What to Do When Your Website Is Down: How Airbnb Responded

As a regular Airbnb user, I always book a place to stay using their site. I stay in Airbnb places more than I stay in hotels. It’s more cost effective and sometimes the places are even nicer with more space. So I was perplexed when I went to book a last minute reservation this Sunday for a trip to Atlanta and I kept receiving an error message on their website.  Airbnb was not working?!

Airbnb on average has 800,000 people booking a reservation through their site every night, according to an article released this year from ReCode. Airbnb makes money by charging guest a 6-12% service fee for every reservation and they charge hosts a 3% service fee every time someone books their place. So taking a conservative guess that rooms are on average $100 per night, Airbnb makes at least an average of $7.2Million dollars a day. So they can lose $300,000 for every hour their website is down. $300,000 an hour!!! As a software entrepreneur myself, I quickly moved passed frustration of not being able to book my room to fascination on how Airbnb is handling this situation. Through personal experience, observation and calling Airbnb’s customer service, here are a few tips on what to do when your website is down using Airbnb’s response as an example.

Developers Needed ASAP

You clearly need your developers to figure out immediately what the issue is with the site and software, so you should have an outlined plan in your employee handbook or contractors’ contract when developers need to respond to an issue immediately based on the type of problem. You should also have your software and code backed up and testing measures in place to help identify the area of your code that is buggy. This way you can identify and fix the problem much more quickly.


Training people how to respond to a crisis before it happens is crucial. When the website is down and the software is not acting properly, management, developers, account managers, customer service, and marketing/public relations have to be ready to respond quickly internally and externally. Even before a problem occurs, you should write in a plan “If This, Then That” scenarios that outlines how each team member should respond in both good and bad situations.

Manage Customers’ Expectations

Airbnb customer services representatives used the under-promise and over-deliver method. When I called Airbnb to try to make a reservation over the phone when it was clear the website was not working, the automated voice told me the wait time was 15 minutes. Within 2-3 minutes a representative came on the line to help me. This was a pleasant surprise and already put my mindset in a better mood for the conversation because I didn’t have to wait as long as I expected. The woman listened to my issue and was very pleasant (even though I’m sure they were being flooded with incoming calls). She mentioned that they are aware of the problem and are working to fix it. As I explained that I needed a room for the next day, so was wondering if there was any way to get a hold of a specific person, she went through in detail why they could not access that information currently to complete that transaction with the system down. I felt satisfied with the response because I completely understood why it was not possible to handle any bookings at the moment. She mentioned the system would be back up running in a few hours, but when I checked the website one hour later it was working again. Once again, because I was expecting to have to wait hours and did not, Airbnb soothed my anxiety and made me feel better about not having to wait so long. I’ve discussed previously how to find your ideal customer, but this type of customer service helps you to retain them.

Because of how Airbnb handled their website being down, they were able to avoid major international backlash and most media attention. They put processes in place to handle serious problems, executed the plan, and communicated and treated their customers with compassion and dignity. Having this strategy in place also looks good to investors when you are looking for funding. We all know technology is great, when it works. And the reality is that it will not always work properly. However, with proper planning, preparation, and response, you can be ready to handle the inevitable website malfunction.