When Your Product Breaks, You Need to Own It. Here's How.
Since SaaS has become mainstream, businesses of all sizes rely on their SaaS providers to deliver them a reliable and high quality solution. This dependence is truly “mission critical” with SaaS now powering all aspects of a businesses operations. Having downtime can have disastrous effects on the business.
This is not a new concept of course, software has been built to power mission critical business processes for decades. The difference is with SaaS, the business no longer has control over the operation of the software; that is now the responsibility of the vendor. Those of us who used be in the on-premise software business learned this lesson long ago; we used to be in the application development business, now we are in the application _delivery_business. I remember well in the early days of Boomi’s transition from on-premise to SaaS, we had no concept of an operations team (why would we?) and had to create that from scratch.
So businesses have a further dependency on their vendors now, needing them to not only deliver continuous product innovations that add value, but also ensure that the delivery of those features and ongoing operation of the application is non-impactful, performant, and reliable.
As will happen, mistakes get made in this process. Architectural holes get revealed as products scale, leading to outages. Bugs get introduced in releases. Hardware upgrades do not go as planned. These all lead to outages and can impact businesses in significant ways.
Again, mistakes like this are also nothing new. What is new is who is making the mistakes. In the on premise days, you just walk down the hall to your IT department and you can yell your heart out until things get fixed. You see first hand the status of your issues. These days, all you know is that your app stopped working. You don’t know when, why, who is working on it, or when it will be fixed.
And this is the single biggest learning I took from Boomi’s transition from on-premise to SaaS: Transparency. It is the single most important concept and should be part of the DNA of your whole company. Businesses understand that things break. Don’t get me wrong, you need to be world class, and you certainly need to never make the same mistake twice. But mistakes do happen, and businesses understand. What they absolutely do NOT understand is when you don’t tell them something is wrong. There is no faster way to lose the trust of your customer that you worked so hard to earn.
Here are a few things that we figured out at Boomi that went a long way towards successfully managing customer crisis:
Be Proactive. If your customer tells you about your outage, you already lost.
Own the outage. Say you screwed up, as soon as you do. You don’t have to know what went wrong yet, but you need to communicate as soon as you know something is wrong. See point 1.
Provide frequent updates. Even if the update is “we are still working on it”, fine. The frequency depends on the impact of the issue and criticality of your application. If you are completely down and your customer cannot collect revenue, you should be providing updates every 15 minutes.
In your update, say when you will give your next update.
Once you are back up, communicate that right away, and commit to provide a full “cause and corrective action” report. What caused the problem, and what corrective action did you take to make sure it won’t happen again.
Bonus: if the reason for your outage was because a provider you depend on went down, it’s fine to say that, but realize that is totally insignificant to the customer. They look at you as providing the application to them, and they don’t care what 3rd party provider you are using, they want to know how you will make sure your app doesn’t repeat the issue that occurred.
If you follow these steps, you will show your customers that they are your priority, that you will always let them know if there are problems, and that you have a process to continuously improve your delivery. It goes a long way towards a long term relationship between you and your customers.