Yesterday, I tried to login to my Training Peaks account and found the site wouldn’t load properly. After trying a few times, I realized the site was down. Training Peaks did a nice job of keeping their customers informed and updated about the downtime, and they were very apologetic during the ordeal. I thought I’d use them as an example of good ways to communicate to your users when your site is experiencing issues.

After one of the umpteen times I tried updating Training Peaks, I hit a static page notifying me that the site was down due to some Amazon server failures. It contained a link to their Twitter account and said to check their stream for updates.

Tip #1: Have a static page designed should you ever run into unexpected downtime. Make sure the page is designed professionally enough (e.g., it contains your brand logo) so that it looks credible.

Tip #2: Clearly offer a way for your customers to receive updates/contact you. Linking to their Twitter account was very smart of Training Peaks. When your site is down, your social media profiles are a great resource to fall back on. Not only do they allow for real-time updates to your customers, they can result in an increase of followers so your customers can stay informed during the outage.

I clicked through to Training Peak’s Twitter stream and saw that they were on the ball when it came to posting updates. First was the initial tweet about the downtime:

Tip #3: If there’s a problem with your site, say so. Be honest and swift. If you keep your users in the dark, they’re just going to get angrier and angrier. Owning up to any issues you’re having and assuring your customers that you’re trying to fix it is much better than ignoring any complaints you’re seeing to focus 100% on the problem. It’s understandable that you’re busy trying to put out fires, but your customers don’t know that. All they know is that your site isn’t working properly and you’re not providing them with any explanation whatsoever. Even if the problem wasn’t your fault (as in Training Peaks’ instance, it was an Amazon server issue), they’re going to think it will be if you don’t keep them informed.

They also did a great job responding to users who tweeted at them about the downtime. This one wasn’t angry about the site being down; instead, he was appreciative of Training Peaks keeping him informed and providing good customer service:

Tip #4: Respond, respond, respond. If people are tweeting at you, make sure you acknowledge them. Try to answer their questions, provide customer support, or even issue a “thank you” for being so patient. It shows that you care about your customers and that you’re doing your very best to keep them updated.

In addition to responding to people who were tweeting at them, they also clearly had been monitoring mentions of their brand name and were addressing any complaints or questions people had:

Tip #5: Monitor tweets for brand mentions. In the above instance, the user didn’t say “@TrainingPeaks,” he just asked if anyone was having issues with ‘training peaks.’ Training Peaks must have set up a search or an alert for users who mention “training peaks” in their tweets. That way, they can address customers who may not be following them on Twitter but are having issues or have questions. It’s important to be monitoring mentions of your brand so that nothing slips through the cracks.

When they were back in action, Training Peaks updated accordingly (and even retweeted one user’s elation that they were back up and running):

Tip #6: Let your users know when the issue has been resolved. It’s kind a no-brainer, but communication is key. Inform your customers when you’re back up and running, thank them again for their patience, and apologize for any inconvenience the downtime caused.

You shouldn’t just rely on Twitter to update your customers if your site is experiencing any issues. In addition to a static webpage and Twitter, you should be updating any other profiles that you update regularly and have a strong following (Facebook, Google+, etc). And you should make sure that your staff is handling incoming support emails promptly and professionally. It’s a multi-tiered approach with a single goal in mind: to minimize customer frustration and provide positive customer service in light of a negative situation. If you follow the above steps and keep the lines of communication open, your customers will appreciate your honesty.