Monday, November 12, 2007

What do you do if you're NaviSite?

If you're a B2B marketer in the tech space, you've no doubt heard by now about the major fiasco that NaviSite, a web hosting provider, has been dealing with.

They acquired another company, and in the course of consolidating customers into their Massachusetts data center, hit a perfect storm of botched operations and bad luck. As a result, they've had a whole slew of customers with their web operations  out of commission for days.

Now most web hosters can't and don't guarantee "six 9's" (99.9999%) of uptime, which computes to something like 2 or 3 seconds of downtime a month. Based on how much redundancy they're willing to pay for, customers are guaranteed varying levels of uptime - different 9's, as it were. But when you're in "one 9" territory of availability, well, you've got a problem.

Both Mark Cahill over on Vario Creative and Mary Schmidt are offering their usual sharp commentary on the NaviSite debacle - Mark from the added perspective of someone whose clients have been impacted by the NaviSite outage outrage. No one seems to feel that NaviSite marketing is responding all that well, I'm afraid. They seem to have lawyered up, likely on the advice of their lawyer. This is, after all, a big one. Hosting customers have Service Level Agreements that specify remedies when there are outages. As a veteran of the web hosting world, I've read a lot of those SLA's and I don't recall the redress for outages of quite the magnitude suffered by the NaviSite customers over the last week or so.

In any case, I've been doing some thinking about what I would be doing if I were NaviSite marketing.

It's pretty easy for me to put myself in their shoes because, for a while there, I was the director of product marketing for NaviSite's web hosting business. So it could have been my shoes that had stepped in this one.

What would I have done from a marketing perspective? Communicate, communicate, communicate.

  • Place information, including call numbers, prominently on the home page. I don't mean devote all the real estate to this issue. Just enough so that people impacted get the message that you're taking this matter seriously. Include in this message a "don't worry" statement for existing Navi customers who aren't impacted.
  • Update this every 4-6 hours, letting people know when you'll be posting updates. Stick to the schedule, even when there's nothing to report. However, if there's something big in the interim, don't wait to get it out there.
  • Also on the web site, have a video of the company President/CEO making a statement about the matter. No spin. No excuses. Facts, remorse, and a promise to get to the bottom of this.
  • Prepare lists of talking points for customers impacted, customers not impacted, prospects, press, and analyst.
  • Divide up the list of customers impacted and have someone give everyone a personal phone call. Use the talking points, but mostly have the callers settle in for an earful of abuse. Let the customers vent. They deserve to. Do not exempt senior management from making a few of these calls themselves.
  • Divide up the list of customers not impacted. Have senior management make a call to the Top 100 (or whatever the golden list of most important customers is called) and assure them that they're not in anyway impacted by this, that this won't happen to them, etc.
  • Send e-mails to all other non-impacted customers, assuring them they're OK.
  • Ask sales for a list of prospects who need a call from senior management. 
  • Call an all-hands meeting so that everyone in the company hears first hand what's going on. This meeting should be brief - there's too much work to do. Update employees regularly via e-mail.
  • Have someone monitoring the blogosphere to see what people are saying - and who's saying it. (Obviously, it's more important to listen to customers and people like Mark Cahill, who has impacted customers, than it is to pay any attention to, say, me. Don't make defensive comments, but if there are misstated facts, correct them without making any excuses. Just make sure that what you're saying is correct. (And try to make sure that only "deputized" employees speak out on blogs.)
  • Reach out to key press and analysts, who will appreciate hearing directly from you, even if they don't cut you any slack.

Maybe NaviSite did all this. Maybe Navi marketing wanted to do all this, but management had other ideas.

Even if NaviSite - marketing and management - did everything right in response to this operational fiasco, I would be surprised if NaviSite can salvage 50% of the customers whose business they've botched. Whatever remedies they offer them, people will be pissed. They'll be suing. They'll be walking. Competitors are, no doubt, already swooping in.

Impacted customers aside, NaviSite has a lot to worry about. This is a big black eye for them. Prospect and renewal negotiations just got a whole lot harder, as customers and prospects will be demanding concessions. Employees have to feel like crap (or cynically justified  because "they" f'd up). Navi is a small player, but they're a public company. I haven't looked, but their stock price may take a hit.

Good luck to the good folks at NaviSite - and there are plenty of them.

I don't see this one going away for a while.


Mark Cahill said...

Navisite went exactly the other way. They stopped communicating once the problem occurred. They went as far as to put a note on their site saying "We've taken our 800 lines down for now, as everyone will be working on this issue."

In other words, they went exactly the wrong way.

Mary Schmidt said...

And, once again, "Everything you do is marketing." I've worked in IT outsourcing, including "mission-critical server support" and those SLAs are crucial. You have to be prepared to walk your talk if you don't meet them.

It is sad - as I'm sure there are some worker bees at NaviSite that are howling that they're not allowed to to do the right thing.

Wes Linda said...

It was as poorly handled of a situation as a company could come up with. This is not the first time I've had a bad experience with Navisite, and it's just a sign of things to come I think. But perhaps this will wake them up.

Anonymous said...

This is probably the BIGGEST datacenter migration disaster there has ever been.

NaviSite stockholders should take note, that this company is not competant when it comes to what it defines at its "core business"

They didnt communicate with their clients, they took reckless actions and they should pay be losing their stock, and business, just like their customers have lost!

Anonymous said...

What is the 'IT' word for when you call after 3 F@#$!! days and you finally get someone to check on your server and they come back to the phone to tell you your server was TURNED OFF!!!

Thanks for pressing the ON button buddy; something NOBODY else was able to do for the last 3 days!!