What is downtime?

Downtime is a period of time in which a system, device, or application’s core services are unavailable due to updates, maintenance, safety precautions, or unexpected outages.

As people and businesses rely more and more on digital services and tools, preventing and efficiently managing downtime is a strategic initiative. Customers have higher expectations than ever, and even a few seconds of latency (let alone a full outage) can severely impact their experience with a brand’s product. As such, having a highly available product or service has become a key customer experience priority.

What is planned downtime vs. unplanned downtime?

Downtime can typically be categorized into one of two buckets:

  • Planned downtime happens when a brand schedules a specific period for maintenance or upgrades. In order to mitigate negative experiences, brands can communicate planned downtime across various channels, including email, text, or pop-up messages on the site.
  • Unplanned downtime happens when something breaks unexpectedly or when a system is compromised as part of an attack. These unplanned outages often cause vocal outrage from the user community or big headlines in the news, depending on where and how they happen. Learning how to address these situations in a timely and effective manner is important.

What is availability?

When we talk about downtime, it’s important to acknowledge the importance of availability. A software or service’s availability is measured as the percentage of time it’s available for use, rather than in downtime. Many technology providers, particularly those that deal with sensitive data or security features, aim to have a 99.99% percent uptime. They accomplish this through a variety of methods, including multiple availability zones, regular data backups, and more.

What are best practices for responding to downtimes?

Regardless of the scenario, downtimes can be stressful situations for customer service and support teams working closely with users. These are the people fielding a lot of the frustrations and problems customers are facing, so it’s important to equip them with best practices for making the best of a tricky situation.

These best practices include:

  • Be transparent. Customers appreciate brands that communicate openly and provide a glimpse into their thought process and experiences. It makes them more relatable.
  • If the outage is unplanned, acknowledge the issue. As soon as there’s a problem, let your customers know. If they’re having trouble using your product and come to a status page that says “Everything’s fine!”, they might lose trust in your brand.
  • Empathize with the customer experience. You know why your customers use your product, and you know how embedded your tool or service might be in their operations. Make sure you acknowledge how they might be impacted, and show that you know what they might be going through.
  • Set expectations where you can. As you learn more about the issue behind an unplanned outage, go back to the first bullet and communicate transparently about the scope of the issue. And, as soon as you’re able, let customers know when the issue will be resolved.
  • Offer alternatives. If possible, give your customers workarounds for using your product without the impacted areas. They will appreciate you doing the additional thinking.

Planned or unplanned, downtime can present a headache for your users. Knowing how to communicate effectively during these times is a key asset to any customer service team.