By Erik Torlen, CTO, Apica.
Major brands have been giving their customer’s trust a stern test over the last few months. A string of high-profile website and app outages, from WhatsApp to British Airways, has shaken consumer faith and added fuel to the fire for those who insist we have become too reliant on the internet. Customers have certainly been feeling the impact of unexpected downtime; BA customers were stranded for hours when the airline’s IT system crashed, and UK parents promised tax-free childcare were unable to access their savings accounts.
Website outages undoubtedly have terrible consequences for businesses, who have to pay in a variety of ways, whether that’s by financial compensation or in business critical reputation. As customer site visits go down, profits go with them, and faith in the wider brand suffers. Companies then have to rebuild the foundations on which customer confidence is built and try to hush the whispers of long-term vulnerability around their application.
By ensuring that websites are always functioning and offering excellent performance, even under stress, businesses retain the respect and trust of customers, as they are seen to be reliable 24/7. So, what can companies do to avoid these damaging repercussions and restore some customer confidence? Here are the three fundamentals organisations can—and should—take to keep customer coming back to them:
Test for success
A website is reliable if it knows how much traffic it can handle. Having this knowledge means that organisations won’t be caught out by a sudden influx of traffic to their site, and in turn, will be able to stay performing at their best for customers.
Running stress tests will identify the potential bottlenecks in a website, and provide hard data for how much traffic can enter the site before it falls over. Businesses can consequently take necessary steps such as increasing server capacity if they know that there will be a surge in site visitation.
As a provider, setting up ongoing monitoring of your website can really reap the rewards of customer satisfaction. Getting real with use cases is a pre-requisite for success – monitoring is the key to meeting this challenge. Whilst testing can tell you the theoretical bottlenecks of a site, monitoring lets businesses understand when their busiest times will typically be.
Successfully interpreting data from website and application monitoring is vital. Everything from estimating growth in traffic figures to constructing a disaster recovery plan depends on this. Like a physical building project, have a clear plan based around far-reaching and reliable oversight will mean that businesses are never caught out by traffic outages.
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst
A customer’s bad mood when they find that they can’t access their favourite site, or an application that they use daily, isn’t going to be improved by a lack of communication and the digital equivalent of a shrug from their provider. If a customer needs to pay a bill, check into a flight, or complete a purchase, poor website performance will only be compounded by a generic error message.
If there is a degradation in website performance for any reason, communicating what the issue is and what is being done to resolve it will ensure that businesses do not lose valuable customers. Using a 3rd-party hosted incident page guarantees customers aren’t kept in the dark.
Additionally, knowing how quickly you can get your site back up and running following an outage will give companies an idea of the scale of disruption they potentially face – restarting effectively under heavy load is a capability often fatally underestimated by management.
In today’s market, customer loyalty is harder to cling on to than ever before. The proliferation of services and the instantaneous access people have become accustomed to can heavily backfire when denied. Ill-feeling and recriminations quickly spread on social media and discourage customers from engaging with a brand. Companies can quickly become reduced to firefighting their latest website disaster and making humbling public apologies.
Having an effective action plan for testing, monitoring and maintaining website and application performance is the best way for organisations to stop gambling with customer loyalty, and make sure consumers keep the faith with their brand for the immediate future.