Don't Wait Until There's a Problem
For some, $300 is a drop in the bucket. For me, it went 120-feet down... to my well pump. While it's possible the pipe connected to the pump-which pumps water from below ground to a tank that's used to feed water to our house-simply burst on it's own, I can't help to think that I caused the issue myself.
The problem started a month earlier, when, on a busy work day, we had no water. The aerator (the big tank that holds well water before it runs through a softener and into the house) was nearly empty. I'm not completely ignorant of how the system works, and my first guess was to check the switch that signals the pump to start pumping water up. Two of the contacts were corroded, and we filed them clean. Voila! Water flows again.
Three weeks later, it happens again. This time we determine that the switch needs to be replaced. Fortunately, they're only about $15, and replacement is quite simple. When it didn't solve the problem and I couldn't get any pressure to build in the aerator tank, we called in pros.
After two days without water, we learned that the new switch was working. In fact, the old one was "somewhat" doing the job--it had gotten stuck in the "on" position, and thus, 120 feet down, the pump was on continuously. So much pressure had built, the pipe broke and water was simply being pumped right back into the ground. It was a costly situation
What's all this have to do with an online store? Quite a bit, actually. Many emergency calls are in reference to a problem during checkout. Yet, more often than not, the store owner (or other rep) hasn't placed a test order. I always ask when the last test order was placed, and many times the response is "never" or "when we first set it up". This ultra-important missed step alone causes wasted time and money.
Standard maintenance is as much a requirement for online stores and web sites as it is with our homes, cars, computers and gadgets. Waiting until a problem occurs often increases the costs of repair, and lack of testing and maintenance shortens the lifespan of products we use.
If you haven't done so recently (or never have), take some time to test your store--shop around and definitely place a complete test order. When customers call with issues, test them yourself to quickly determine if it is a user error, lack of guidance or an actual problem with the functionality of the site. If there is required maintenance for the software you use, make sure you are aware of the procedure, or make sure whomever's responsible is doing their part.
Now, one could argue that my ignorance didn't cause the well problem at all. We'll never know. But I can say this: I now have marked on my monthly calendar, for the first weekend of each month, to check the switches for any rust, corrosion, leaking or sticking. And, yes, I really need to flush out the hot water heater to help ease the wear and tear on the elements. If only I could stop procrastinating...
Louis Camassa says:
Great article, and a creative analogy! While it may be hard to automate the monitoring of your water pump devices, you can certainly automate the monitoring of your website.
For example, webmetrics.com has an array of monitoring services that will send you email/text alert when your website is down and/or loading slowly. They have advanced options for application and transaction monitoring as well. I’ve been using their service for over a year now, and wholeheartedly recommend them. Their platform is easy to use, powerful, and extremely accurate.
Every 6 months or so I would recommend checking your website in the latest browsers (IE, FireFox, Chrome, Safari, etc…). You can use browsercam.com for that.
While nothing can substitute manual user testing, you can save some time with automating many monitoring processes!
Pamela Hazelton says:
Louis - all good points. Automation is a great way to keep the engine running clean and also be alerted when something is wrong.
I still recommend "human" checking, atop of any third-party systems. There's some things no machine can tell you - like how a product image actually appears on the screen.
Another great tool is Google Webmaster Tools - check it weekly to see missing tags, dead links and more.