Rogers Communications dropped the ball on communicating about outage, experts say

Telecom giant Rogers Communications Inc. fumbled its corporate communications during Friday’s mass service outage, experts in crisis communications say.

The company’s handling of the coast-to-coast service disruption was “disappointing at best,” and irresponsible at worst, one marketing expert said, given that the system failure impacting customers was predictable and has happened before.

At the height of the outage Friday, Rogers did not appear to communicate to customers the source of the network failure or the impact of it.

“I don’t think their communications on the day or since has in any way acknowledged their understanding that they should have been prepared,” said Kanina Blanchard, assistant professor of management communications and general management at Western University’s Ivey Business School.

David Soberman, a professor of marketing at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, agreed. If the company were taking a university course on customer relations, he said, it likely wouldn’t have passed with the response it offered amid the service outage.

“I don’t think they made any reassuring communications during the problem,” he said, adding the crisis lasting for 16 hours and impacted an essential service.

During that time, the company tweeted from its tech support Twitter account @RogersHelps seven times, but did not appear to acknowledge the cause of the outage while it was occurring.

At worst, communication from the company about the outage borders on irresponsible, Blanchard said. The outage wasn’t just a question of whether or not people could access TV shows, but one which directly impacted “livelihoods and lives,” she said, adding people across the country use Rogers services for everything from money and food to medication and 9 -1-1 calls.

In a statement to the Star by email Monday, Chloe Luciani-Girouard, director of media relations for Rogers, said the company wanted to ensure the network was stable and that understanding what caused the outage took time. As a result, she said, Rogers did not want to share incomplete or inaccurate updates.

“We are entirely focused on re-establishing our networks, identifying the cause of the outage and committing to crediting customers’ accounts. While this work continues, our top priority has been ensuring we provide our customers with accurate information in a timely manner as we work to fully restore service,” Luciani-Girouard said.

In an open letter Saturday, Rogers president and CEO Tony Staffieri apologized to customers for the outage.

In a meeting with the communications industry Monday, Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne told telecom companies to reach agreements within 60 days on emergency roaming, assisting each other during outages and a communication protocol to better inform Canadians and authorities during emergencies.

Staffieri pointed to a network system failure “following a maintenance update in our core network” as the source of Friday’s outage in the open letter. But this explanation is not likely to be reassuring to customers, Soberman said, given that it sounds a lot like the outage that hit the telco’s network 14 months ago.

Customers may wonder if the company learned anything from last year’s service disruption based on its response to this one, Soberman added. “Or, are they just coming up with a reason to explain why they don’t have a reliable system?”

In typical crisis communications, companies should be offering as much new information about what is happening as possible, Blanchard said, continuation that involves running through worst case scenarios to test how to respond in the event it happens.

Silence, she said, is the worst response, as people will begin to speculate. “The anxieties that can create (are) also very damaging,” Blanchard said.

With files from The Canadian Press

Jenna Moon is a Toronto-based business reporter, focused on personal finance and affordability. Follow her on Twitter: @_jennamoon


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