Fu*k the euphemisms
When Amazon AWS experienced a serious issue in the US east coast region, one of the most common questions posted on their forum was “What is going on?”. We’ve all experienced that moment, usually with ISPs, mobile operators and other 24/7 stuff we’re fish out of the water without. And if you really try to think about it, the explanation for downtime is usually imprecise, vague and smelly PR-ish.
When it became obvious that the issue Amazon is dealing with was big, David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founder of 37signals, tweeted “Amazon is experiencing a degradation”. Don’t talk like that. Just say that the shit isn’t working. #fucktheeuphemisms. Apart from being absolutely correct (Amazon should have indeed just say the thing is broken and they are working on it as hard as they can), he sparked a chain of thought about the similar public explanations of things when they don’t work.
As I’m used to communicate with customers, I found myself on the same side. I do avoid explaining too much, and I try to paint stuff as “Yes, it was our fault on some degree, but not entirely ours!”. We could agree I’m pretty used to BS-ing. But with time I realized that the same values I seek from other companies, I should not only enforce but also promote in companies I work with. There is nothing more annoying than reading a promo for a company that includes “we’re the best”, “completely reliable”, “100% secure”. There are no such things. Audi used to paint an image of the indestructible Audi car, the car that runs forever and is the most reliable. In the end customers that bought their cars realized the image served to them was false. Not just a little bit, but completely false. Audi’s break-down just as any other car and require heavy maintenance as any other moving-parts machine.
Honesty is a value that grows in the social-market we’re in. Customers don’t just turn up at the cash register and open their wallets, they build a relationship. Marketing people know that, its their core selling strategy for a decade now. The problem is that you can’t embrace your customers only when things are good, you have to embrace them when things are bad aswell and say “Everything will be alright”. Explain honestly what is going on. A customer that seeks no-downtime services or unbreakable products is not a customer, it is a pain in the ass and should be not fought for. Create customers that trust you. Build that relationship by sharing the good and bad news, but don’t BS when things are bad. Leave the PR team to BS on good news.
The #1 reason for leaving an IT company is, yes, bad service. But the true #1 reason is bad support. The server goes down, you email your provider, they reply with “we’re checking” and then the long silent wait. After 5, 6 hours you receive a reply “It’s online”. Nothing pisses me off more than the “It’s online” mail. I feel like being arrested and released after a couple of hours, no reasons given. Why is it so hard to honestly write to your customers that you did something wrong and the sh*t hit the fan? Take the punch, issue refunds, show some integrity! Your customers will turn into fans and will begin recommending your service not because you’re 10% more expensive, but because you care!
Nothing new? Sure, all start-ups have the same strategy. Speak to your customers, share all the news, keep them together, show that you care. But then they grow and become management juggernauts that have rules, regulations, PR departments, legal obligations, SLA contracts…
The social-market will increase the value of a customer and move away from mass-marketing. The service is still the most important thing. But the relationship is the one that defines if you have a one-time customer (and onetimers are the most expensive to bring back) or a fan.
Apple knew that a long time ago.