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Lessons Learned from Yahoo's E-mail Outage and Lack of Damage Control



Food, water, and email are important; however, only two (2) of these are necessary for survival until you lose the third ... email.  In my case, my e-mail stopped working on a Monday and would not be fully functional again until almost four (4) days later.


The first thing I did was to search the internet to determine if there were any email outage reports, but there werent any. Then, a call was placed to my service provider to determine if there were any reported or known issues, again nothing. Notwithstanding, my service provider created a trouble ticket to determine the source(s) of my email outage.


After a full day of being without email, there were still not any reports about a Yahoo outage.  By this point, I started to get rather annoyed with this outage and the lack of any beneficial information from Yahoo.  The only confirmation that there was still an issue was my inability to access my emails and the following message that I would see for another two (2) days.  The message was as follows,


Scheduled Maintenance: We are undertaking some essential, but extensive maintenance to improve Yahoo Mail.  During the maintenance period, some users may experience problems accessing Yahoo! Mail.  We sincerely apologize for this inconvenience.  Your account is in great shape and we are working to have it available again as quickly as possible.” 


Inconvenience?!?!; the inability to access my emails to conduct my daily business is more than an inconvenience!


On the third day, desperate for any information about this outage, Twitter was reviewed for updates.  The updates on Twitter didn’t provide any additional information about the outage, except it was clear that there were a lot of unhappy Yahoo email users.  The fury about Yahoos email outage was demonstrated via the hashtag (#yahoomailfail), which captured the anger of the many impacted users.  It was a bit of a relief to discover that other Yahoo email users shared my angst.  The common thread from other email users was related to the rather bizarre lack of any usable information from Yahoo about the outage.


On the fourth day, my email started to work periodically.  However, it would take about another day before my e-mail access stabilized.  This experience reminded me that technology can have glitches and that most of my lifes records were at the whim of technology, which I didn’t have any control.  Conversely, Yahoo had a lot of control over the manner in which it handled the outage and provided updates to email users; although, Yahoo's crisis communication management was just like its handling of the email outage: #yahoomailfail.


Lessons learned from Yahoo’s poor crisis management:

Communicate Issues to Customers Quickly - Communication about a customer outage should be provided as soon as practical to ensure customers are kept informed about the incident and the status of corrective activities.  During an outage, especially a customer impacting outage, the customer impact should be publicly acknowledged as quickly as possible, customers should be continuously updated, and impacted users should be given useful information.

Dont Keep Customers Waiting for Information - The longer the outage the more frequently the updates should be delivered to customers, as customers will remember and take action against the lack of care in treating customers as a priority during an outage.

Allow Customers To Assist with Resolution - Engage customers and welcome their input about any issues experienced during the outage.  This will allow customers to channel their energy and sometimes direct their anger toward issue resolution versus company bashing.

Apologize and Acknowledge - The opening line of Marissa Mayers, Yahoo Chief Executive Officer, response (http://yahoo.tumblr.com/post/69929616860/an-update-on-yahoo-mail) to impacted email users, “This has been a very frustrating week for our users and we are sorry.” was not great or very useful.  Customers want an apology followed by the reason for the issue(s), along with the action(s) that is being or will be taken to resolve the issue(s) --- not an attempt at empathy from the company that caused the issue.  Customers want to feel important and know that a company is concerned about the impact to them.  Anything short of these items can lead to additional frustrations and the necessity for further damage control.

Maintain Communication - After an outage, periodically communicate with customers about any unresolved issues, status of repairs, and enhancements to prevent future issues.

* Offer Concessions – Customers who are mistreated will often leave in numbers after a perceived misstep.  A great example is Netflix’s mishandling of its change from a single cost model to separate costs for physical media and streaming, which basically doubled the cost for its customers.  In this case, most of Yahoos email users receive free email; however, Yahoo generates advertising revenue from the ads presented to its customers while using its email.  Therefore, Yahoo should consider the offer of concessions to impacted email users (e.g., larger mailboxes, free upgrade to the next level of service, etc.) before customers leave after not being treated as valuable consumers based on Yahoo’s missteps with crisis communication and basic customer care.


These types of activities can help to repair customer perception, satisfaction, and aid in damage control.


It’s interesting that after a few days of my email being stabilized, my email suddenly went down again as this blog post was written in Yahoo email.  The message received was, “WE’RE SORRY you can’t access your inbox right now, but our engineering team is working hard to quickly get things back to normal.  Please visit @yahoomail on Twitter for updates.”  Maybe Yahoo’s oversight committee is now watching for email user complaints; it’s time to move on to Gmail!