How To Communicate with Customers

Why is customer communication important?

Incidents happen, and reasonable customers will understand that. What they won’t understand is being left in the dark when a problem with your service impacts their work. Just take a look at when the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), the New York City subway system operators, switched to an ultra-honest policy. The announcements were more human, admitting what was actually going on, and in turn, New Yorkers praised the MTA on their new policy (a rare change in attitude by jaded New Yorkers, by all accounts)*.

When an incident happens, customers should trust that you and your team are actively working to restore their system promptly. But, how will they know that you’re on it?

*FireHydrant is a New York-based company

Have a plan for how to reach customers during an incident

Your incident management plan should always include a section on communication. The level at which you communicate with customers will likely depend heavily on how you categorize your incidents. Not every incident is worthy of external notification.

Assuming that the service to customers is impacted, here are some best practices to determining the who, what, when, and where for communication.

How to communicate with customers

When you need to communicate, it’s best to keep these best practices in mind:

Have a centralized “source of truth” for your latest updates

This is most likely on a status page. Whether it’s your public status page or customer-specific authorized status page, it should only host the most up-to-date and accurate information, and it should be easily accessible when a customer is trying to figure out what’s wrong.

Make sure your updates are discoverable

The two most common behaviors that customers may take when trying to figure out why their service was interrupted are:

  1. looking around your product or marketing site to find communications

- and/or -

  1. googling your company name + terms such as: “down”, “status”, “outage.”

Your status page should be easily found on your product and site and also ranked on the top page in search results.

Get your communication organized, out early, and updated on a regular cadence

When customers are impacted, it’s important to get your message out early. You’ll want to make sure that your message is clear, honest, and easy to understand.

Be consistent across all your communication channels

Your message should be unified, from your status page, emails, social media, and to your customer-facing teams. It’s essential to train your team if they will be directly speaking with customers, so make sure you know how to work with other departments such as customer success or marketing.

Be accountable and take ownership

Most importantly, you should own the incident. The sentiment “honesty is the best policy” fully applies here, and customers will appreciate your transparency.

Assessing communication after the incident

After you’ve resolved the incident, make it a point to address your customers’ experience during the incident retrospective. If it was a major incident, it might be worth speaking with any customers you know well to get candid feedback. Your team may also want to check social media or with your customer support team for additional information.

Overall, transparent, honest, discoverable, and timely communications are key when creating an experience that your customers will appreciate.

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