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7 minutes read

A SaaS Quick Guide for Managing Bugs and Outages

By Jonathan Tarud
By Jonathan Tarud
7 minutes read

Sometimes, despite best efforts and a quality team, things go wrong with SaaS apps.

Maybe you experience an outage of some kind, performance issues, or you have a bug that needs a major fix, causing disruption to customers and to your business.

While these disruptions can be an annoyance for clients and a stressful time for your company, it doesn’t have to mean major losses for your business. When it comes to service issues, it’s all about how you manage the event with your customers.

Here is a quick guide for dealing with any bugs or outages:

Have a game plan

First of all, having a game plan with a set of clear guidelines in place for managing any kind of interruption to service is crucial. Assume that an outage may happen at some point and be prepared to deploy your team to fix the issue.

In 2015, Twitter users almost hit meltdown when Slack experienced an outage. The hashtag #Slackdown was trending within minutes as people tried to find out what was going on, or generally complained about the outage. (Tip: People almost always turn to Twitter when there is an outage of some kind!)

Fortunately for Slack, they already had a plan to put in place in the event of such a scenario, as a Medium post by Jason Meeks examines. With a coordinated team effort (and apparently using an internal tool to assist), Slack team members started responding with personal, thoughtful replies to those who had tweeted. Meeks observed:

‘In the span of a few hours, the official @SlackHQ account tweeted OVER 2,300 TIMES in the form of kind, thoughtful, and funny replies to users tweeting about the service outage.

Most users were delighted by the personalized responses (that’s right, actual human hands typing the words), and a good stat to look at to highlight this is the fact that @SlackHQ gained over 3,300 followers yesterday (more than 7x any other day in the previous month).”

That’s a lot of tweets in a short period of time! If you imagine a scenario where they hadn’t planned how they would respond, they could easily have been caught out without the resources to respond, while Twitter quickly got out of hand. On the other hand, it seems that their organized response only gained them more fans.

This is something you can easily run scenarios with your team to prepare for and document processes. If there is a problem with your app, how are your customers likely to let you know? What if the app is completely down? How will you officially communicate with customers, and what will you say?

One of the key things to remember in a SaaS is that trust is paramount. Customers are often trusting your app with sensitive data and you don’t want to give them any reason to be fearful for the safety of that data. Plan ahead to ensure a coordinated, professional response.

SaaS outages

Communicate early and clearly

If something has happened that is impacting customers on the front-end, it is not a time to hide away while you try to fix the problem. It comes back to maintaining that trust – transparency will give customers confidence that you’re not trying to hide from them.

Note that reference to the front-end of the app; if some glitch went on in the background but no customer would have noticed an impact, then it’s probably okay not to mention it. For those who will see an impact, it’s important that part of your plan includes how you will proactively communicate.

You will need to consider multiple channels so that you have scenarios covered. For example, when Slack went down, they didn’t have the option of in-app communication, so Twitter was just part of their response. You might include things like email and other social media postings too.

Assess the impact

SaaS bugs or outages can run the entire spectrum of impact on users. For example, your app might go down for a minute or so and barely make a blip on the radar, on the other hand, what if several high-value transactions were lost during that minute?

This means there are a couple of things to assess when it comes to impact:

  1. How widespread was the issue? How many users were impacted?
  2. What was the severity of the impact?

The answers to these things should help to guide your response to the particular incident. For something quite minor for example, you can probably get away with sending out messages of apology and owning the poor experience, but this might not cut it for a major impact. How will you respond if the outage severely impacted a core functioning of the user’s business?

These are issues to consider in your planning too. What is the worst case scenario and how will you tackle it? Consider whether it might even be appropriate to pick up the phone, especially to large, enterprise clients. This could be an opportunity to provide them with outstanding support.

Offer workarounds where possible

Is there any way you can help to minimize disruption to your users? It’s important that you manage customer expectations at this time and be upfront with them, but perhaps there is something you can do to temporarily ease the impact.

If there is a workaround that customers can use, consider how you will communicate this to them. The way you do so will probably depend on the complexity of the workaround – will you need to pick up the phone, starting with your core users? Can you make a quick video and send it through email and social media channels? Look for ways to minimize impact while you work on a fix.

Customer success should still be a consideration – perhaps there is a way to offer a successful outcome temporarily.

Make customer communication easy

How are you first alerted to any problems? Often, this will come through communication from customers, but usually, this tends to be from a small percentage of them. Others might voice frustration on social media, or simply say nothing, but seethe over the experience.

It’s important that you make communication channels clear and easy to use so that customers don’t have to hunt around to get hold of you. In most cases, the quicker you get onto the problem, the better you van minimize impact, so give yourself every opportunity to find out early.

Be upfront and personable

Being transparent and addressing the issue directly with users will help to encourage their trust in you as a company. Don’t blow them off with corporate fluff, but do take responsibility, be open and personable to deal with.

On the other side of this, sometimes customers react badly and try to take it out on customer service representatives – this is not something to allow. Abuse should always be unacceptable, but you can maintain a “firm but friendly” persona.

If you honestly don’t know how long the issue will take to fix, don’t blow smoke. Be open with customers and apologize for the inconvenience caused. You can tell them you don’t know exactly when you’ll be up and running again while at the same time assuring them that you have your best people on the job.

SaaS outages


Final thoughts

If there’s one thing to keep foremost in your mind when dealing with bugs or outages in your SaaS, it’s that your users are humans. They’re not a persona or a number, they’re people who have legitimate fears or inconveniences as a result of the disruption.

Perhaps they’re worried that data has been lost or compromised. Perhaps they’re even embarrassed because they’re the one who recommended their company use your product, and now there is a major issue.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and understand how they will feel. Above all, plan ahead. SaaS that effectively manage these issues tend to take a proactive stance, rather than waiting until an issue arises.

Koombea builds reliable, effective SaaS and apps for companies. Talk to us about how we can help you today.

Featured image photo by Gavin Whitner.


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