1and1 Retreats Behind Corporate Wall of Silence. Twitter Picks up Slack.

Well, I'm back where I started this morning, sitting on the couch with my laptop, except this time I'm not checking my e-mail but recovering from what that simple act led to.

I began my day with Thunderbird; it checked my IMAP mail servers but failed to connect. I tried again. Again it failed. So I went on 1and1.com's website and tried to log in to their webmail, but all I got was a page load error message telling me Firefox couldn't find the server. I had no problem logging into my admin page, and no problem logging in to Twitter or Flickr nor with my other e-mail account, so it couldn't be a browser issue or a Thunderbird issue. I called 1and1. I got a friendly female voice fairly quickly.

Unfortunately, I'd forgotten that 1and1.com's customer service reps aren't the brightest bulbs in the box. She started off with the standard protocol of questions, which basically meant she either hadn't heard what I had said or she didn't know how to troubleshoot. Probably both. She asked how I'd set up my mail in Outlook. Uh, don't use it, and since I hadn't touched my settings, why are we going there anyway? I moved her off that idea quick. She sounded a bit discombobulated. So then she asked me for my password. Why? I had told her my e-mail program couldn't even connect and Firefox didn't even load the page; I had gotten nowhere near seeing a login screen! She insisted; she wanted to check if she could see my e-mail and didn't seem to understand that I was stuck before the point of checking e-mail!!

Her computers showed her the webmail login screen, the admin screen, and she could even send and see my e-mail. What's my prob? I took a deep breath and repeated that just because it worked for her didn't mean there wasn't a problem.

So then she asked about the browser. I've recently discovered that many people don't clear their browser cache's, don't even think about it although they know it exists. So I didn't chew her ear off about that though I saw no point in doing that as I had told her it was a fresh startup and I always clear my cache -- plus all the other websites were fine and dandy. Her puzzlement grew. I cleared my cache. After some off-phone discussion, she thought it might be how I started webmail. She wanted me to go direct instead of through my admin panel. No dice. Sigh. Finally, she threw her last card down: go to Google.com, the last sure-fire solution of the customer service rep who thinks you're an idiot. I already had it up, but I didn't tell her that. Apparently, when I said I had no problem seeing and logging in to other websites, that meant nothing. Only Google counts as real proof my browser works.

She said she had a tool to use to fix my account; it would be fixed within an hour; and if not call back. Only problem was that by the time I called back, 1and1.com's circuits were so busy that I got a nice automated Bell female voice saying "circuits are busy. Please try again later." Well, you know that's pretty futile. Worse, the admin page was now down, and I couldn't find a status page. So I bitched on Twitter.

This is what Twitter is for, to vent, to moan, to wonder about a seemingly insolvable situation. It didn't occur to me to see if 1and1 had a Twitter account, maybe because any company that doesn't have an obvious status page probably isn't service oriented enough to have a Twitter account.

Well! Within moments, other Twitter folk were retweeting my tweets and offering me suggestions. Some folk even seemed to have started a Twitter account for the sole purpose of following the discussion and offering their suggestions. For two hours (!) the Twitter community commiserated with each other, kept each other up to date about whatever useful tidbits they discovered, and as time went by lambasted 1and1 for being so silent and unhelpful. 1and1 did have a status page, but as one Twitterer said, it was down too, and as another said, if all their DNS servers were down, one couldn't expect their status page to be up. Yet I know other companies not only can keep their status page up when their main services are down, but would have responded in a more intelligent way to my phone call than shrugging their shoulders at something incomprehensible and thus to be ignored beyond taking the standard steps. And in the age of Twitter, there's no excuse for not talking to clients. Twitter provides an instant alternative way to keep clients informed about what has happened, what they're doing to rectify the situation, and where they are in the process.

But 1and1 was overloaded on the phone; their main page went down; their status page went down; they did not think to immediately create a Twitter account as a way to communicate; and so clients were left to figure things out on their own. Some were able to use POP mail thanks to tips from some Twitterers, and after two hours, we could trace where service came back on through our collective tweets. Toronto was at the front of the pack.

Apparently, 1and1.com's DNS records were broken perhaps due to a server configuration change. You would think that when 1and1 makes changes to their servers that they'd alert the customer service reps so that when calls like mine come in the techies would automatically be alerted that something went wrong and I, and other clients, would not have to put up with going through inane standard steps that have nothing to do with my problem.

My biggest beef with 1and1.com is not that their servers went belly up, it's that their customer service rep had no clue and that 1and1.com did not keep us informed. They remained behind a wall of silence. Unfortunately, it's standard operating procedure for too-many companies these days. It's a shame-based human response to something going wrong, but as Maple Leaf Foods showed the world, when you're open, honest, and communicative, people respect you and will continue to buy your stuff even in the face of a huge crisis. Meanwhile, people are now blogging about how much 1and1 mucked up, not about how it fixed a huge problem in a short number of hours.


Mark Dowling said…
So much for picking up the slack. Twitter is down. Did you break the internets? :)
Haha! :) Twitter at least has a status blog that works. It was down for maintenance. Details here: http://status.twitter.com/post/104738920/planned-maintenance-tomorrow-monday
Tell it all, tell it early, tell it honestly-the hallmark of crisis communications. Lost on 1and1. Your post underscores how important it is to share up and down the chain in a crisis.