Rocket fuel, cake and customers – A tale of availability management

availability management

The other day I had a flashback.  Well actually, I had two

You see, this past week my mobile carrier, Rogers Communications, suffered a major outage which knocked out all voice and text capability across its network.  The outage lasted for about 6 hours – a lifetime for the

company’s 10 million affected customers. Unfortunately, access to some data services for mobile apps and browsing were not affected.  Yes, I did say ‘UNfortunately’,  for the service provider anyway.

Flashback 1 – Oct 2011.  Blackberry suffers a four day service failure across its global network.  This costs the company 54 million dollars….or so it was reported days after this major incident.

What it actually cost Blackberry was Blackberry itself, as the trust in the company, its leadership, services, and products began to slide until in 2013, the company went up for sale. A tragedy fuelled by nothing more than a broken switch and the power of pissed off customers to incite a case of mass hysteria.

Back to last week

Immediately after the Rogers service disruption to voice and text was noticed, Facebook, Twitter and the like, lit up like a launching rocket with its own pissed off customers.  I found the irony of this comical.  People scathing and lambasting the carrier DURING the outage by communicating on social streams using this providers network, while saying they were unable to communicate! Hence the unfortunate part of a partial disruption.  Keeping some services available so your customers can crucify you with them.  Surely I exaggerate!  Think again.

Some customer reaction

‘OMG, I might have to use a land line and actually speak to a live person. What is this 2003?’  [Must be a GenY]

‘Our wireless POS terminals work through Rogers, unfortunately, we will be unable to offer this method of payment until they are back online’  [OMG who carries cash these days!]

‘ This came at the worst possible time for my husband and I, we were stopped at a red light and were “smoked” from behind from an SUV not paying attention.. the crash at high speeds totaled my Infiniti SUV. I tried to call 911 on my cellphone but it kept saying “Call Failed” I asked the guy who hit me to call 911 ” Call failed” . I was very shook up but I knew my husband was in worse shape so I walked approximately three blocks to the nearest strangers house to use their land line to call 911 ‘[The accident was likely caused by the driver tweeting about the outage!]

‘Look at the bright side: at long last, no telemarketing calls for most of an evening.’ [YA, I’m with you on that one.]

And my personal fav:

What am I gonna tell my mom? “I TRIED to call, but was down!” She’s NEVER gonna believe that one.

Seriously, my first thoughts were the comedy of it.  Then as I read more about the impact the second flashback came:

Circa 1997 – 2006 – Me, teaching ITIL service manager courses and talking about Availability management.  I used to relate the fact that every service could be 100% available to every customer, but for a price that was likely too expensive for the ROI.  Ironically, back then wireless phone service was often an example of that because it was a convenience, not a necessity. A lot has changed.

We talk a lot about commodotized services and much of it is about ecomonies of scale, affordability, and necessity.  What we fail to see is that now commodity and critical are becoming synonyms.

In the Rogers outage, police across the country were involved trying to help people understand how to reach emergency (911) services without mobile voice access.  New feeds considered this as breaking news.  Entire businesses lost POS services and likely a large portion of their business during those hours.  Many households have no land lines.  Perhaps, because their faith in the reliability of wireless services is such that, they feel no need for such redundancy.

Rocket Fuel and Cake

Folks, it seems that we still have a problem with understanding service value, criticality and impact. Perhaps it would help if we thought of it in terms of rocket fuel and cake.

Services have a way of starting out as innovations that are useful then silently and unnoticed, becoming critical business and personal lifelines.  The problem, is we don’t see the shift. We create service models to support the innovation then expect them to work in for a critical service.

We are pretty lucky that catastrophic service failures are few.  Pissed off customers are not.  They are rocket fuel.  They can take down a company and many companies are learning that the hard way.  Perhaps one way to assess service value, criticality and impact are to predict how much rocket fuel your customers have to demolish your company if your services fail to meet their needs. Just ask Blackberry about that.

We price commoditized services as though they were cheap options.  Affordable nice-to-haves. And we support them with a nice-to-have availability in mind.

Then we see the true impact when it all goes wrong. This is like having your cake and eating it too (which we all know isn’t supposed to be plausible).

So customers are having their cake and eating it too.  They have critical, yet cheap services. Once a convenience, they have transformed to lifelines and the way we service to manage them hasn’t.

And if you took my service manager course, you’ll know that this situation will likely exist forever, because its really a matter of balance.  Balancing the level of support response, redundancy and well, perfection, with cost, competitiveness and well reality.

If IT services are part or all of your business, start thinking about rocket fuel and cake and ask yourself if you have the right balance, because one day, your customers may answer the question for you.








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