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Great expectation management: Real time updates for the anxious customer

I went to throw a quick update up on my posterous blog this morning, and came across the message below on their site.

I actually had not been aware of the scheduled maintenance that was to occur, but upon being informed, understood and had no real reaction. (Contrary to my confused reaction and subsequent post a few months ago when the JustMeans website went down. To be fair, that was not a scheduled maintenance, but all the more reason and need for effective communication.)

Posterous did a very good job in keeping the page clean and the message abundantly simple. The call to action for me, the customer, was clear: if I wanted real time updates, I should go to their Twitter stream. The main message was also very clear: a scheduled maintenance was underway, the site was temporarily down and would be back up and running as soon as they were done. I noted that the estimated time of completion for the scheduled maintenance had actually been 2AM PDT, but didn’t bother doing the time conversion for my timezone immediately. I went straight to Twitter.

On Twitter, the last update had only happened within the last hour. It looked like they had experienced some delays, but they were keeping everyone updated in real time.

The messaging was positive, honest, and fact-based – which is always recommended in these kinds of situations. It’s important not to get caught up in the emotion and defensiveness of why something is happening. In a website maintenance, there is generally less emotion involved as it’s fairly straightforward (with the exception of that rare person who may feel angry about the pause in service); however, in situations where more people are involved and the impact to lives is greater, the same holds true. Be honest, timely, fact-based, and frequent with your updates to the people you are affecting.

I ended up moving on to get caught up with other posts and email. In the short time I caught up on other posts and came back to check on posterous, they already had another update. The site was ready to go live again. Slight hiccups to be expected, but they were turning the servers back on. That was fast.

The whole experience was rather ordinary had transpired within 30 minutes. A regular, easy Saturday morning… but that’s what made it extraordinary. When service is down and you manage to make it seamless, easy, and ordinary – that’s extraordinary. Digital technology and communications is such that the only time it is noticed is when it is done poorly, or something is not working. No one notices when something is working, they take note when it doesn’t (unless your service is generally so poor that when it works, it’s a suprise). Similarly, within communications, people generally don’t notice when they know something, they notice when they don’t and a gap in knowledge is apparent.

The world is becoming increasingly digital. Real time updates are the expectation now – it’s important that you deliver… or you may get noticed for the wrong reasons.

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