Those of us in New Zealand will probably remember the Amazon.com wanna-be that flamed out, FlyingPig.co.nz. The marketing fanfare that announced FlyingPigâ€™s launch was undermined by the fact that the site was down within minutes of going live. Yes of course they should have done the usual load testing, and implemented server load balancing to be better prepared. But in addition, they really needed 24-hour server support to effectively manage their traffic surges. Do you have server support staff on-hand 24x7x365? If not, you should.
Downtime can’t be completely avoided, and of course it’s better if the downtime occurs in the wee hours of the night when fewer visitors will be affected. But for the customers who are experiencing the outage, it sucks and no amount of marketing B.S. or waffle will ease their pain. Customers don’t care whether it’s a planned or unplanned outage, so don’t bother telling them. They don’t care that your site is hugely successful and the virtual isles are brimming over with buyers, so don’t tell them that either (see screenshot, above left). Just try to give them a estimated time when the site will be back and offer at least some limited amount of functionality until then (like catalog browsing but not order-taking) or point them to a website that is working (like one of your distributors) so they can get on with their business if their need is urgent.
And what about your online customer service team? Do they punch out by dinnertime? Are they all racing for the door at 5pm like Fred Flintstone when the whistle blows? As a customer, it’s a bit of a roller coaster ride if you’re having problems: first, the frustration that something about the shopping experience isn’t working. Then comes the elation of finding that the etailer offers instant online chat. And then the huge letdown when it turns out that nobody’s home — like at 7:30am at Backcountry.com (see screenshot, right). Shoppers like having real-time support even when they’re in their pajamas; if you want their business you might want to offer it to them. 😉 If you’ve got money to invest in your online customer service, have a look at some of the customer chat solutions like LivePerson or PHP Live Support, and allocate a chunk of that budget on manning the online support 24-hours.
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