Coping When External Systems Break Down

Sometimes things in our businesses break down, and it has absolutely nothing to do with us. Last week one of our major email systems (HubSpot) went down, and our newsletter that was scheduled to go out at 9am on Thursday (prime time to catch people settling in at work) went out at 11pm on a Friday. Yeah – not many people were checking their inboxes. And I just saw an article that a bunch of US airlines had a vendor outage that impacted flights and caused delays - so it happens to all of is, big and small.

But it got us thinking; how exactly are we supposed to handle mistakes in our businesses? How are we supposed to handle them when they aren’t even our fault? These situations can be a minor hiccup, embarrassing, distressing, and in bad situations they can cost you money, clients and your reputation. 

As small business owners we need to be prepared for these kinds of events and, ideally, have some protocol in place so we have steps to follow as soon as we know what’s happening. When you act quickly with the right response, your business can come out the other end unscathed. Read on to learn how to bounce back from any kind of business blip (or even a catastrophe). 

First, Remember it’s a Temporary Situation

In the heat of the moment when everything seems to be falling apart at the seams, it can be easy to go into overdrive and want to hide under your desk with your hands over your ears, but you need to remind yourself that the situation is temporary. Often, the systems we rely on are supplied by other businesses who also don’t want their clients (you) to be upset and seek another provider, so they’ll do their best to get you back up and running as soon as possible. 

We’re Human

The systems we use aren’t – but you are, and you can’t control them. Your clients should understand that sometimes you are only going to be able to do the best you can, and if they throw their toys out the stroller while you’ve got a power outage and a hurricane then they probably weren’t great clients to begin with. Be kind to yourself and know that you’re doing everything you can. As soon as the system is back up online you’ll be able to do the necessary damage control. 

When the Storm Ends, Take Responsibility For It

“But I have no control over it!” you shout – I know, but while you certainly can tell your clients the truth about the mistake (the power was out, there was an issue with our payment provider, the phones were down) you still have to take responsibility. Assess the situation and decide if you need to take further action to repair the damage. If, like us, your email provider sent out an email too early, too late, or even the wrong one, all you need to do is send a light-hearted “whoops!” email and apologize for sending something irrelevant. Or you know… write a blog about it.

If you lost your client money or if they weren’t able to complete their order, then you need to take your apology further. Depending on the degree of downtime and the level of complaints you receive, offer them free shipping, a discount on their next order, or something for free. Explain the situation, take responsibility, and promise them you’ll do what’s necessary to rectify the situation. 

Voice their problems back to them, or say them before they have a chance to (“I understand that you weren’t able to complete your order and that is incredibly frustrating, that’s why we’re offering you…”) and be prepared to listen to complaints that hurt. If it’s a small problem, an email will be fine, but if you have clients you’ve met face-to-face or spoken to over the phone then a bigger hiccup may warrant a phone call. 

But Don’t Grovel

There’s a line between a good apology and downright groveling. Don’t apologize so much that your client wants to roll their eyes or loses respect for you. Apologize concisely and move on. If they bring up a new complaint, apologize again. Then offer a solution to the complaint. If you can’t offer them a satisfactory solution, then wish them well and suggest a competitor who may be able to keep them happy. If they aren’t willing to see reason even when you’ve done and said everything right, then they aren’t a client you need on your list. 

Remember You’re a Customer Too

Some issues you experience may be unavoidable, but if you’ve experienced serious consequences of a service provider’s outage then don’t be afraid to complain and seek compensation in some way – even if that’s just a profuse apology and a promise that they will do everything to keep it from happening again. If you experienced a problem with your utility providers, then check with them and with any insurance policies that you aren’t entitled to compensation. 

If the provider isn’t willing to fix your problem, move on. They aren’t the right provider for you. There will always be another provider out there who has what you need, who you are an ideal fit for and they will go out of their way to make you happy. You know that client you just love working with? Aim to find providers for whom you are that ideal client. 

If you’ve had a system outage in your business that was out of your control how did you handle it? Shoot us a message over on Facebook