Amazon Web Services (AWS) Outage: A Lesson in Effective Customer Communication

By March 3, 2017Blog

Did Amazon Web Services’ S3 outage ruin your day on Tuesday? It can be a huge pain for SaaS companies when an upstream vendor has an outage, or worse when your own product is experiencing issues. All of a sudden there’s a fire, and while your CSMs and support agents try to tackle the onslaught of calls and emails it can feel helpless as there’s nothing you can do in that moment to fix the problem. The only weapon at your disposal is communication and time. Getting out in front of an issue and communicating early and often is about the best you can do in these high severity situations.  

Being a trusted advisor is not always about having the right answer – it’s about your commitment to finding an answer. It’s important to respond as quickly as possible to customer inquiries. Even if you don’t have an answer for them just yet, at least the customer knows you’re aware of their problem and are working on a solution. Rather than waiting to issue a response when an issue does occur, a preemptive message to inform users that you’re aware of the issue is your best course of action.

What Doesn’t Work

Amazon didn’t admit they were having an issue until hours into their outage. How did that make you feel as their customer? You know your own customers are going to call, you know what they’re going to ask, but you haven’t been given a clear understanding of the problem or what to expect. Amazon’s S3 outage was a major issue for a big portion of the internet, but without communication, companies didn’t know what exactly was happening or when to expect a fix and therefore couldn’t alleviate the pains of the outage for themselves or their customers.

Instead, Amazon should have been clear and communicative the moment they recognized the outage. Giving customers the answer they need, or at least detailing what they can expect, not only saves you support requests, it also shows your customer that you’re aware of the situation and making their concerns a priority.

A New Era of Communication

I know many of you rushed to put together an email to your clients on Tuesday to let them know about the outage, I received a few of these. It’s an admirable attempt, but how long did that take? How many departments had to sign off on that message before it went out? Doesn’t it make more sense to tell your users there’s an issue where there’s an issue?  

Here at UserIQ we specialize in delivering the right message to the right user at the right moment, and we like to drink our own champagne. On Tuesday, we were able to create a direct in-app message to our user base, test it, and go live with it in less than 10 minutes. Simple, straightforward messaging communicated at the appropriate moment—when your user is using your application and will be experiencing the issue. It was as simple as this:

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The result? We received 1 support email on Tuesday in regards to the AWS outage. Now, granted, our user base is small, and all of my customers are also software vendors so they know our pain and many were experiencing issues of their own due to the outage, but only 1 support email is still a huge win for me.

I’m sure Tuesday wasn’t terrible for everyone in SaaS, but the takeaway this week is how do we learn from this? What will our process be the next time a major incident affects our customers? I would challenge you to be that trusted advisor for your client: get out in front of the issue, assuage their fears, address their concerns before they even know what they should be concerned about. We can’t all afford to be Amazon; letting your customers know they are your top priority is critical to a healthy, successful, and long-lasting relationship.

Schedule a demo to learn more about how you can prepare for issues like these in the future with UserIQ’s targeted engagements.

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