illustration of headphones with a mic.

This is a guest post from Alistair Mclachlan. Alistair is Head of Support at FiveStars Loyalty, a San Francisco based startup that helps businesses and communities thrive by turning every transaction into a relationship.

To hear “Server Down” is to hear two words which instill fear into the heart of any Support Leader. System outages are unavoidable but while Engineering is scrambling to fix the issue, there are certain things we can do in Customer Support to mitigate the impact on paying customers.

During normal circumstances, FiveStars Support carefully treads the tightrope, balancing call deflection with issue resolution in a way that doesn’t negatively impact Customer Experience. But if you have a Support Team staffed to take 20 calls per hour, a sustained increase to ten times that volume is going to sink the ship unless you have effective outage planning.

At FiveStars, we have a three step plan to try and minimize the impact of system wide outages:

Mobilize the troops

Ensure that all agents are on the phone. Accurate case reporting is important, but secondary to helping as many people as you can. We have call recordings and phone logs for auditing cases after the issue is resolved. Everybody needs to be back to back with inbound calls.

Share the load

At FiveStars all members of the Operations team are cross trained to help with support calls and manage support cases. If our software goes down, all available Account Managers and Onboarding Specialists jump onto the phone to help.

Redirect to our status page

The first two steps are important, but are band aids if we are being flooded with calls. Our status page allows us to effectively message all of our 10,000 small business customers at once. This provides them with live updates on our service and helps us stay consistent with our mission of having authentic relationships with our merchants.

We recently suffered two outages, both of which saw our daily call volume explode. On both 6/6 and 6/15 there were multiple-hour-long stretches where the FiveStars Support team handled more calls than we would usually receive in a full business day. As the volume on 6/6 grew our phone messaging switched to to a prompt apologizing for high call volumes and redirecting to This was a strategy that we had pre planned in case of a big volume event. The results were remarkable. Our average time to abandon halved. This meant that customers were hearing the prompt and visiting the site, rather than staying on the line getting frustrated then hanging up. Our Service Level performance doubled, meaning we were able to get to 98% of all merchants still on the line, rather than the 48% before the change in phone prompt. Our status site got 2,440 pageviews (it averages 300 per day). On 6/15 the effect was even more profound, with 7,150 visits to the page. also became a valuable internal tool shared by our sales leaders and giving valuable updates to our remote sales reps. This helped keep our support team focused on helping customers instead of worrying about internal communication. It also allowed Sales to act as customer support, driving merchants to the correct channel and improving customer experience.

The status page has very quickly become an important part of our Support infrastructure, helping us communicate issues to our entire customer base in a fast concise way and alleviating some of the customer frustration that occurs when their software is not functioning.


This post was originally published on the Statuspage blog in 2016.

How FiveStars Support cut call wait times in half ...