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Managing the Social Media Crisis When GoDaddy Broke the Internet

On September 10th, 2012, something went wrong with GoDaddy’s network. The technical details aren’t important, but understand that every service it provided, including the websites of millions of small businesses (and its own site), suddenly stopped working.

It was an instant social media crisis, and I ran the social customer care team. It was my team’s job to make people feel better about GoDaddy during a moment of total failure.

Dealing with complaints

We were used to customer complaints – every social media team is used to complaints – but there’s a distinct difference between dealing with problems you understand and those you don’t. When you understand the cause of a problem, you can take steps to resolve it, you can set expectations for the customer, you can identify opportunities for improvement and communicate them internally to improve the customer experience. When you don’t understand the problem and everyone who can help you is occupied trying to fix it, your options are significantly more limited.

In an ordinary complaint situation, there’s a clear process you can follow to address a customer’s concern:

  • Acknowledge
    Respond (quickly) to let her know you’re paying attention.
  • Communicate
    Empathize, ask questions, and collection any info you need.
  • Fix
    Do whatever it takes to resolve the issue. This often means working with others to figure out the cause and do the fixing.
  • Communicate some more
    Tell the customer what’s going on and when she can expect things to be back to normal. Collect her feedback if she has suggestions for how you could be better.
  • Close the loop
    Confirm resolution, execute retention measures (refunds and the like), and ensure no other problems exist.
  • Learn from your mistakes
    Use her feedback (or identify your own) and report it to the appropriate people internally to avoid letting it happen again.

For bonus points, when you fix or change something that caused a longterm problem, like a software bug or an inconvenient policy, get back in touch to let her know the experience led to real change that will improve things for others.

Collectively, these actions tell the customers something incredibly important:

You’ve got their backs

They want to know you understand there’s a problem.
They need to believe you’re doing something about it.
They want to know when it’s fixed.
They want to know it won’t happen again.
They want to feel meaningful and valued.

This time, things were different

Here’s what I knew, or didn’t know, on September 10th:

  • Everything was down.
  • We didn’t have an explanation.
  • We didn’t have an ETA.
  • Every person with a keyboard was posting on Twitter and Facebook looking for answers we didn’t have.
  • We didn’t have the manpower to respond to most of them.

So what do you do when it hits the fan and you have no answers?

Well, first you accept your limitations and understand you won’t be following the normal plan. Hopefully, if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll be honest with everyone else too.

Next, you buckle down and take control. There are some things you can do. Even though you can’t fix the problem, you can acknowledge it, empathize with everyone who’s struggling because of it, and maintain communication. Continuous communication is key because going silent will make people think you’ve abandoned them.

Silence = abandonment

[This, by the way, explains why inaction is the worst action of all. You should use it to sell your PR team on making a statement about something important when they don't want to. I don't know if they'll listen, but it's worth a shot.]

For me, continuous communication meant posting public updates every hour even if I didn’t have anything new to say. In the absence of a solution, at least I could demonstrate to people that we understood the severity of the issue and weren’t going anywhere. In between updates, I was working to scrounge up information for the next update, and my team was responding to as many individuals as they could. Here’s what the public updates looked like and what I hoped was being expressed with every little sentence:

Acknowledgement. Step one. This was early on, before we could understand how big the problem really was and before I’d figured out how I wanted to handle it on my end. In retrospect, it didn’t properly express the scope of the problem or its urgency.


No new information to share, but by saying we’re overwhelmed by the volume of messages, we show that we realize this is affecting a huge group and therefore a serious problem. We try to empathize by recognizing users’ frustration, though I question if it came off as truly sincere. The word “feverishly” says that everyone in the organization, especially the engineers, are taking it seriously and won’t quit until it’s fixed.


We’re making progress. This establishes some degree of hope and, without giving an ETA, says that your site could be back up soon. I don’t have the specifics of what was happening at that point, but I suspect we started to hone in on the cause of the problem and how it might be fixed. Of course, I wouldn’t have said we were making progress if it wasn’t true because establishing false hope, aside from being completely evil, only serves to make people more angry when you don’t come through.


Translation: “We won’t quit because there’s nothing more important than getting your business back online. Also, some of you realize this is hard for us too, and that’s awesome.”


At this point, some service has been restored, and people are seeing that, but that doesn’t help those who are still down. This is more hand holding since little has changed for them. I’m keeping my promise to continue posting updates, reinforcing we haven’t given up.


More progress. I wish it could have been less vague, but you work with what you have which, unfortunately, wasn’t much.


This is essentially the ‘all clear’ message. There are still a few side effects for us to take care of, but the root cause of the problem has been identified and fixed. Also, there’s the all important security message at the end letting people know no data was compromised. I would have preferred to leave that out because it implies the issue was caused by a hacker rather than GoDaddy’s mistake, but some joker actually was claiming responsibility and getting lots of attention for it. It was important to allay those fears.


And that’s where I stopped. Normally, I’d say you should post a final “everything’s fixed” message, but because some relatively small issues persisted and the company was prepping an official response and there’s always a fear of relapse, I let it go. The truth is, we weren’t getting any more complaints, so it’s easy to rationalize not closing the loop, but best practice would be to post the final resolution message.

The takeaway from all this is understanding what your customers need from you and that, even in the most dire of situations, there’s always something you can do to reduce your customers’ stress and fear. I wanted to write that you could help ‘ease the pain’, but that’s not true. When people are losing money because you’ve failed to provide the service you said you would, your words won’t actually fix the problem. Thankfully, just knowing that, being honest about it, and holding their hands through the tough times can at least make them feel better, and that’s genuinely a good thing.

 

If you’re curious to learn a bit more about how GoDaddy handled the event, as a whole, you can read two mostly positive reactions here and here. Also, it’s important for me to say that my team was only a tiny part of it. After all, we didn’t have to fix anything. There were lots of very talented people doing very important work to fix the very serious problem, and I think the executive team did a pretty good job picking up the pieces afterward as well. The fact that no one really brings it up anymore is a testament to the fact that it was well managed.

If you have an opinion about how I handled this social media crisis or if you happen to have been affected by the outage and want to share your thoughts in the comments, I’d love to read them. Did you try contacting one of the Support teams, and how did you feel about the response? Did you talk about it in social media? How did the whole thing change your opinion of GoDaddy in general?

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That's us!

Is Social Customer Service a Waste of Time?

In my recent post about Air France announcing they’ve gone full speed with social customer service, I made the point that social service becomes especially difficult when dealing with complaints and unusual support situations (basically, all the stuff that can’t be answered by a monkey with a handbook). It was only through extensive training and shared experience that I was able to cultivate a truly competent social service team at GoDaddy – a team of people who were sensitive to the needs of the customer and able to communicate in a way that demonstrated empathy and concern using short bursts of text. They were capable of handling the weird situations that came up because we, as a team, were constantly focusing on understanding the customers and their emotions while reminding ourselves that it was better to put our own emotions aside. Training my people about how to best handle these special situations was the most important thing I did.

But is that scalable? As volume forces growth beyond just a small team, can a company afford to build a highly specialized customer service team that doesn’t do a very good job of demonstrating direct ROI? Probably not.

Of course, my preferred question is whether or not a big company can afford not to provide excellent customer service in social. Needless to say, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. Then, today, I read this post from Esteban Kolsky. He says that using Twitter (and other social channels) for customer service is a waste of time. The argument is essentially that Twitter isn’t robust enough to address a customer issue and should only be used for triage. He uses @TMobileHelp as a good example of Twitter triage because they direct customers to a live chat when those unusual situations arise. Here’s an example:

 

First of all, I wholeheartedly agree that a simple and seamless push to live chat would be great for the customer experience. As long as the agent handling the chat session is aware of the existing Twitter conversation and the chat technology works, this is fantastic. In fact, this is almost exactly the solution I’ve been hoping for. Unfortunately, the tech, SnapEngage, does’t actually work properly on iOS/iPhone. Assuming they fix that, I’d probably recommend it for any social customer service operation.

However……………..

It’s a bit irresponsible to suggest that customer service through Twitter is a waste of time. As much as I wish this was not the case, the vast majority of  service requests that come through Twitter are the  easy questions that your average FAQ or knowledge base already answer. It doesn’t matter how good or intuitive your self-help solutions are, there will always be people who prefer a personal touch and come to you in social rather than going to the search box on your site. The fact that it doesn’t take a very skilled agent to answer the boring questions doesn’t mean those interactions aren’t appealing to the customers and valuable to you as a brand. If customers would rather ask you a question on Twitter than go hunting through your knowledge base, then so be it. You score real one-on-one interactions with customers (and potential customers) who feel good about the fact that you’re there to help out. That’s a good thing, and we can’t forget that.

So, my response to Esteban – and maybe he agrees – is that support in Social IS valuable as long as you have a solid solution for handling those difficult situations. That might mean a specialized Social Support team if you’re still small. It might mean pushing sensitive situations to a more traditional channel if that push can be seamless and not require extra work for the customer.

However you decide to handle the tough stuff, just be sure you have good people doing it, and don’t ever get so complacent that you think everything else is wasted time.

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Yay! We did something cool!

Air France Goes All-in With Social Customer Service

Wondering what I thought about it, a friend just sent me Air France’s press release announcing its Social Customer Service:

Air France At Your Service 24/7 On Social Media

My knee-jerk reaction? It’s standard PR horn-tooting to help get fans and validate that they made the right decision going all-in with social.

After taking a day to think about it, I don’t feel much different.

Listen, I don’t want to be mean about it. Running a social service operation is a total pain in the ass. Air France was probably already a 24/7 operation, but I really feel for other companies forced to extend to non-business hours, weekends, and holidays in order to meet the rising expectations of their customers. And dealing with multiple languages? That’s even harder – unless you can find multi-linguals, team size increases dramatically with each new language you service. Then there’s the fact that most companies perceive service departments as cost centers and constantly put the squeeze on budgets. So, before I go on, I’ll tip my hat to the Air France folks for doing what they’ve got to do to engage their customers. Looking at their feed, it’s obvious that they pay attention to their customers.

 

As for the press release, I can’t help but think they’re making a big stink while being at least three years late to the game. Furthermore, the stated objective to “acknowledge [customer] requests in less than an hour, and provide a solution in less than 24 hours” isn’t that impressive. To be clear, it’s not bad, but it’s also not great, especially for an airline. Not because I think an airline should have an easy time of helping people more quickly but because the needs of the customers can be very time-sensitive. If I tweet about a weird smell, a broken seat, or an unwelcome seat change on my flight from London to Paris (a 90 minute flight), I wouldn’t even get an initial acknowledgement until the tray tables are stowed for landing.

Of course, Air France, and most other enterprise organizations, can use social media very effectively for answering the easy stuff, like “is flight AF123 on time?” or “what liquids can I get through security?”, but these questions are already answered in other places so the tweets basically write themselves. Don’t get me wrong, adding the human touch and responding to customers in their chosen venue is super valuable, but what’s missing from today’s social service is a solution for dealing with the complaints and the special situations. That’s where a customer service agent stands to truly impact the customer experience, but it’s also where social service struggles the most.

In time-sensitive, emotionally-charged, or account-specific situations, how do you give someone the attention they deserve in social?

The telephone is really the perfect solution, but customers are increasingly moving to asynchronous social channels with these issues. The hidden truth, though, is that they only want the convenience of asynchronization, but they want the speed and security of a phone call. Basically, they want text messaging, and you can’t be the annoying boyfriend who takes too long to respond.

When someone has a real solution for that, and I’m pretty sure some are in the works, I’ll be excited.

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The power of the share

The Difference Between Traditional Media and Social Media

During my regularly scheduled vanity check this afternoon, I noticed GSMI recently posted an edited version of a talk I gave at their Social Media Strategies Summit last month.

It’s a few excerpts from my presentation titled “You Can’t Make Them Listen” which is a reference to the fact that organic social marketing is very different from old school paid marketing. TV advertising is the classic example. We all hate commercials. We fast-forward through them, take bathroom breaks, or fill the void by quickly popping popcorn just to avoid wasting that time watching the ads. Yet, they’re super effective because plenty of us do sit through them, and we salivate every time we see a burger broiling over a high-definition flame.

Organic social marketing is different. You can’t make people listen like you can with paid content. What results do you want from your social marketing anyway? You don’t just want your fans paying attention… the value of social media marketing is the very real, very large audience born from sharing.

People will share your content. They’ll advertise for you, and they’ll do it for free, but they’ll only do it if you give them something they truly want. If they like what they see, they share with their friends because, chances are, their friends will like it too. If you give them junk, the best they’ll do is make fun of it. So…

give people what they want.

It’s ridiculously obvious, I know, but we see crappy social marketing every day, so I know it hasn’t sunk in yet. This, by the way, is when I make the connection between Marketing and Customer Service.

Marketing = giving them what they want = Service

In this new age of marketing, one that requires us to provide real benefit to the consumer in everything we do, we must now appreciate that Marketing is Customer Service is Marketing. Call it Alon’s Transitive Property of Social Media Marketing™.

That’s the gist of what I talked about at the Social Media Strategies Summit. I want to dive into more of the specifics from my presentation (like finally defining what people actually want) in another post, but for now, listen to GSMI’s teaser.

 

And, just for fun, here’s a little reference material for you.

Team Peanut Butter

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Holding hands

Trust

In case you missed it, I’m a Customer Service guy. As a result, you might expect that I’ve butted heads with Marketing in the past, and you’d be right. Luckily for me and other champions of the customer experience, the world is changing.

I’m not telling you something you don’t already know when I point out that the marketplace has seen a very real shift of power in recent years. It’s cliché, I know, but the information age has given rise to the consumer. “Word of Mouth Marketing” is the hot buzzphrase these days because marketers realize their most creative and poignant ad campaigns are powerless against even the shortest, off-the-cuff-iest Facebook post from cousin Janice saying she didn’t like that blender you were thinking about buying for Aunt Jackie’s birthday. The irony is that word of mouth has always been this powerful. The only difference is that social media and, dare I say, Web 2.0 have given the consumer a bigger mouth.

So why do we care more about Janice’s opinion than Big Corporate’s?

Trust

Janice doesn’t have anything to gain when she tells you not to buy that blender. She just wants you to be happy. It’s the same reason you might check to see if something I link to from this blog is an affiliate link – “Does he really think that’s a good book, or does he just want to make fifteen cents when I buy it?”

Big Corporate ALWAYS stands to gain when we buy into its message, so we’re naturally skeptical. Furthermore, that skepticism is proportional to the amount Corporate stand to gain. In other words, the more they can profit, the more likely they are to lie, and the more distrustful consumers will be.

That’s why we love Janice. That’s why we hate Big Corporate. And that’s why earning the consumers’ trust isn’t easy, but that’s your job.

I’ll repeat that for emphasis:

Your job is to earn their trust.

If you have their trust, they’ll listen to you. If you have their trust, they’ll buy from you. If you have their trust, they’ll spread the word for you. If you really have their trust, they’ll even defend you when you screw up.

The first step, by the way, is actually being trustworthy. Believe it or not, that’s not obvious to everyone. The next step is to nurture that trust. Your existing customer is infinitely more valuable than a potential customer. Of course, we all want new business, but how much time and money do you spend finding, engaging, and converting a potential customer? If your current customers love you, if they believe in what you do and why you do it… if they trust you… they’ll do the finding, the engaging, and the conversion for you.

So that’s your job. Make them happy. Make them love you. Make them trust you, and the money will follow.

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Piggy bank

The Goal

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were all on the same page and just did things right…

I spent several years of my life in business school. I’m not completely sure why, but people around me seemed to think it was a good idea at the time. Like others before me, I occasionally look back and wonder what I learned in all those years of school. Truth be told, there’s not much, but I had one professor who drilled into his students the answer to a single question – what is the goal of a business?

“If there’s one thing you take from this class, it’s this…”, he would say over and over. It was self-fulfilling, I suppose, because I feel like that’s the only thing I learned from his class, and, perhaps, my entire time at the school.

So what is the goal* of a business? It’s really very simple. The goal of (virtually) any business is to make money.

Harsh? Listen, I’m a customer service guy. As my friend Heather Dopson puts it, “I would walk through broken glass for my customers”, so when I say a business exists for the purpose of making money, I realize it sounds like I’ve sold my soul for a Beamer and a pair of shiny cufflinks, but that’s not what’s going on here. I’m not saying you can’t put some rules in place (read: morality) to guide you. It’s important, however, for us to understand that we share the same ultimate goal.

Whether you’re in IT, Marketing, Customer Service, or something else entirely, your function exists to serve that same goal. In other words, as much as it might not feel like it sometimes, you and every one of your coworkers are on the same team.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone in your organization realized that? Wouldn’t it be awesome if everyone played nice and didn’t get offended when differing opinions brought on totally reasonable and necessary arguments? Wouldn’t it be cool if everyone shared the same budget onto which they applied rational self-restraint? Wouldn’t it be awesome if we all just “did the right thing”?

Well, I may be a corporate hippy, but I know that’s not happening any time soon. I’ve accepted that we’re all different, and there’s genuine value in those differences. I do believe, though, that we’d all be in a better place if each person in our respective organizations took time every once in a while to remember that every executive, intern, and middle manager is there for the same reason. The tough part is figuring out how you and your department fit properly into the larger puzzle. What do you need to do to support your side of the business? Should you be selling, or should you be serving? Are those two things as mutually exclusive as they seem?

I’ll give you a hint… they’re not.

 

*My professor, whose name I don’t recall, made us all read The Goal, by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. I’m not the type to recommend lots of books, but it wasn’t too bad, and it’s only fair I give it credit since I stole the title for this post.

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An honest, irreverent view of modern customer service in social media