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Fantasy Football Flub Fair Flamer For Yahoo IT?

Another hard lesson from the Yahoo Fantasy Football Debacle: Customers Come First, Last, Always

Another hard lesson from the Yahoo Fantasy Football Debacle: Customers Come First, Last, AlwaysA very real server glitch in the Fantasy Football world at Yahoo Sports on all-important draft day has hard-core customers angry and looking for answers. The bigger question: Does this point for the need for CIOs to map out "customer-critical" events such as this NFL fantasy draft day to ensure that during these times of heavy demand, customers enjoy outstanding online experiences?

CIOs often talk about "mission-critical" issues such as uptime, security, privacy, and such, and those are certainly valid. But here in late 2007, they're also assumed by customers to be table stakes. In the world outside the enterprise, the more-vital concern is becoming "customer-critical" issues: for example, online shopping just before Valentine's Day or Mother's Day, or airline-ticket reservations and purchases around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Or in this latest case, the day before the NFL season opens when many hundreds of thousands of online customers are deeply engaged in interactive sessions to draft players for their fantasy teams. Because the fallout from a technical glitch during these times that customers view as critical can be at best ugly and at worst damaging to a company's reputation and its bottom line.

Discussing the terribly timed Yahoo outage, a fantasy football fan who also happens to write about investments for had this to say:

"Yahoo Inc. (NASDAQ: YHOO) today notified my friends and I that the time we spent last night on our fantasy football draft was wasted because of server problems. Excuse me? How can Yahoo not have enough server capacity to accommodate the scores of fantasy drafts that happened last night? It's not like Yahoo hasn't done this before or that this weekend's start of the football season is a closely guarded secret... People who play fantasy football are desirable to advertisers since they stay on Web sites for long stretches of times while they live out their NFL dreams. That means they are more likely to notice advertisements. As it faces growing competition from Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) and everyone else under the sun, Yahoo can't afford to anger its loyal users particularly for popular features such as fantasy football users."

Many companies might reject this notion of gearing up for these customer-critical times because, they'll say, "we're bullet-proof all the time." Well, I'm sure Yahoo thought it had was up to and probably beyond that level of fitness -- but that won't change the impressions of customers who feel let down, treated badly, and ready to look for alternative suppliers. It's even a promise made explicitly on the Yahoo Fantasy Football home page, where in a big banner across the top of the page, a tagline under the logo says, "We don't drop the ball." And 99% of the time, I'll bet Yahoo is accurate with that claim -- the problem is, that other 1% happened to occur during a time of monumental importance to Yahoo Sports' customers. So the big question is, was that also a time of monumental importance to the Yahoo IT team? And does this situation offer a lesson to all CIOs about the need for becoming powerfully focused on not only traditional mission-critical issues but also the newly ascendant issues that are customer-critical?

Anyone mulling that question should heed these words of the writer quoted above, who also said this:

"[Yahoo] set up a new draft for my league for this evening. I'm not sure my friends and I are going to bother."

(Thanks to my colleague K.C. Jones [] for her work on the original story posted on yesterday.)

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