customers know the following things:

  • Any refunds or compensation they’ll receive for the outage
  • When the outage started and ended
  • What caused the outage and what has been done to prevent it in the future
  • Any issues or rollbacks that occurred because of the outage

Be as transparent as possible. It doesn’t serve you to try to sugarcoat or hide anything from your customers—it’ll only make them upset.

An effective outage communication plan can prevent disaster

Outages are never fun and have the potential to get really fiery if mishandled. Leading with transparency and keeping your customers in the loop as you go is the best practice to maintain loyalty and trust from anyone affected.

Use status pages or automated emails to deflect numerous tickets from your inbox, and make customers feel like you’re invested in keeping them in the know.

When you communicate with customers, make sure you give them as much information as you can in a way that’s digestible and easy to understand.

Avoid using technobabble where you can, and speak in language that’s aligned with how your customers talk—it should sound like they’re reading a letter from a friend, not something that’s filled with confusing jargon or leaves them with more questions than answers.

Lead with your customers’ best interest in mind and let them know as soon as the issue is over. Don’t miss the opportunity to educate them on lasting issues that may occur based on the outage, and always be sure to apologize when it’s needed.

Humility and honesty are the two best tools in your toolbox when it comes to exiting an outage (relatively) unscathed.

Author: Yaakov Karda is the co-founder of Chatra.io and a slow coffee enthusiast. When not brewing or working on the startup, he helps his wife with their art business or explores Tel-Aviv on a bicycle.