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Ecommerce & Web Marketing Ezine. 
26 July 2003

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Greetings all,

Welcome to all our new subscribers!

Caricature feedback

In last fortnight's issue, I asked for feedback on the new look logo for Taming the Beast.net - the caricature of me! It wasn't an ego-trip decision to make the change, just a "humanizing" strategy - to ensure TTB maintains it's human aspect. We make no attempts to make ourselves out to be a huge multi-national company.

I'm just a guy who works the Internet full time from my home office with some assistance from my beloved partner Kathy - and that's the way I'd like TTB to be seen; I'll leave the corporate stuff for some of my other roles ;).

Back to the feedback on the caricature, I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to write to me to offer their opinion. The overwhelming majority said that the caricature should stay, and so it shall. The old "man with the axe" logo is now officially retired - now, could anyone use a couple of thousand black glossy business cards? :).

New articles:

Textspeak and emoticon dictionary

Whether we like it or not, the English language is rapidly changing - there's not only the new techno-babble, but also the abbreviation of words and the increased use of emoticons in written communications - email, IM and SMS. Confused by it all? I most definitely was, so I've put together a textspeak and emoticon dictionary (it's part of our cell phone resources section)
 

Autoresponder and list management software (updated).

I originally wrote this article some months ago. I contains an overview of the various kinds of list management services, plus some recommended services and software. 

When things go wrong in online business

Ever had one of those days that from the moment you woke up until the time you next managed to get to bed (usually 20+ hours later), nothing went right?

While this phenomenon isn't confined to the online world, it can be greatly magnified in an online business given the number of visitors and clients you may have in contrast with a bricks and mortar business. 

There's just so much that can happen - servers and 'net connections go down, partners go bust, partners turn bad, other software malfunctions, dealing with irate people who feel that the anonymity of email gives them license to be unreasonable etc., etc., etc - heck, even solar flares can disrupt the online world.

I've worked in management in both the bricks and clicks world. The major difference I have noticed is the speed that things can go topsy turvy online. It can be quite overwhelming, especially if your team is small or you are a one person show - resources for managing crises may be severely tested.

The first thing that we need to keep in mind when "stuff" happens is *that it will pass* - all things in our life whether good or bad are transitory - this is what I keep trying to convince myself of anyway :). Just knowing that it will pass makes the situation easier to endure. Think about all the stressful moments in your life, when life appeared to be falling apart and the light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train. You overcame the challenge then.

Having taken a deep breath and convinced yourself that the situation is temporary and will be sorted out, it's time to take action.... the action you will take is greatly dependent on the situation, but it boils down to these major points.

Investigation

First find out not who is to blame, but what is to blame - the witch hunt can come later if necessary. Quickly ascertain where the problem is and jot down a plan of action, whether it's a single customer complaint or an entire system that has come crashing down unexpectedly if you don't already have a process in place. The big condition is that however you investigate, it needs to be done as quickly as possible. 

Don't just rely on email to sort things out, get on the phone if you have to and drag people out of bed if necessary - after all, this may be your business on the line. When you make calls, ensure you annotate your discussions, including times that calls have been made, the content and the person you spoke to, plus their telephone extension. There could be a lot going on and your mind may not absorb everything. There's nothing worse than to be in contact with someone, not recording their details and then having to go through the sometimes complex processes of locating them again.

Communication

Once you've carried out the initial investigation, you need to communicate with affected clients as soon as possible. This can be in the form of email, phone calls and notices on your web site. On the point of email, it's always wise to have a backup email address with a service that is separate to yours. If your own mail server is the one that's out of action, you're in big trouble. Even having a free email account may be enough to get you through these situations. It also pays to have a back up Internet access account. I've had the experience of problems occurring on my own site and then also my local ISP crashing at nearly exactly the same time!

When communicating with clients in a crisis situation, you need to be very careful about laying blame and accepting liability. The party/process at fault may still not be very clear at this point and to jump to conclusions may cause you more harm than good. 

Clients really don't want to hear who/what is to blame, but more what you are going to do to rectify it. Always apologize for any inconvenience, but that doesn't mean that you accept liability. Accepting liability versus responsibility are two very separate things at this level. By accepting liability you may also be opening yourself up to legal action for something that really isn't your fault.

Once the crisis has passed, ensure that you contact your clients again to tell them that the situation has been rectified. Also offer another apology. Don't assume that they will have discovered it for themselves, because it may be that they have been spending the time looking elsewhere to find the services you offer.

You also need to ensure that if a crisis situation is extended, that you keep in contact with your clients. Don't give a time for a fix to be implemented and let the time pass without contact if a resolution hasn't been achieved. 

Compensation

Once the crisis has passed, offer an apology and some sort of compensation to those who have been severely affected or may have been very vocal in complaining. It's better to lose a few bucks in the short term and keep your clients than losing them and having to spend a bundle to acquire new ones. This is no time to be proud, but to be as humble as possible. If clients are aggressive, don't mirror that aggression. Diplomacy and empathy are vital keys to healing any damage.

Revision

After the dust has settled, look back over the entire incident - from the glitch, through the investigation, communication and compensation phases - what *really* happened? What could be done to prevent this in the future? If it were to happen again, how could you speed up the fix? What back up services do you not have that you need? 

Still be very careful not to go on a witch hunt and look for blood. For example, the problem may have occurred because one of your staff members wasn't familiar with a process. In that case, how can the staff member be blamed? The fault actually lies in the training of that staff member. The revision process should be pro-active and open, allowing all parties involved to feed back their version of events without feeling threatened. Threatened people tend cover their butts and the true cause of the issue may not be revealed. 

Documentation

After revision, you really need to document your findings and distribute the documentation to all those in your business and perhaps even your merchants and partners. Don't expect that staff, merchants and partners would have learned from the situation. Write to them, outlining what happened from beginning to end, make it an official complaint if need be and ask them what they have done or will do to ensure it doesn't happen again. If they don't respond, it's time to find new associates. In the case of your own team, make it very clear the processes that they are to follow. 

Crisis - Danger and Opportunity

The bottom line is that in times of crisis - assume nothing, keep a cool head, take charge and show people you are taking charge. It's better to take action and be wrong, than to take no action at all.

Crisis, while extremely unpleasant, isn't necessarily a bad thing. The Chinese pictogram for crisis consists of two elements - danger and opportunity. Crisis allows us to *improve* our own management skills and hone our business processes. It should not be seen as ultimate failure.

We all like to think that we have a good handle on our online businesses. That may be true, but we do not have as much control over the elements that feed our businesses, whether it's the manufacturer of the memory in our servers, our own lack of knowledge of a particular element or the client who has severe emotional problems who projects their issues onto us - but it's still our problem at the end of the day. It's only when things go wrong that we really discover just how efficient our business really is.

And remember, you are allowed to be wrong and make mistakes - it's how you handle rectifying those mistakes that will make you or break you in both the offline and online world. 

I remember hearing a story once about an employee who unwittingly caused a million dollars worth of damage to his company. He went to his employer to offer his resignation. His employer said "Why would I want you to resign - I've just spent a million dollars in training you!"

I've penned this article not as testimony to my crisis management and damage control skills, but to my mistakes and what I've learned from them - so far. No doubt there'll be many more mistakes to come - stay tuned for further updates :).

That's all for this issue; have a great fortnight!

Other resources on Taming the Beast.net

Search engine optimization tutorials

General web marketing & promotion articles

Online business security articles and tools

Affiliate marketing strategies and tutorials

Ecommerce tutorials and guides.

Web development tutorials and articles

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast.net
http://www.tamingthebeast.net
Tutorials, web content, tools and software
Web Marketing, eCommerce & Internet solutions. 
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