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8/16/2007
09:50 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Skype Dials Up Crisis Management Skills To Soothe Subscribers Over Outage

It's very Web 2.0, the way VoIP powerhouse Skype is attempting to sooth its subscribers over a software glitch, which has left users unable to make calls. Like an old-style corporate behemoth, Skype is in full damage control. The modern twist, though, is that it's being proactive and only slightly defensive as it aggressively reaches out via e-mail and online forums to quell customer concerns.



It's very Web 2.0, the way VoIP powerhouse Skype is attempting to sooth its subscribers over a software glitch, which has left users unable to make calls. Like an old-style corporate behemoth, Skype is in full damage control. The modern twist, though, is that it's being proactive and only slightly defensive as it aggressively reaches out via e-mail and online forums to quell customer concerns.Take this post on Skype's own online forums. It's at the top of a general discussion section of the forum, posted under the signature of Skype admin Raul Liive, and headlined "Problems with Skype login":

"Hello everyone,

Apologies for the delay, but we can now update you on the Skype sign-on issue. As we continue to work hard at resolving the problem, we wanted to dispel some of the concerns that you may have. The Skype system has not crashed or been victim of a cyber attack. We love our customers too much to let that happen. This problem occurred because of a deficiency in an algorithm within Skype networking software. This controls the interaction between the user's own Skype client and the rest of the Skype network.

Rest assured that everyone at Skype is working around the clock -- from Tallinn to Luxembourg to San Jose -- to resume normal service as quickly as possible.

We apologize for any inconvenience."

The post then directs customers to keep apprised of updates on the situation at heartbeat.skype.com. Atop that site is a series of icons indicating the status of various Skype services. At the time of this post (9:30 p.m., Thursday), everything is working fine, according to the icons.

However, that's contradicted by a post immediately below the icons, which reprises the main thrust of Raul Liive's message. "Hello again," writes Villi Aruk of Skype. "Everyone at Skype continues to work hard at resolving the current software issue. We are making good progress. We feel that we are on the right track to bring back services to normal. We thank you for your continued support and are thinking of you every step of the way."

What interesting is how the posts of Liive and Aruk evolved. Clearly, those two Skype employees didn't create them on their own initiative. They came from Skype's executive team, whose first collective thought must have been a desire to get a handle on the seriousness of the problem.

Given that software is apparently at fault, it's quite likely that Skype's engineers couldn't quantify the depth of the trouble, and thus couldn't provide a straight answer.

That likely forced said executive team to a default stance, along the lines of: We've got a problem, we admit it's serious, but it's probably not a really, really big problem. So, yes, dear customers, we do admit that we've got kind of a problem, but in any case we're gonna fix it real soon.

Reverse-engineering how Skype has responded, I can infer that this is pretty much what transpired. Namely, the meme that was replicated in the messages from Liive and Aruk, and from other Skype employees, didn't originate in a vacuum, but from the upper ranks, in a manner I've postulated above.

Indeed, according to a source, the original wording -- "apologies for the delay. . . work[ing] hard at resolving. . . rest assured. . . we apologize for any inconvenience" -- came from an internal e-mail sent throughout the company by Skype CEO Niklas Zennstrom. The missive also encouraged employees who receive "external queries" about the outage to forward them to the Skype PR people.

In summary, you've got to hand it to Skype. While the VoIP business model might be far from perfect these days, the VoIP leader's crisis-management skills are spot-on. Now all they've got to do is get the darn glitch fixed.

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