Is Your Customer Experience Team Crisis-Ready?

The recent happenings between Zoho & TierraNet have reminded us that not every organization is ready for the unplanned.

Zoho is an operating system for small businesses that hosts business-critical applications such as email and customer relationship management (CRM) software. Zoho, trusted by 35 million users, had utilized TierraNet as their domain registrar. In layman’s terms, TierraNet controlled the ability to turn ‘Zoho.com’ on or off. If you were unaware of the situation, phishing emails originating from Zoho.com were reported to TierraNet. TierraNet was unsatisfied with Zoho’s response to the abuse complaints, and they shut down the Zoho.com domain name in accordance with their acceptable use policy.  You heard that correctly; the entire domain was shut down! This situation was absolutely dire for Zoho, and it created a customer support nightmare, as you can imagine. In the middle of this unfolding nightmare, leaders on both sides managed this scenario poorly.

Zoho’s customers include influential brands like Netflix, Discovery Communications, Citrix, Air Canada, and Amazon. While the clout of Zoho’s logo page has little to do with this scenario, it’s important to note that anyone from mom and pop shops to Jeff Bezos relied on them to deliver reliable services. Events unfolded in the public eye on Monday afternoon as Zoho tweeted that their domain was blocked, TierraNet was not responding, and they requested the assistance of their followers to notify TierraNet’s executives.

Moments later, Zoho CEO Sridhar Vembu tweets a personal plea to TierraNet, requesting that someone—anyone—help them with their situation. Interestingly, neither Zoho nor Mr. Vembu mentioned the TierraNet’s username, @tierranet, to directly notify them of the problem. Instead, they posted the names of TierraNet’s C-suite to request assistance in reaching them. Customers and observers continued to share their concern, distrust, and even panic on Twitter throughout the afternoon.

Let’s unpack this box and identify how to be prepared when faced with a crisis like this. I’ve identified five concerning themes from Monday’s events, and I offer tips for each theme on how similar scenarios could be handled better. Specifically, I’ll help you shield and prepare your customer support team to respond better.

1. Initial Reactions Matter

Zoho customers’ frantic posts on Twitter and other platforms indicate that they were not appropriately notified of the outage. Rather than reassuring their customers that Zoho was doing everything in their power to recover service, they took to Twitter to notify the world that their vendor was unresponsive. Zoho has a dedicated Twitter account for customer support, @zohocares, where one would expect them to post imperative support updates – they never once posted an update or retweeted vital information.

Tip: Have your apologies be authentic, truthful and factual. If you are not yet ready to make an apology or have not gathered all of the facts needed for the situation at hand, simply notify your customers that you are aware of the situation and doing everything to correct it. For critical situations, it is imperative that customer notification is sent in a timely manner and on all channels that customers might go to for help.

2. Don’t Air Out Your Dirty Laundry

It does not matter which vendors, organizations or third parties make your organization tick behind the curtain, you are solely responsible for your customer experience. Customers trust the company’s they chose to do business with to pick credible vendors. All escalation paths between your organization and your vendors/suppliers should be laid out in your Service Level Agreement or other legal contracts between the organizations. If your escalation path is not delivering as promised, the customer should never be asked to step in. Similarly, pointing fingers further breaks trust between you and your customers, particularly in a situation where your customers’ money and reputations are on the line.

Zoho was plagued by the decisions of their vendor. While this is an unfortunate situation caused by TierraNet’s processes in place for failing to resolve phishing attempts, it is a reminder that security or resiliency issues quickly become a problem that the customer experience team will deal with. Security is confidentiality, integrity, and availability, all of which are customer experience issues.

Tip: Conduct a wargame exercise with your team and ensure that, at the very least, a communication plan is in place for when these problems arise. Messaging to customers, who will understandably be frustrated, is imperative.

3. When Leadership Matters Most

Strong leadership is never more critical than in a crisis. This crisis called for Zoho’s leadership to drop everything and identify the shortest path to restoring their domain. Mr. Vembu had the opportunity to lead the organization through this crisis. Instead he spent precious time bickering with customers and defending his organization on Twitter. It’s blatantly unprofessional, and it comes across as panicked and defensive rather than organized and factual.

Tip: Ensure that your contact center and marketing/PR teams meet at least annually to review crisis response procedures. Allow those teams to handle the influx of customers, as they were trained, and monitor those channels. Executives certainly can issue an update or apology when appropriate, but should not be handling individual complaints or concerns when there are larger issues to be tended to.

4. Stick To Facts

Beyond all of the chaos on Twitter therein lies the truth. By straying from known facts in these scenarios you are welcoming a blaze that won’t easily extinguish. Before the problem is resolved, any conjecture diverts essential resources away from the true problem. A customer took it upon herself to contact TierraNet directly regarding the outage and responded to Zoho’s Twitter post with a screenshot of her chat. The customer was informed that Zoho was repeatedly warned of the abuse of their domain and failed to respond.

Tip: Stick to releasing known, essential facts to your customers. This can be as simple as a message to all customers (on their preferred channel) stating merely “Services are currently unavailable and our teams are actively investigating. Notification will be sent when services are restored.”

5. Don’t Show Your ‘But’

Anything said before ‘but’ doesn’t matter; a lesson many of us learned at a young age. If you are sorry, you are sorry. Period. End of story. Any ‘but’ after an apology diminishes your message, regardless of how remorseful you are of the customer experience that was delivered. Remember, you are responsible for your customer experience.

Tip: As we stated earlier, apologies should be authentic, truthful and factual. Throwing anyone under the bus in an apology or customer notification is unprofessional and breaks the customer’s trust. Focus on how you will proceed rather than who is at fault. 

 

Even after providing customers with procedures to band-aid the downstream problems caused by the outage, issues still persist for some customers. There is light at the end of the tunnel, though. The day after Zoho went down, Sridhar Vembu released an update and apology for Monday’s event. Zoho has laid out a plan to ensure that this issue never reoccurs (by becoming their own domain registrar).

How do you think Zoho and Sridhar Vembu reacted to this crisis? Leave me a comment or drop me a line on Twitter, @BeckyRoemen.

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