Sony has been going through a very difficult time lately. The fallout from the hacker attack which impacted around 100 million consumers will have long lasting repercussions that could hurt the company’s most valuable asset: its brand. An alliance of powerful hackers known as Anonymous were able to infiltrate the PlayStation network on multiple occasions and stole sensitive information regarding its online customers.
For Sony, the problem occurred on a massive scale because the nature of the game console requires an active connection to the network for the activation and use of games. When they became aware of the problem, they were forced to shut down their network for weeks, freezing game use and new game sales. When the company attempted to bring parts of the network back online, the hackers struck again, proving that the original problem had not been properly corrected.
While much has been written about the technical issues surrounding this massive data breach, there are important business lessons that small business owners can take away from this fiasco if faced with a similar situation.
1. Don’t let your customers find out from anybody else but you
A huge error on Sony’s part was not coming clean and informing their customers immediately about the breach. News of the attack spread virally as users informed one another via Twitter, Facebook, gaming message boards and other media. The news travelled internationally at an amazing pace. Only after millions of consumers learned about the problem and the media was covering the situation did Sony admit to it. Nothing is worse than having your personal information compromised—except if you are not told about it after it happens. This immediately damages the trust that consumers placed with Sony’s brand.
2. Don’t say the problem is fixed until it’s fixed
Making matters worse was the fact that after the problem was supposedly fixed additional attacks took place and proved successful. This once again hurt Sony’s credibility. If your company experiences a problem that requires repairs to be made then don’t communicate a resolution to customers until you are absolutely certain that the problem truly is corrected. One mistake can be forgiven. But two mistakes? That’s the point where forgiveness becomes a stretch.
3. Find the right people to fix the problem and don’t underestimate the problem
Sony was attacked by hackers who were protesting the company’s refusal to open their software for modification. These are highly talented programmers who don’t follow typical societal conventions when it comes to sharing their talents. While it’s certain that Sony has many talented people on its staff, company management may have underestimated the level of expertise of the assailants. If this is the case, then they should have considered working with hackers to fix the vulnerabilities that led to multiple breaches. Hackers can be hired. They know how other hackers think and what strategies they deploy to achieve their goals. These are the people that can help.
4. Offer your customer something meaningful for their trouble
While the crisis is not yet over as of this writing, once resolved, it will be time for the company to show remorse. Beyond an apology, the company needs to provide something of material value. Perhaps a free month’s subscription or access to a new game earlier than expected would be appropriate. The monetary value of the “makeup gift” isn’t important—the perceived attempt to make restitution to customers is what truly counts.