When The Flow Breaks

At Solspace we take responsibility for what we call Web Reliability. The job of most websites is to maintain a reliable flow of customers in, through and out of the site. We specialize in a few technologies that are particularly good at addressing aspects of this reliability problem. We even sell a few plugins for the purpose. One of these, our most popular, is Freeform. We heard a story from a Freeform customer that is likely quite common. We thought we should share it more widely.

Parkland Tree Care in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada has a simple lead gen website that allows customers to find them and learn about their value offering. Like a lot of small businesses, the job of the website is to support a smooth customer flow into, through, and out of the site. The site, developed by zero7, runs on Craft CMS and uses Freeform to handle contact form submissions.

The flow of customers through the site was excellent. Customers were finding the site in a Google search. They were making their way through the sales and information messaging and submitting the contact form to start the appointment process for tree service.

A few weeks after the launch of the new site the flow broke down. All of a sudden the email notifications from the contact form were not arriving in the business owner's inbox. The pipeline of customers flowing into the business was broken. There was a massive leak.

This problem occurred during the busiest season for Parkland Tree Care. Perhaps if it had happened in a slower season, more time might have passed before the business owner noticed the lack of emails. But two weeks went by before the owner started to wonder why no one was reaching out for tree service.

Finally, it was determined that a change in the SMTP settings for the owner's email account was to blame for the broken customer flow. Everything about the website was working fine. Craft was working. Freeform was working. It's just that one link in a long technology chain had broken causing the whole chain to fail.

This type of flow reliability problem is common in web development. Our job as web developers is to create and maintain the most reliable systems possible. Even when we succeed in keeping the systems simple like in the Parkland site, the flow can still fail.

In response to our experiences with website reliability problems such as Parkland encountered, we developed a framework that ensures such problems are avoided. You can learn more about it over here. But in brief, the most important failure of reliability occurred at what we call the monitoring level. The Parkland site had a good team supporting it. The site supported low friction customer flow in, through and out. But the site's flow was not being sufficiently monitored. The breakdown in receiving contact form submissions could have been found early on had a better monitoring system been in place.

We're working on better systems to support site monitoring in the area of customer flow, but for now, we thought it would be good for you to hear this story and think about how your own websites might be affected.