What not to do when it hits the fan

By Vicki Ball

What shouldn’t you do when there’s a major system outage affecting your customer’s systems?

According to Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe don’t do nothing. Because if you do, or you drag your feet, or don’t mea culpa or even acknowledge there’s a problem, then, not only will your customer be very upset, but it will probably appear in a national newspaper (and get blogged about).

Mt Fyfe was so upset he blasted IBM, saying in a leaked email:

“In my 30-year working career, I am struggling to recall a time where I have seen a supplier so slow to react to a catastrophic system failure such as this and so unwilling to accept responsibility and apologise to its client and its client’s customers.”

Since most systems were restored four hours later, it must have been a fairly catastrophic failure indeed, but I think IBM’s handling of the incident has made the situation 10 times worse than it could have been- and is the real reason it’s appearing in the press.

When something goes wrong, especially if it affects your customers’ ability to service their clients, the first priority must be communicating that you’re aware of the issue and working on a solution. If you can identify the cause, tell the customer what it is, even if it might be your fault. The best maxim is to always treat your customers how YOU would like to be treated.

As to the apology part… opinions can be divided, but I think the best advice is to be honest and proactive wherever you can.

I sometimes wonder if IBM’s reaction to this incident is simply an inevitable part of outsourcing your support to such a large company. IT support can be such a hard slog- people are always unhappy and frustrated when they call you, the problem is never what they think it is, and you’re probably not being remunerated very well.

When it hits the fan, can you really be surprised that such a small cog in a big machine wants to pass the buck or “escalate the issue” to some other department?

Don’t always assume that a “big name” like IBM is enough insurance for when something goes wrong- pick suppliers that match your size and needs. And if you’re a big company like Air NZ, invest directly in some “home grown” support as well as outsourcing. They’ll have your best interests at heart, not just squeezing every cent they can out of the contract.

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