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  • Writer's pictureCrisis Shield

How to Manage a Crisis #018: When you need more than just good communication...

By Georgia Comensoli and James Fitzpatrick

Manage a Crisis Tip: IT Failures

In a world happily reliant on technology and a plethora of digital devices, global brands and companies are increasingly facing public crises on the back of IT failures. Last Monday morning, Commbank was next to shine in the spotlight of tech issues, with their internet banking service collapsing and their auto bank services shut until late into the afternoon.

Only a day earlier, Australian supermarket chain Coles experienced a small IT glitch, which stopped registers from working. This left the company no other option than to delay opening it’s doors on one of the busiest trading days of the week.

No industry has been immune from these digital disruptions with airlines, banks, and popular telecommunication companies all suffering a similar fate.

Earlier this year both Woolworths and Coles experienced a situation where a computer failure led to checkouts malfunctioning nation wide. This left Woolworths with trolleys filled with the usual weekly grocery list abandoned amongst the aisles. The company lost revenue and (in some cases) perfectly good produce as fresh items weren’t able to be re-stored quickly or correctly. In both situations – a cash alternative or back up system were absent.

Last year Virgin airlines experienced a small IT glitch – which led to thousands of passengers stranded at airports across the country, not being able to check in. The issue happened the day after the AFL grand final, and less than a week before the NRL grand final. Among those stranded, was the defeated Adelaide Crows (just imagine, the last thing you want after losing in a city other than your home town is major flight delays getting you home). Virgin quickly used their social media platforms to address the issue and inform customers of how they were dealing with the problem. The kiosks were back up and running that day but the experience of waiting in an airport for an extended period of time has proved costly for their brand perception.

Crisis Communication Responses

In response to last week’s disaster, CommBank were clear, honest and quick to leverage social media. However clients weren’t too happy with the ‘useful updates’ as one twitter user put it, demanding instead an actual ETA for when their services would be back up and running.

One Commbank customer tweeted that they were stuck in a supermarket full of groceries, unable to pay. Another, was stuck overseas unable to claim their funds.

Commbank IT failure Crisis

Retail expert Sean Sands told Seven News that not having the appropriate technological alternative isn’t good enough. He added that…

“even though it was only a few hours of the supermarket closing, the brand perception will be changed. And customers will be seeking some form of compensation.”

There’s no doubting that poor crisis communication responses to these IT failures will exacerbate the issues and prolong the crisis (our recent case study on Facebook’s slow response is a perfect example) however it’s becoming clear that good communication alone isn’t going to be enough to protect your brand.

People (rightfully) expect you to have a ‘Plan B’ in place.

Ask yourself, do we have an up-to-date Business Continuity Plan and does it cover for IT failures of critical business operations?

Can we accept cash transactions when our supermarket register system goes down? Do we have a backup generator for our airline checkin system? Every minute that these systems aren’t operating costs more money and more damage to the brand.

If you don’t yet have a Business Continuity Plan or think yours might need updating, have a read of our blog from April that explains the four key elements of a Business Continuity Plan. If you want some further guidance, contact our Business Continuity expert, Fraser McLisky for a free initial consultation: +61 3 9602 4310 or email

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