Overlooking Social Channels

We recently suffered an 8 hour outage from our payment provider. The most frustrating thing about this outage was the complete lack of information from the payment provider about the problem, or indeed the lack of any communication whatsoever. Yesterday we got reports from our front office staff that they were having problems with payments again. A quick check of the logs confirmed that, yes, there was a problem somewhere. Given the nature of the issue it was likely to be a problem with out payment provider but we needed to be sure. We approached getting this information in two ways.

My boss took the traditional approach, contacting the account manager to see what light they could shed on the problem. Net result: there may be a problem, further information would be forthcoming in 30 minutes after a meeting their side.

Given the informational black hole from the last outage I took a slightly tangential approach; Twitter. In seconds I was able to confirm that others were seeing the same problem and it has started at least 3 minutes ago. Two minutes after that, and only 5 minutes after the outage started I had the entire company either on, or preparing to enter a BCP stance. Part of this involved speaking to our social media team because they needed to be poised to inform customers and handle customer queries and complains.

25 minutes later the outage ended. Again I was able to confirm that there were no intermittent problems through a combination of our logs, talking to our staff and responses from people on Twitter. We still hadn’t been called back by the account manager, there was still no official communication about the outage. As far as I’m aware, some 24 hours on, there is still no official acknowledgment.

These days companies, especially large ones, need to understand that they have a social media presence, even if it’s not official. Search for our payment provider during an outage and the torrent of negative opinion and pleas for information are abundant. In this case the presence of, and silence of the official Twitter account only fuelled this frustration. People expect frequent and honest updates, especially when it’s something as important as a payment provider. BCP should include informing customers of the outage, the extent, estimated duration and any other pertinent information. Even if it is “We are aware of issues with the payment gateway. Engineers are looking into it, update to follow in 10 minutes“. Not wanting to say anything for fear of negative reaction is pointless. The negative reaction is already out there. How you present the information is also critical. Use of the word “intermittent” for a problem that is affecting 99 out of 100 transactions, while technically accurate, is clouding the situation. “We are suffering from intermittent problems” in this case sounds like spin which sticks out like a sore thumb in a sea of negative statements.

Effective management of the various social media channels is something that is overlooked by ‘traditional’ far too often.