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Service Outage? 5 Ways To Reduce Customer Stress (And Yours)

Illustration of customer service agents helping with an issue, popping out of a smartphone / How To Communicate With Customers During an Outage
Taking the time to truly listen to what your customer needs during a service outage is just as important as the resolution itself. [Sesame / Getty Images]

Service down? Here’s how you can best communicate with customers during an outage, plus hot tips from our critical incident team for when the pressure is on.

When service disruptions happen, the pressure is on for your support teams to restore service as quickly as possible. But it’s figuring out how to communicate with customers during an outage that can make or break the customer experience. 

Your team needs to answer the burning question — “When is my service going to be restored?”— quickly and with empathy, plus have the right processes and tools in place to make that happen.

I know. This situation looks bad. But it’s actually an opportunity to build trust with your customers and make them happy that they chose to do business with you. 

This starts with the five Cs of effective communication: calm, clarity, candid, compassion, and consistency. Let’s look at how they can help you deliver the right information, the right way, at the right time during critical moments. 

4 tips for effective critical incident response

Build trust with your customers during trying times. We asked our critical incident team about the most effective responses during service disruptions. 

How to communicate with customers during an outage: The 5 Cs

How you communicate with customers during a service outage is just as important as resolving the issue. These five Cs of communication, along with hot tips from Salesforce’s critical incident management team, can help your team remain cool under pressure and build customer relationships. 

1. Remain calm

When you’re working through an issue with a customer, big or small, the most important thing to remember is to remain calm. Be aware of what you’re bringing to the conversation. Are you frustrated or impatient? Not letting that influence the situation is important for not only helping your customer, but showing them you’re in control. 

To do this, we recommend tapping into your emotional intelligence (EQ) — recognizing and managing your emotions — to guide these conversations. Learning the four pillars of EQ will help shift the tough customer conversations from fear to assurance. 

🔥 Hot tip: Taking a couple of deep breaths before and after each call can help you stay calm.

2. Give clarity about what’s happening

Customers want information and they want it quickly. The good news is, incident data is readily available during an outage. The bad news is that you could potentially share incorrect information, so it’s important to relay relevant data at the appropriate time. 

Use data like how many customers were affected, how severe the incident is, and how long it’s been going on, from a trusted critical incident management platform. Deliver the best intelligence you have at the moment and revise as the incident unfolds.

🔥 Hot tip: Keep your communications simple and include only relevant info, like an estimated time when service may be restored. 

3. Be candid and transparent

Be candid with your customers during critical moments. That means being transparent and vulnerable by telling the truth — even if it’s not what your customers want to hear. It’s perfectly all right to admit that you don’t know why something is happening. 

Customers will respect truthful answers, which provides a foundation for a trusting relationship. Rely on incident data, your team’s expertise, and resolution updates to relay information as it comes through.

🔥 Hot tip: Sticking to the facts and using simple language helps to build trust with customers. 

4. Bring compassion to your conversations

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Ask your customers how this is impacting them. Taking the time to truly listen to what your customer needs during a service outage is just as important as the resolution itself. 

One way you can do this is by acknowledging their frustration. Validate their feelings and make sure they feel heard. We’ve learned that some customers aren’t ready to hear about a resolution until they‘ve gotten a chance to vent. These compassionate conversations lead to lasting relationships and increased customer satisfaction because they know you took the time to care.

🔥 Hot tip: Using supportive phrases like “I understand your frustration” lets your customers know you hear them.

5. Consistency matters in every message and action

Showing up for your customers, time after time, is what builds trust. (Yes, it all comes back to trust). Accountability is what your customers will remember most when they were in a time of need. 

The way to do this is to be consistent with your messaging, your words, and your actions. Review your incident management workflow and be sure it executes with consistency no matter how severe the incident is.

🔥 Hot tip: Making sure your team has the same data helps your customers get consistent answers. 

Service is down — here’s what to do next

Now that you know how the 5 Cs can help you communicate, let’s look at what to do during an actual service outage.

Picture this: Your customer’s service is suddenly disrupted. The pressure is on. 

All phone lines — your #1 method of communication — are open and your support agents are prepared with incident scripts, helpful responses, and go-to data on resolution updates.  

Immediately, your team launches an email, stating that you’re aware of the service disruption and that the experts, tools, and resources are working toward resolution. 

Simultaneously, you send an in-app notification, and a chat through a messaging platform or SMS if they’re subscribed, stating that the team is handling the issue.

Take a breath. You’ve resolved the issue and your customer’s service is restored. More importantly, you’ve successfully communicated across five different channels — for one single incident. But you’re not done yet. 

After resolution, you send a follow-up email, and an in-app notification, that shares the core cause of the issue and how to reach the team with additional questions. In severe cases, you can send a root cause analysis report (RCA) in detail for additional communication.

Compassionate service in stressful times leads to happy customers

And that’s how to communicate with customers during an outage. 

As a service leader, it’s your job to exceed your customer’s expectations — even during downtime. Be the organization that they want you to be, before, during, and after a critical incident. 

Your customers are your partners, treat them with compassion and truly listen to their needs. Use the 5 Cs of communication, tools, data, and experts to reduce stress and strengthen customer relationships. And above all, restore their service with a smile. You’ve got this. 

Stay on top of service outages

Your team deserves peace of mind when it comes to managing service disruptions. Get them the right tool for the job. 

Jim Roth Executive Vice President of Salesforce Customer Success

Jim Roth is the executive vice president of Salesforce Customer Success. His organization’s mission is to accelerate business value and outcomes for every customer. Since joining Salesforce in 2019, Jim is credited with driving a customer support transformation, including digitally personalizing the support experience using Salesforce technology. Prior to Salesforce, Jim spent 17 years at Dell with leadership roles in services, marketing, and IT. He holds dual bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree from Northwestern University, and a Master’s Degree in Management from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Katy and four children.

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