Football First Day Fails

Yesterday was the first full day of the NFL season, and just as many teams found out that their pre-season prep was nothing like the real thing, so too did a couple of very high-profile companies. The challenges they faced and how they handled them are instructive.

The two companies I mean are ESPN and DirecTV. Both had very prominent fails yesterday. In ESPN’s case, it was their fantasy football site. Yesterday around kickoff time (1pm ET / 10am PT) ESPN’s fantasy sports platform crashed and became unreachable on the web and in their mobile app. If you’re a fantasy football player, that is about the worst possible time for a crash since not only can’t you follow your team and league in real-time (frustrating) but you also couldn’t make last-minute changes to your lineup (angering and potentially expensive!). By the start of the late games several hours later, it was still down, leaving 7+million unhappy players.

At least ESPN’s service is free. In DirecTV’s case what failed costs $50 a month. Also starting at 1pm ET, people noticed buffering and quality issues on the streaming service, with some not being able to access a stream at all. The rage was palpable and between the two failures, Twitter exploded (with some of the responses being pretty funny).

What’s instructive are a couple of things. First, no matter how good a product or service is as an idea or in a marketing campaign if you can’t execute it’s garbage. Execution is more important in many cases than the product itself. Second, how you deal with the customers who are inconvenienced by your faulty execution can either save you or dig the hole to grave-depth. ESPN was totally transparent, admitting the outage, apologizing, and posting updates throughout. When things were fixed, they said:

“ESPN Fantasy is restored and we will continue to monitor. We identified a backend data access issue and resolved as quickly as possible. The issue did not impact data for teams, leagues or rosters. We sincerely apologize to all ESPN fantasy users.”

Transparent and sincerely apologetic. DirecTV, on the other hand, was at first not replying to customer service tweets at all. Once they did, replied to a number of complainers suggesting they check their computer settings or that they call a help line. Needless to say, that line was not in service at first. Other people were given a link to a page that helped you fix account access issues which were clearly not the problem. At no point did DirecTV acknowledge a system wide problem nor did they apologize. I imagine they didn’t however, have any issues cashing the $50 payments from all users.

Clearly, the best solution to a major problem at a critical time is to assure it doesn’t happen in the first place. That said, stuff happens. There are no secrets anymore, and your service and support problems become very visible very quickly. These two companies took two different paths after the issues arose. Which will you take?

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