Empathy & responsibility when communicating issues

I originally posted this here -

I kind of wish Monzo hadn’t apologised in the Status message to be honest. It’s great that you’re giving users a heads up but the apology is going to make some users think that this is another reliability issue that Monzo’s responsible for :grimacing:

(please read the full discussion before responding as my initial point wasn’t as clear as it could have been)

After the topic was closed, the same issue was bought up in the developer’s Slack.

So I thought I’d share the ideas here too, in case anyone else has any suggestions for ways that Monzo can handle this tricky challenge:


this recent issue literally brings me back to the Monzo is down meme I mentioned a few days ago
The wording needs to be changes
it’s either their fault or it isn’t


I agree :wink:

As a customer, I don’t expect Monzo to take responsibility for issues that aren’t their fault. And it’s obviously not good if they do & they get a reputation for being unreliable.
This is obviously unlikely but to make the point - if there was regularly an issue like today’s & they didn’t make it clear that they’re not responsible then pretty soon most people wouldn’t want to use Monzo anymore.


I’d say to all re. this issue - we appreciate the feedback and closely monitor it. If at any point we feel that we are painting ourselves in an unfairly bad light then we would change tack. But it doesn’t seem to be the case right now.


I have long argued that Monzo needs to be clearer about what is and isn’t an issue that’s down to them, and while this update was fairly clear it was offnet, apologising profusely for things that aren’t your responsibility/control makes it seem more like it’s a problem you somehow contributed to. This messaging (because Monzo posts about every single interruption) matters.


I think it’s right we profusely apologise to people who had to abandon whole shopping trolleys. It isn’t an admission of guilt and I think our customers know that.


I don’t think it has to be an admission of guilt, I just thought that tonight’s sounded like one.


“We’re very sorry for any difficulties you experience as a result of this acquirer’s difficulties in processing transactions for our cardholders, we are offering whatever assistance we can to help them clear it.”
Or something
You can still be sorry for the inconvenience whilst also being precise about the nature of the problem. I’ve written status updates for a long time.


It’s a fair view


thank you


The people who coordinate our response will take learning from this I am sure


Perhaps it’s worth making a graphic to show where the fault lies (and who’s responsible for mitigating it)?

E.g. this is what Cloudflare use


Personally I don’t care if it is Monzo’s problem or not. My account is with them and I expect them to apologize for any interuption to service, however caused, and whoever caused it.

If they started rambling about Acquirers or Merchants or electronic point of sale terminal providers or any banky waffle it would look like they were washing their hands of it, despite it impacting card holders. While I may grasp the techie terminology the average customer probably won’t. It would be seen negitively and leave a bitter taste in the mouth.

Simon sums it up well in the discussion Possible Acquirer Outage (29/03/18):


How do you think that will affect their reputation if these issues continue (which they will because issues like this one are out of their control)?

Why do you you expect them to take responsibility for something that they’re not responsible for - either directly or indirectly?

If a bomb threat means that my flight gets cancelled, I don’t expect the airline to take responsibility for me not being able to fly. I do expect them to show empathy for the issues that’s caused & to try to help me resolve them but that’s not the same thing.

I disagree. It’s not always easy to communicate this sort of thing but Phil & Ben have shared some great examples above. Hopefully others can share more in this thread too.

Edit - these are the types of explanations you would give the user -

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I see your point.
However, there needs to be a distinction
between Monzp-specifjc issues and issues that affect all cardholders (this affected all MasterCard transactions at retailers using the affected acquirer), which became clear when I saw a status message from Starling warning of the same issues.

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I personally didn’t see a problem with how it was handled. I expect to see an apology and an explanation, we got that. I didn’t see the apology as an admission of guilt.
People will take their frustrations out on the visible target. In this case it’s Monzo as the person actually to blame is behind the scenes. It’s no different to everyone who got stuck in the snow blaming the police. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t


Hi there,

I was the COps squad captain responsible for coordinating our customer-facing response to the merchant acquirer issue. Given the wider discussion that has emerged about the messages that we post on our status page, I felt that it was important to take accountability for that message and provide you with some context that might better explain why it was phrased in such an apologetic fashion.

At around 19:25, a COp flagged that we were receiving a bunch of messages about failed card payments, but that no declines were visible on our internal ‘transaction explorer’ (this is where we view customer payments). I immediately flagged this with the engineering team, who were not able to identify any errors on our systems. They quickly worked out that this was likely to be an issue with a merchant acquirer (a bank that operates payment terminals on a merchant’s behalf). Through some further investigation (all credit to our brilliant engineering team) we were soon able to confirm that this was the case. However, by 20:10 we could still not be completely sure whether the issue with the merchant acquirer was impacting all/some Mastercard debit cards, or just Monzo cards. Though unlikely, there was a slim possibility that it was specifically the connection between Monzo and the merchant acquirer that was at fault, or that the merchant acquirer had (for some unknown reason) blocked Monzo cards.

This turned out not to be the case, but we don’t think it’s fair to wait until we have discovered the root of a problem to tell our customers about how it might impact them. We just want to alert them to the issue as soon as possible, so that they can plan accordingly. Given the lack of certainty about the specific cause of the issue at the time, it felt appropriate to proactively apologise.

I am inclined to agree, in hindsight, with the argument that saying ‘we cannot apologise enough’ was a little too profuse in this specific set of circumstances. In the moment, however, it is far more important to get a human response out to our customers quickly, than it is to spend an inordinate amount of time rephrasing an apology (we spent long enough discussing how to define a merchant acquirer!).

I do also think, though, that the vast majority of our user base do not particularly care that it was not our fault, or about the impact on our brand that an overzealous apology might have. For context, this is the fourth time in two weeks that I have personally had to create an incident on our status page and deliver a message to our customers advising them of a system issue. I think most customers are likely to be pretty frustrated at seeing four amber alerts on their Monzo account in half as many weeks. I think it’s OK to feel pretty crap about that, and I genuinely cannot apologise enough for the fact that they’ve had to endure it.

We’ve heard your feedback, and will take it into account moving forward, but we stand by the message and would like to put the issue to bed.


Starting that I agree with the majority, a simple apology is clear and appropriate here (and does not have to indicate blame wiki:non-apology apology). To me, “We’re very sorry for any difficulties you experience as a result of this acquirer’s difficulties in processing transactions for our cardholders” just sounds like a fob-off and would piss me off further.

I think it would be too complex to map, or rather of little benefit above the text updates, and as shown above the cause (Monzo/2nd/3rd Party) is not always known straight away. That said, I had a go based on the incidents raised this month. https://imgur.com/a/QBVlm


I completely understand.

Thank you.

I definitely agree with the 2nd point :slight_smile:

Ok so my interpretation of your response is essentially: we wouldn’t put out the same message again, if we knew where the responsibility lay.

In which case I don’t know why I spent the evening debating this with @simonb & @BethS :laughing: that’s all I was hoping to hear.

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Apologies if this has already been covered in the topic.

As a customer, a simple apology for the issue communicates two things to me:

  1. Ownership of the problem Owning an issue by any definition doesn’t put you in the blame spot, it just gives them a single point of contact. Something customers appreciate rather than being referred from pillar to post to a brick wall or worse being left without an explanation or anyone accountable.

  2. Empathy As @simonb already said empathy let’s the customer know that the problem is a concern of theirs rather than being cold hearted or deliberately ignorant of our problem, Monzo shared the collective distress of their customers last night. When you’re in distress it’s only natural to investigate to want to know how to resolve it or who to talk to.

I also see where @alexs is coming from as he evidenced people were wrongly pointing the finger at Monzo. That’s only natural though because when something goes wrong and you find that you can point blame at someone else, a lot of people tend to exactly that :roll_eyes:

As a counterpoint though how would you expect people to react if Monzo hadn’t apologised?

In the end, it was handled exactly as I expect from Monzo, professionally, empathetically and with every new update a clear explanation of the issue. So really the apology was appreciated.


Yes it wouldn’t be appropriate / possible every time & isn’t the silver bullet because not everyone would see it. But I think your diagram for yesterday’s issue does exactly what it needs to :boom:

Thanks Calum, brilliantly worded!


there will be some people doing that however Monzo word their messages


I think this is an excellent idea ( a graphic), and monzo should seriously consider it. If cloudflare can do it (also a very complex domain), I think Monzo can too.

Having a clear indication of where issues are (once you know) would be helpful in many ways - for end users to reassure them it’s not just you most of the time, for monzo to pinpoint common locations of failure (in theory you keep track already probably, but having a public status indicator makes it much more likely you will), and to educate your customers about all the moving parts in the banking process. If you’re going to communicate in real time about outages, you need to make it as clear as you can where the problems lie on your status page, and link to that in each communication, otherwise you just earn a reputation as the bank which is saying sorry for being down all the time (because you don’t keep quiet about it, but others do).

I’d like to say thanks for the open empathetic tone, and complete openness about all your processes and any failures, this is much appreciated by your customers, even if it does open you to a lot more public discussion/criticism of how you’re doing your jobs - I really appreciate this difference in attitude at Monzo, it’s a huge plus for customers and most unusual in a bank. So thanks for responding here Calum, much appreciated.


The main differential I find is that Fintech banks are quick to response to their user base as an when things go wrong, this puts them above legacy banks on a customer service level and I am truly grateful for being kept in the loop… however… for me the main issue is the frequency of the problems…

No one’s questioning that. The question is whether it’s possible to reduce the number of users that blame Monzo for issues that’re out of their control, which leads to people being put off using Monzo. As the posts in this topic show, I believe it is.

I think I’ve lost track of the point that’s being made here.

Have we agreed that Monzo should (in some form) be apologetic but that banking systems are complicated?

Yesterday’s thread descended into semantics and I worry this one will too - and we’ll never be able to prove or measure the precise impact of vocabulary choice (unless anyone wants to A/B test it next time?!) - so we run the risk of folk pushing to try to win an argument that is (in my view) inherently unwinnable.

I suggest we thank Monzo peeps for getting to the bottom of the issue and for being open about it - but agree to disagree on the choice of precise words used for communications.



Personally I don’t think there’s a big risk of this but we won’t know until it happens :slightly_smiling_face:

I’m not suggesting we try to agree on exactly what they should have said yesterday.

I don’t know, I find the Cloudflare graphic pretty useless, and it’s simple and I’m technically-minded. All it shows me is that the site is down, which I would know without a graphic. It doesn’t give me any insight as to why or when I should expect it to be back up. For me, the Cloudflare graphic is indistinguishable from Safari’s message about a server not responding.


Hmm in my opinion it serves a purpose because it shows where the issue is - not with Cloudflare. Whereas most people don’t know what a server is & whether that’s an issue related to Safari or not :grimacing:

I agree that it’d be nice to display some more useful info alongside Cloudflare’s graphic :slight_smile:

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Many, many more people know what a server is than those who know (or understand) what Cloudflare is.

From my perspective, I don’t care what the issue is. I want to visit a site and it’s down. It’s clearly useful info for those trying to debug the problem, but not for the average visitor.