The Hund Blog

React & Reassure: How to Deal with a Shutdown

Maintaining the performance and stability of online services has never been more essential than it is right now. The world changed when the COVID-19 outbreak spread, and the resulting efforts to slow it down ("flatten the curve") hit everyone hard. Across the globe, people began spending almost all their time at home, which meant leaning heavily on the internet.

Those working from home obviously needed to turn to the SaaS industry to make so many tasks possible (leaning on suites like Google Docs), while those looking for entertainment to fill the gap left by conventional social activity looked to services such as Netflix and Spotify. Cut off from one another, people embraced the internet and its vital connective tissue.

Now consider the potential consequences of a service shutdown in these circumstances. Handled poorly, it could be disastrous for a brand's reputation. If you provide an online service of any variety, then, you need to know how to handle such an eventuality. Here are some tips.

Inform the service users immediately

It's easy to understand the temptation to simply avoid mentioning a service shutdown. After all, either people will notice anyway, or you'll somehow find that no one is using your service (not that it's a good thing overall) and get away with it. Resist this temptation. The best thing you can do is inform the service users — and your followers in general — as soon as you're aware of a problem. In addition to having an automated status service running, you should be ready to send out some social media messages to note when the shutdown occurred.

Notably, Hund features a native Twitter integration that automates this process. Any business that uses it can attach its customer service account, ensuring that a status notification tweet is sent out whenever a status incident is logged. This allows the support team to concentrate on identifying and addressing the issue, ultimately leading to the situation being resolved sooner.

Why's this important? Because it shows two things: that you're paying attention to what's happening with your business (it'll look bad if other social media users point out the problem an hour before you acknowledge it) and that you care more about user experience than you do about keeping a perfect reputation. Things can always go wrong, no matter how smart your approach is, and openly accepting that will always work to your benefit.

Explain the issue as soon as you know it

You're not often going to know what's gone wrong the moment it goes wrong. It takes time to investigate, however good your initial assumption may be. You mustn't tell everyone that you know what the problem is if you don't know, but you also must take the time to update your initial notification as soon as you've figured it out.

Hund approaches this matter through establishing an Issue that can be incrementally updated, with each update arriving with a label that makes it clear where things stand. Anyone learning about the problem for the first time can quickly determine what's happening, and anyone who wants a full view of the overall process can check the status page for the full timeline. Knowing how quickly progress is being made can certainly make an issue easier to endure.

The context will help to defuse any tension aimed at you (at least, assuming the context shows you to be mostly blameless: if the shutdown resulted from someone in your office spilling a drink on some cables, you can justifiably expect to take some flak). Additionally, it will show that you're still working in the background to find a solution.

Remember to field social media queries, because there will inevitably be people who don't understand your explanation (or somehow missed it) — and you don't want those people to spread misinformation about your activity. This brings to mind a quote I read from public speaker Gary Vaynerchuk: "Word of mouth works now, much more than ever. @-reply every single person." Every single person.

Say when it'll be resolved (but under-promise)

As soon as you know what the problem is, you should be able to form a solid idea of when you can resolve it. You should pass this idea to your service users as soon as you're adequately confident about it, but you should be sure to under-promise. If you're certain that you can get it fixed within two hours, tell people to expect the service to be working within four hours.

If you managed it in two, you'll have provided a solution within the identified period of time and considerably under your upper estimate. This will subtly suggest that you worked extra hard to fix the problem. Promising to fix it within two hours and then barely meeting that estimate, on the other hand, wouldn't seem nearly as impressive.

Clearly document the issue history to show transparency

Claims about uptime are often hard to take at face value, because it's perfectly possible for a service provider to keep its outages quiet: figuring them out, resolving them, then moving on as though they never happened. To show vital transparency, and to avoid accusations of secrecy from existing customers who were directly inconvenienced by your service going down, it's worth leaving a full record of each shutdown.

What exactly was the issue, how quickly did you address it, and when was it resolved? If you want to keep it straightforward, you can stop there — but you can also turn it into something of a case study by talking about everything you learned from the process. This can show the reader that you don't simply accept the inevitability of shutdowns: instead, you deal with them, figure them out, and commit to avoiding such difficulties in the future.

Prepare the option of offering compensation

In most cases, the occasional shutdown is no cause for major alarm. You can still hit 99.9% uptime, and there's a good chance that your service is far from essential (meaning that its users could easily wait for it to be back to normal). But what if that isn't the case? What if your service is time-sensitive in some way, and a shutdown occurs at the worst possible time?

In that scenario, even if you had no obligation to provide any kind of compensation, you should still think about offering it as a way to keep people on your side. Service providers (particularly web hosts) rarely compensate, so it needn't be anything overly generous: perhaps a period of free use for each user affected, or maybe free access to additional features that normally require payment. Prepare the option, stay ready to deploy it, and you'll have an effective way to respond in the event that your brand gets heavy criticism.

No matter how well you safeguard your systems, unexpected shutdowns will always be possible, and you need to know how to address them when they happen. Follow these tips to keep service users apprised of what's happening, and you should be alright.

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