I have been a beta user of Barter.

Here is the backstory……

Sometimes last year I needed to renew hosting for my website, unfortunately, none of my local credit and debit cards could work for international transactions. This was during the Naira FOREX crisis in 2016 when CBN issued directives to banks to minimize/stop Naira-denominated cards from processing international transactions.

I lost my website as a result, but I guess that if Barter was launched then, it could have been a different story. Actually, the payment startup exists to address the pain point of Nigerians or anyone that wants to perform international payment (but cannot with their local cards). It is a virtual card service and has since expanded to other use cases.

So, I eagerly signed up when the product launched (and it is still in public beta).

For a product that is in beta, it is expected that early users will experience bugs and service outages. And honestly, there are bugs 🙂

Recently, I got a mail about a scheduled service outage. Even though, it was essentially a “bad news”, but the way it was communicated was well-thought of.

I decided to break down the components of the email and explain what made it great. Also, I shared tips on how you can communicate downtime or any crisis that affect your users via email.

Ready ? Here we go.

Step 1: Choose a good subject line to communicate downtime

  1. The email has a good subject; it communicated urgency and is specific (not mincing words or being vague)
  2. It was sent from an address I can relate with, not the usual noreply@companyname.com. It’s nice that Barter adopted the female name “Kara” for their customer support avatar across all their platforms.

Now let’s go to the body of the actual email. This next step is to see: what’s the content ?

Step 2: Craft a good body copy to address all issues about downtime or problem at hand.

Let’s go back to our case study.

For a second, take a look at the mail. Note the highlights.

Done ?

Now, let’s break it down.

  1. The mail is branded, so you know who it is coming from.
  2. I was addressed by first name, making it feel personal.
  3. While the notice of a service outage is a bad new already, I was still given a glimpse of why that action was necessary. This communicated the feeling of “we-are-in-it-together” or simply put, to get my empathy.
  4. They communicated clearly what position the situation is leaving me as a user and what I could still get done.
  5. They re-emphasized point 1. Smart enough, right 🙂
  6. Here, they prevented “next issue avoidance” and filtered out who should reach out to their support while the issue persisted.
  7. This part showed the best channel to “raise my hands” and ask questions. Even though, they did not mention their social channel, a number of users tweeted at their handle while the issue lasted.
  8. Always thank your users and sign off your message

(Note that Barter also sent a follow-up email to communicate progress and a final one to notify me when service was restored)

HOW does this apply to you?

You’ll agree with me that businesses that care about their customers will make it a priority to communicate often.

This includes sending timely updates to notify clients of scheduled downtime, outage of your service etc. It is unfortunate that many organisations fall into the trap of leaving your customers in the dark while they fix the problem.

Learn to communicate. You need to understand that your customers will not be aware of what you are doing behind-the-scene to fix the problem unless you tell them.

In my current role (at VoguePay), I have sent a few of such emails too. This has taught me that crisis communication is an important customer relations tactics.

In case you want to communicate service outage there are good resources online you can use, like this template (which I presume Barter adopted in their communication). Another useful post was shared by the CEO of GrooveHQ to narrate how he survived a critical downtime in his business and he included the emails he sent to clients. His company also published a communication crisis handbook that can be super-useful for you to handle similar cases.

I will love to hear from you.

Have you ever had to deal with service outage recently?

How did you approached ?

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