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When Things Go Really Wrong

Head crash in a new model hard disk.Image via Wikipedia

No matter how hard you try, things can go wrong.  Many of the businesses I work with provide software as a service on the Web.  Think Google Mail.  When it works, great.  When it doesn't, hang on! 

Recently, a friend had such a problem.  Their system went down.  People who depended on them could not use the service.  It was pretty bad.  Worse yet, the outage was caused by internal actions.  In other words, the outage was unintentionally self inflicted. 

In a recent post, Jason Fried of 37Signals wrote a piece called "How to Turn Disaster into Gold".  In it he told about a situation where one of their key products went down.  What they did about it is the cool part.  They took full responsibility for the issue, communicated regularly and in due time got things back up and running.  What they did not do was go into hiding, blame someone else or just stop communicating. 

These days you just can't lie to people.  If something is wrong, admit it, take responsibility for it and then make it right. Most of your customers will understand, even if they are irritated.

My friends were able to get their system back up and running.  They posted regularly to their blog and let people know what was going on.  They said what they did know and what they did not know. 

Here is the key - now their customers know what kind of company they are.  They learned by watching how the company handled a hard problem.  Everyone is pretty great when things are fine.  When things get difficult is when you learn who people really are. 

- Mike Colwell

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The hardest part of work is admitting when you screw up. Admitting that to your customer base is double hard.

I've seen the data that supports giving a full mea culpa and doing your best to rectify the situation can maintain your reputation in the eyes of the consumer, and in the rare case increase it.

Its only a disaster if you turn it into a disaster, and your instincts will probably lead you in that direction.

Stop. Think. How can you make things right?

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