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A Customer Centric Approach to Incident Response

  • Yuan Cheng
    Yuan Cheng

When it comes to Software as a Service (SaaS), incident response and resolution (or there lack-of) is often the make-it-or-break-it moment for your customers that either leaves them enamored with your company culture, or dejected and looking for an excuse to leave.

We can try our best to avoid incidents altogether, but even the best of companies run into snags from time-to-time. The question is, when incidents occur, how do you respond, and what does it tell your clients about the relationship they’re in?

Incident Response and Customer Loyalty

Studies show that damaged reputation and customer churn are some of the most expensive elements of a typical outage. But surprisingly, negative events don’t always end up poorly. It turns out that when handled properly, turnaround stories can actually result in even stronger, more resilient customers.

Roger Dow and Susan Cook, in their book Turned On, describe their research with Marriott hotel guests. Their research divided guests into three groups:

  • Group A: Nothing bad happened during their stay
  • Group B: Something bad happened, but Marriott fixed the problem
  • Group C: Something bad happened, but Marriott did NOT fix the problem

Here’s how these three groups rated their intention to continue with Marriott services:

  • Group A: 89%
  • Group B: 94%
  • Group C: 69%

The Power of Customer Turnarounds

Unsurprisingly, Group C customers were the least loyal. If something goes wrong and it’s never addressed, it’s unlikely customers will stick around. But what IS surprising is that Group B scored even higher than Group A. It seems counter-intuitive at first glance, but if we consider our personal experiences, it’s really quite common. A repaired relationship is stronger than one that’s never been tested, and a critical experience that turned out positive is more memorable than a mundane transaction.

The same is true of customer loyalty. Taking a potentially disastrous situation and turning it into a positive experience can make a customer for life. That right there is the power of incident response done right. Faster resolution times are good, but they aren’t enough. How you communicate and manage the customer experience is equally important, and it just might be the difference between customers choosing to jump ship or to stick with you through thick and thin.

Customer Perception is Reality

When it comes to customer experience, perception is reality. It doesn’t matter how great your product is or hard you’ve worked behind the scenes. If the customer feels neglected, confused, or frustrated, they are neglected, confused, and frustrated.

Customer Perception

Companies thrive by taking an outside-in approach to business. It’s why the best companies today conduct market research, usability studies, and A/B tests to see what resonates with the customer. As the old saying goes, the answers don’t live within corporate walls. They exist outside where the customers are.

Outside-in is the proven way to optimize customer experience. Yet for some reason, many companies design incident response - the customer’s make it or break it moment - from the inside out. The fact of the matter is, every issue is a customer experience issue, and it’s time we took a more holistic, outside-in approach to incident response.

Incident Timeline - A Customer Perspective

If you map out your typical customer experience during an incident outage, it tends to look something like this:

Incident Response Journey Map

Ironically, your teams are likely working all hands on deck. But the customer doesn’t see that, and they simply feel confused and left in the dark. It doesn’t matter how hard you’re working behind the scenes. If you’re not intentionally managing customer perception, customer experience is likely going from bad to worse.

So what does it take to create a turnaround story and transform an incident outage into a customer for life? For starters, quick detection of issues using monitoring tools is a good place to start. Secondly, honest and clear communication with customers will help keep your customers informed (at PagerTree we use a status page and the SorryApp to keep customers in the loop). Third, a swift and efficient process towards incident resolution can help transform the incident response journey to a positive one (shameless plug: if you haven’t tried PagerTree, sign up for a free-trial now). Lastly, a post-mortem or analysis on what went wrong and why will help prevent the same incident in the future.

Incident Response Journey With Detection


Incident response is often the make it or break it moment for customers. A bad experience, and they’re gone forever. But a good experience can actually strengthen customer loyalty. Working hard to resolve the outage is just the beginning; how you manage the customer experience is where the magic happens.

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