Mobile meltdown: How Three bungled its outage response

Customers unable to make or receive calls and texts or access the internet.

Users taking to social media to express their anger and a raft of negative headlines.

It is fair to say that Three suffered a major mobile meltdown last week, plunging it into crisis media management territory.

The problems started late on Wednesday (16/10) and for some continued well into Friday afternoon.

To make matters worse, those who turned to its website for information about the outage found that it was similarly out of action.

Here’s what the media made of the incident:   

Three network crash affects millions in UKGuardian

Three UK customers left without data or signal after network failure Sky News

Three network down leaving thousands unable to make calls or use data Metro

Three down – mobile network completely stops working in the UKUK Independent


So, how did Three manage the incident.?



What instantly stood out about this particular incident is how long it took for Three to respond and acknowledge the issues.

Complaints about the service started at around 11.30pm on Wednesday and the company didn’t confirm there were any issues until almost 9am on Thursday.

That is way too long, even bearing in mind the awkward timing of the outage.

A key rule of crisis media management is that brands need to be able to respond quickly to incidents outside of normal working hours if they are going to control the story and keep customers informed.

In a 24-hour society, you cannot afford to wait for office hours.



Three put the cause of the problems down to ‘technical difficulties’.

Quite what that means is anyone’s guess. Maybe it is being intentionally vague because of market sensitivities.

But if I was a customer, I would want more of an explanation as to why I was unable to use a service I am paying for.

The approach taken by Three lacks the transparency and urgency brands should strive for in a crisis media management response.

In an incident like this, customers want to know what went wrong, when it will be fixed and what action will be taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again.



Using humour in a crisis response is a risky strategy and needs to be carefully considered.

KFC used it well when it ran out of chicken last year, and Three tried to use it on social media during this incident.

Responding to a tweet from 02 about its 5g network, Three said: “Oi, did you unplug our network so you could plug in your 5G? not cool guys, that’s power socket etiquette 101.”

If that was designed to make its customers smile, it seemed to miss the mark.

Sure, the social media team is not going to be able to fix the problem any sooner, but larking about does not necessarily create the impression the brand is doing everything possible to tackle the problem.


Social media

One thing you can say about Three’s response to customers complaining and commenting on social media was that it certainly didn’t sound robotic.

Often brands who try to respond to everyone who has posted about an incident adopt a copy and paste strategy.

Not here. Three’s social media team seemed to have been given free rein on their responses to customers, often using memes and attempting humour. 

When one customer asked what they were paying £50 a month for, the company replied: “show us a network that hasn’t had a similar issue.”


Again, I’m not convinced by the light approach taken to the incident, but it is refreshing to see brands move away from overuse of ctrl c + ctrl v.


Visible leadership

The boss doesn’t always need to lead an organisation’s response when it is in the firing line. But a CEO using their personal social media accounts to share timely updates and their own thoughts can help show they are on top of an issue and are actively involved in trying to resolve it.

Look at how Mark Evans, the chief executive of 02, used his Twitter account to reassure customers his company was ‘doing everything possible it can’ to fix the 4g outage it suffered in December.


Now ask yourself which company you think took these issues more seriously.


*Download our FREE eBook to find out more about planning for a crisis. It includes a checklist to helping you identify the right spokesperson, messaging templates and a risk register to help you identify your organisation’s vulnerabilities.



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