What’s your contingency plan for when ‘online’ stops working?

Last week I had the misfortune to spend just over an hour and a half listening to a crackly loop of recorded announcements. They were remarkably dull, even before I’d heard them several dozen times.

Frustrated laptop user

All I’d tried to do was change the dates and times of a travel booking, a common change I’d done successfully on this very website several times before. This time though I was told this was “not possible”, and that I needed to phone instead. And it wasn’t some peculiarity with my specific booking either – the company’s Twitter feed was full of similar reports from other would-be travellers.

Replies from their clearly-stressed but still polite social media staffer warned that we all faced waits of 60-80 minutes, escalating in their most recent replies to 90 minutes. Thankfully, once I finally did get through, my issue was dealt with promptly and efficiently, albeit the change was considerably more expensive than I’d expected.

Selling online is cheaper and faster – until it isn’t

It set me thinking, though: This is an organisation that has bet on the web. In order to cut costs, increase efficiency, provide a faster service, automate processes, and so on, it now aims to deal with the general public almost exclusively via its website.

Which is fine until, for whatever reason, that website stops completing certain transactions. Worse, it didn’t tell me there was a problem to start with – or indeed to finish with! Oh no, it let me waste 10 or 15 minutes entering all the relevant details, and then blew an arbitrary and unexplained raspberry in my face.

So here’s my two take-aways from this. First, if you’re shifting your business online, what’s your backup plan? Perhaps you are in an industry where you can stand a day or three of web downtime, but what if you’re not – say, if you’re in the travel business, and the customer’s problem needs fixing before they travel tomorrow?

And second, as soon as you know there’s a problem, let people know. Sure, put it on your Twitter feed and Facebook page, but maybe you should put it on the website too. After all, if we only go to social media once we’re already frustrated and confused, it doesn’t make for the best customer experience.

In short, don’t put all your online eggs all in one digital basket…

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