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What Heartbleed Revealed About Customer Experience

Very few businesses are prepared to quickly reach their customers in a crisis.

By now, we’re all familiar with Heartbleed, the bug that affected everything from retail to banking to social media sites and exposed users’ private data such as usernames, passwords and session keys for as long as two years.

As if exposing that amount of personal information isn’t concerning enough, Heartbleed also revealed another serious flaw: Very few businesses are prepared to communicate with their customers during a crisis.

Let’s rewind to the first days of Heartbleed. As more and more information surfaced about the bug, the media (understandably) became everyone’s information source on the bug’s origins, what was affected and the specific steps everyone needed to take to protect themselves. No matter where you went, there was an online article, a blog post or a TV segment on Heartbleed. In fact, the media provided us with the most information about Heartbleed, including what passwords to change and how to do it.

The only place that wasn’t getting enough detail about Heartbleed was where it mattered most: Your inbox.

Whether it was email, SMS or even voicemail, we found that customers received minimal if any direct communication from even the most trusted brands. Considering the severity of this bug, what gives?

A few companies nailed the proactive customer communication: American Funds and Prezi sent company emails to customers with clear instructions detailing how to change passwords. The most frustrating part, however, has been the lack of updates from sites that have supposedly been targeted by this bug. Facebook and Gmail, for example, didn’t immediately prompt users to change account passwords, yet these companies have been reported as potential targets.

Heartbleed uncovered that very few businesses were prepared to quickly reach their customers in a crisis. Regardless of whether the business was affected or not, many companies risked their customer loyalty and potentially damaged their customer experience by saying nothing at all.

Building customer loyalty involves reaching your target customers in the right ways, establishing a superior customer experience and understanding how to develop a customer’s emotional loyalty. How a company responds to a crisis can solidify or shatter customer loyalty. During times of crisis, companies need to remember the customer PACT:

  • Prepare

    Whether it’s a small pop-up shop or a global organization, no business is immune to a crisis. Brainstorm common scenarios experienced by similar businesses, anticipate the off-the-wall situations, and develop a crisis plan for each.

  • Act

    In the case of Heartbleed, not all of the facts were immediately available, and the extent of its reach is still nebulous. In a vacuum of facts, silence can still signal that the business doesn’t value the customer’s loyalty. Even as a business assesses the impact of a crisis, proactive communication speaks volumes — let customers know the existing facts, where they can speak to a customer-service representative and the company’s commitment to the customer.

  • Comprehensive & cohesive

    A crisis tests a business’s multi-channel customer experience, because customers will expect to get answers on email, phone, Web and social media. Ensure that the business is prepared to engage with customers on all of these channels, and are armed with accurate facts, resources and recommendations.

  • Transparent

    A crisis is a marathon, not a sprint. Continue to communicate with customers, share all of the facts and don’t go quiet until the crisis has passed.

Building, strengthening and keeping customer loyalty may be one of the hardest challenges, but it’s certainly one of the most rewarding once achieved. If the business is swift, proactive and sticks to the customer-experience PACT, companies can navigate the crisis and preserve their customers’ trust.

Reed Henry is the chief marketing officer at Genesys. Prior to Genesys, he led marketing for ArcSight Corporation; before that, he led marketing and business development for SeeBeyond, and co-founded Vertical Networks, a company delivering contact center and unified communications solutions. Reach him @Genesys.

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