How we turned a customer we nearly lost, into an evangelist for us!

A few months back, we suffered one of our worst server outages at my startup in over 4 years of operation.

Being a small team, I am the only one in charge of our server infrastructure, and as luck would have it, on this particular day, our server load balancer went down at about 2am my time in Australia, which is when I was fast asleep, but our US based customers were in the middle of their working day.

My co-founder managed to finally wake me up, but it took nearly an hour to do so, because she had to break through the iPhone DnD that I had set up so that I could actually get some rest from time to time (Side note - since this incident, I have set up a method of bypassing DnD for our server alerts - see https://devan.codes/blog/2020/8/27/getting-notifications-with-dnd-turned-on).

But all in all, it took about 2 hours for me to get everything back and running again in the middle of my night, which resulted in a lot of our customers getting angry... Really angry.

One customer in particular, the CEO from a company called Little Miss Mag, sent us a long email stating how disappointed she was in our lack of availability, and that she was considering cancelling her plan and going elsewhere.

I got that email around 6am my time, when I was still sleep deprived and frazzled, and my initial reaction was "Eff it, this is all too hard to keep people happy. I might as well refund her what she has paid and possibly look to a different career raising sheep in Eastern Mongolia as a living instead."

But then, I was hit by a moment of Zen, and instead I decided to write a long letter back to her, explaining that we were truly sorry for what she had experienced, and that it was the first time we had had such a serious outage. I also explained that I had spent the prior few night up late doing support and writing some new code for the app she was using, and also that I had been spending some time with my family that night to help my son with his homework etc. and had turned my phone off in order to finally get some rest.

I full expected her to brush off my email and still cancel, but instead, I got another long email back from her apologising for her tone in the previous email, and explaining that as CEO of this particular company during the pandemic, she had been working until the early hours of the morning herself and missing out on sleep, and she appreciated that I was still trying to be there for my family while trying to build a business - as she herself was doing.

Well, this customer ended up turning right around and becoming one of our biggest advocates, including recommending us to other company owners she knew, and just last month, she recorded and sent through a video testimonial that just blew us away. Let me repeat - she wasn't asked to do so, or offered any incentive from us to say these words. She set up a camera and went ahead and recorded it for us.

The original video was nearly 3 minutes long and actually gave us enough content to create about 3 separate videos focusing on various aspects of our product, AND our service and response levels.

Here is the first video that we edited and branded and uploaded today:


We are so grateful to Carmen for doing this, and hope that we can inspire other customers of ours to do the same so that we can use this when we market against some of the 'big boys' in the HR app space.

It has taught me a lesson that compassion and understanding, and empathy will always win out over knee jerk reactions or playing the "my ego wins" game with your customers.

  1. 2

    What a heartwarming happy ending!

    Usually when customers are angry/frustrated and blast off an emotional fiery email, they don't really mean every single word.

    It's usually typed and sent in the heat of the moment, and all they really want from you is to:

    1. Acknowledge their problem
    2. Validate that their feelings are justified
    3. Take full responsibility for the problem
    4. Do everything to fix the problem ASAP
    5. Put in place prevention measures to assure them that it won't happen again

    You did all of these wonderfully, and therefore you reaped the rewards.

    This is the mental checklist that I follow whenever I get negative feedback on Zlappo.

    I've seen CEOs/founders not only arguing back with customers (holy shit), but even arguing back publicly, which reflects not only poor emotional maturity but also very bad business sense.

    You did well on all counts, and I'm very happy that you got yourself a glowing testimonial from a happy customer.

    Shit happens, customers understand that shit happens, and all they want from their vendors is to take ownership of the problem and fix it ASAP.

    1. 2

      Thanks Jay, and you are so right! Your 5 points above should be printed and framed on the wall of any startup founder. 👍

  2. 2

    What a great story! Love how Carmen handled the situation in such a human way. Bookmarked the dnd bypass, thnx

    1. 1

      Thanks Maeva! 😊

  3. 0

    I also faced something like this:
    My newsletter did get good traction from Twitter, but I.

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