What to do when your customer’s Office 365 service goes down

Danny Bradbury

Managed Service Providers (MSPs) can often suffer from the worst of both worlds. On the one hand, they have unforgiving customers working under pressure, who demand a robust, highly reliable service. On the other hand, they are often beholden to third-party cloud service suppliers running services that they cannot control. Office 365 is a good example. You don’t get to control its back-end infrastructure, meaning that when it fails, there’s little you can do except wait and pray. 

How can you placate customers experiencing Office 365 email outages? It’s a careful blend of communication and learning from experience.

Clarify

If a customer complains about an email outage, then the first thing to do is assess the extent of the problem. How wide is the outage? Are all your customers affected? Check with Microsoft to see how many of your customers are about to pick up the phone, and while you’re at it try to get some estimate of when the service will be up again. This may not be as easy as you’d like

One way to help get clarification is to build Office 365 monitoring into your remote monitoring portfolio. There are several third-party Office 365 health monitoring services that cater for the gaps in Microsoft’s own communication.

Communicate

The next step is to own the problem. Clear and effective communication is a key responsibility for customers, and because Microsoft’s own communication around Exchange Online and Office 365 outages has often been subpar, it’s up to you to keep your customers briefed. Get the message out there using an alternative communication medium (email may not cut it, for obvious reasons). Ideally, you’ll have your own service dashboard to help communicate problems. Pager or text numbers for your key points of contact are a good communication channel.

Credit

As an MSP, you have some recourse to compensation when Microsoft’s service goes down, but we already know that the company’s system for categorizing downtime leaves it with plenty of room for manoeuvre.  As a proactive MSP eager to serve your customers and give them a rock solid experience, your approach to service level agreements and compensation may have to be more transparent. This could leave you out of pocket if you’re forced to award credit for a service outage or slowdown that you can’t easily claim compensation for when dealing with Microsoft. So what’s the answer?

Create contingencies

The obvious solution is to be proactive by working to prevent and minimize the risk of downtime in the first place. You could rely on an Office 365 monitoring solution and a fast-fingered tech to switch your client’s MX records when disaster strikes, but that’s hardly efficient if you’re dealing with lots of customers. The alternative is to use a secondary service that handles your clients’ email before passing it on to Office 365. This gives you the chance to proactively manage customer email and make it accessible even if Microsoft’s infrastructure goes down. 

The important thing for MSPs is to be proactive about all this. If you can prove yourself to be a responsive service provider paying close attention to your customers’ services, then you stand a better chance of building a loyal base of long-term customers. For MSPs using Office 365, part of that process involves actively managing Microsoft’s service to protect customers from outages when they occur – and they will