Failure Types: a chart

So I’m not going to write directly about the running debacle that is #AmazonFail yet (get your primers here and here). For two reasons. One, because I submitted a request to Amazon for a response and I said I would give them until end of day tomorrow before I did a write-up. And I think we’ll get a better answer than “glitch” for this mess. Or we’d better. And two because somebody’s put forward a very interesting theory that “glitch” could be a euphemism for.

Right now, I want to talk about something else. I want to talk about what every company in the world needs to learn from #AmazonFail, whatever the reason turns out to be. I’m sure this will be a topic of great interest in business blogs, but you don’t have to be a business expert or strategist or whatnot to know what happened here. The guy with the English degree can tell you. That’s how plain it is.

You have to have someone minding the store. Because I watched #AmazonFail go from a few mentions to a shitstorm in a matter of hours. From something that could have been handled to the type of PR nightmare that will take forever to get past, if you can ever get past it. And also it became something that nobody in business wants: an opening for your competitors.

Ken and I were talking about this: I think you could have contained this a few hours ago. I know everybody’s pissed (I’m pissed for multiple reasons) but I think the shitstorm could have been contained if you had come out with a response that could be believed and was transparent. If you as Amazon simply acknowledged the problem and said that it was a problem and would be corrected and the root cause determined and addressed ASAP, then that would at least be something. Not a note stating this was policy and then another note saying it was a glitch. Nobody is going to buy that. But saying it was wrong and we’re fixing it–a lot of people will still be pissed but that’s a lot better than trying to come up with stories to cover up something that’s way past the cover-up stage.

Ken was right when he said that if you do business online then are open for business twenty-four-seven. You can’t close. You have to be ready to respond to something like this before it gets out of control. I would take that a step further. I would say if you’re a major corporation, even one that’s not known for having an online presence–like Burger King, just to pull an example out of the air, which has websites but is known for real world hamburgers–you have to have somebody standing watch in case #burgerkingfail kicks off. And they can sound the alarm.

The other lesson is this: lame ass excuses aren’t going to cut it. Once the alarm is sounded, acknowledge the problem, find the problem, and then state what the problem was. The problem is not that there are problems–people get pissed off but at the end of the day I think most reasonable people know that shit happens. The problem comes when there are problems and nobody acts or reacts accordingly. The fact that the CTO of Amazon is on Twitter and has given no sign that there’s an issue–not good. Just adds fuel to the fire.

It’s a lot easier to prevent a fire than to put one out that’s out of control. So to all the companies out there: put somebody on standby. Hell, if you can automate it so that any variation of your name rising to the top of any social media system’s most chatted about topics will ping somebody who can check on things, that might be good. But personally I think somebody somewhere has to be minding the store and with processes in place that allow them to respond. Even if that response is to wake somebody up who has the authority to actually respond directly to the crisis, that’s something. Because you don’t want to have your company be the one attached to the word “fail” a few hundred times a minute, whether it’s your fault at the end of the day or not.

Image. Found on a blog post that was what came up when I image searched for Amazon and Fail. But talks about technical issues on Amazon Web Services.