Best Practices for Communicating With Users When Your App or Website Is Down

In a perfect world, all web and mobile applications run smoothly, without interruptions, and even planned maintenance takes place behind the scenes, without affecting the users in any way. Unfortunately, the world we live in is far from perfect, and downtimes will occur in the functionality of your company’s website or mobile app.

It is how you deal with the situations at the level of communicating with customers that really matters the most. Remember that the users who downloaded your app or log on to your website are people who solve their problems and needs through the service you provide them. People are emotional, especially in front of unexpected situations where they fear data loss or private information leaks.

The Only Acceptable Policy: Total Transparency

Time and again, various incidents showed us that trying to hush up or minimize the extent or impact of website or app downtime does not really work. Even before the era of social media, people found ways to share their concerns and raise alarm. These days, the flood of tweets and Facebook posts will get out into the open before you know it. Therefore, the only option companies have is to be proactive in communicating with their users, letting them know what is happening and keeping them permanently informed of the progress of your efforts to solve the problem.

So, what is the appropriate way to deal with these periods of downtime? There are two scenarios we will discuss in this article: planned and unplanned downtimes.

A) Planned Downtime

Planned downtime occurs when you are working on installing an updated version of your code, upgrading your equipment (servers) and during planned maintenance. This is a situation where you have complete control over the entire situation.

  1. Send an Initial Notification to All Users

This initial notification should be sent at least one week before the planned downtime, and include all the information the users need to know: why you plan to interrupt the access to your website and/or app, what are the expected benefits for users from the works you are performing during the downtime period and when you expect your website or app to be fully functional again.

The notification should be sent to users on their email addresses and posted on your website, social media accounts and as an in-app notification.

  1. Second Notification

It is recommended to repeat the notification 24 hours before the downtime. Use the same channels as for the initial notification and include all relevant details.

  1. Notification of Restored Functionality

When you are 100% sure that all functionality of your website and app has been restored, send a notification in this respect to your users. With this occasion, thank them for their patience and reassure them that their private and financial data has been safeguarded during the process.

B) Unplanned Downtime

This is the nightmare situation for every company: when something goes wrong with their website or app and it stops working properly. Whether a hardware malfunction, a malicious hacking attack or a code error caused the crash, the first thing companies must ascertain is that their users’ data are safe (either on a local server or in cloud storage). The next thing is to start your communication campaign with the users.

  1. Let Users Know of the Problem

Emails and social media are the best ways in which you can send a general notification to all users that you are aware of the downtime problem and you are working on it. Another good practice is to have a personalized 404 page or in-app notification, which notifies users of the nature of the problem.

  1. Allow Users to Report a Problem

Some glitches take some time for the web or mobile team to notice. The best practice is to always have a special email address, such as [email protected], and a Report an Issue button on your app, allowing the users to report any erratic behavior of your site or app. Do not disregard these messages, even if they report minor glitches. Take the time to reply to them as soon as possible. People who report these problems are your best users and customers, so do not disappoint them.

  1. Post Updates on What You Are Doing to Fix the Problem

No one likes being kept in the dark. After you have reported the problem, they want to know what you are doing about it and when they can use your website or app again. Whenever you get definite news from the technical teams, share it with the users on your social media channels.

  1. Notify Users When the Problem Is Solved

In this notification, take the time to thank your users for their patience, give a clear image of what happened and what steps you are taking to prevent this situation from occurring again in the future. Go into as much detail as you see fit to show people that, although the situation was beyond your control, you have the right people and the know-how to solve it and ensure your users’ access to your services as soon as possible.