Recently, an automatic upgrade issued by a major online antivirus company to both its free and paid versions had an unintended effect: It “bricked” (or rendered inoperative) most computers running 64-bit versions of Windows Vista and 7. The public meltdown that followed can serve as a lesson to all email marketers on how to avoid catastrophes of this nature and how to handle them should they occur.

The Fix Is on the Website: How Can You Get It if You Can’t Boot Up?

Countless thousands of users were welcomed by computers stuck in an endlessly inescapable boot-up loop. The company did act fairly swiftly in posting onto its website a series of files that could be used to create an emergency disk and delete the misbehaving updates… but it was unable to answer the question of how a user with a single computer would be able to log onto their website in the first place – since their PC couldn’t boot up to get to the Desktop let alone the Web.

A Sterling Reputation Takes Years to Build and Minutes to Demolish

Many users out of desperation were forced to reinstall their operating system from scratch. It can take upwards of six hours to reinstall Windows Vista and the full suite of applications to restore your computer to its previous condition, and that’s only if you have a current backup of all your important data. Due to this major aggravation, a large part of the antivirus company’s installed base considered that an otherwise sterling reputation, which had taken many years to build up, had been demolished overnight.

What to Do if You’re in Crisis Control Mode

An unexpected and undesirable public debacle of this magnitude can hit any brand at any time, even yours. It could be a mandated recall on a physical product, a safety issue, an unintended content or link in your email newsletters, or even a vandalism/hacker online attack.

Mea Maxima Culpa – Always acknowledge responsibility and don’t ever try to point fingers. The buck stops with you and your customer base will reward your honest testimony with respect.

Apologize Profusely – Not too many years ago, Americans were perplexed by Japanese executives publicly issuing tear-filled apologies. It has now become an expected practice throughout Corporate America, so trot out your CEO and start groveling.

Fix It Fast – Even if you have to pull every single individual in your company off their duties (from the chairman to the janitor) and force them to concentrate on issuing a full fix… do it and do it fast.

Compensate Generously – Consider your customers as injured parties who must be compensated. Don’t get stingy now. Inform freemium customers that they have a full year of Free membership, give away discounts, samples, tchotchkes, anything it takes to make your customers feel like their inconvenience has been adequately redressed.

Don’t Repeat It – “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Even if you have to wipe out your company’s entire dividend for that quarter in order to finance the new procedures you must put in place to avoid a repetition of the fiasco, it is a small price to pay. Your customers will never forgive you the second time around.

Taking Steps Now to Avoid These Paroxysms Is Cheap Insurance

The number of Vista and 7 64-bit installations currently exceeds 45% of all computers running Windows operating systems, so the antivirus company alienated nearly half of its installed base through its lackadaisical upgrade beta testing. Angering half your customers is a scenario you do not want to face, so taking every imaginable step necessary to avoid an occurrence of a train wreck of this magnitude is cheap insurance indeed… and make an emergency PC boot-up disk right now to keep close at hand!