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God Protect Us From Amateurs!

The buck stops with the CEO

December 4, 2012 By Denny Hatch
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At 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, I sat down at the computer and received the following message from Yahoo!:

SCHEDULED MAINTENANCE
We are undertaking some essential, but extensive maintenance to improve Yahoo! Mail. During the maintenance period, some users may experience problems accessing Yahoo! Mail. We sincerely apologize for this inconvenience. Your account is in great shape and we are working to have it available again as quickly as possible. —Yahoo! Mail Team

I could not access my email.

Site Maintenance: The Right Way to Schedule It
The 2001 Target Marketing Direct Marketer of the Year was Jan Brandt, who went to work as marketing director for a ricky-ticky little start-up called AOL when it was in a cat fight with CompuServe and Prodigy. Brandt single-handedly masterminded AOL's rise to become a corporate behemoth so vast and so stinking rich that it bought Time Warner (in what turned out to be the worst M&A in the history world business).

When AOL was tiny and struggling, Brandt's life for three crazed years was a series of 7-day-a-week solo all-nighters. From my cover story:

AOL's peak times were at night. If 3,000 members were online at the same time-which was a common occurrence-the system was taxed to the limit.

Marketing reports could not be run until 3 a.m., because until that hour all hardware was employed servicing members. Brandt used to go home, walk the dog, eat dinner and fall asleep in front of the TV. Her wake-up alarm was the theme music from reruns of "Law & Order" at 3 a.m. She would groggily boot up her computer to look at the most up-to-date membership report—the flash counts of members, revenue in and cancellations. Every night for three years she lived in fear of the entire house of floppies collapsing. But the members inexorably kept rolling in. Since Brandt worked all day and [AOL's Director of Operations Matt] Korn worked all night, their basic communications were via instant messaging during the wee hours of the morning. Her life was sheer madness.

Brandt—a seasoned professional trained in the art and science of direct marketing and customer care—was in tune with her customers. She knew that large chunks of her constituency are either early birds or night owls. The only time she dared to fiddle around with housekeeping chores on the AOL website was between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. Eastern Time (midnight to 3 a.m. Pacific Time). The minimum number of users was inconvenienced.

 
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