Your customers will eventually encounter an error while using your website or software product. You don’t want that to be the last time they use your product.
The last time I used my accounting software, I encountered a cryptic and unintelligible error message. This message had some English but it didn’t explain much. It did present a series of apparently random letters and numbers.
I searched online for help on the error message and eventually discovered the problem. My software had been de-supported and the feature I wanted to use was no longer available.
This error message was a golden opportunity for the vendor to sell me on an upgrade. However, the experience was far from perfect and I left frustrated, vowing not to upgrade as long as I could help it.
When you show error messages to your customers, you need to follow these two golden rules:
Tell Them What Happened – In Plain English
Your customers don’t speak the same language as the programmers that built your software or website. Your error message should never talk gibberish to the customer. Explain what happened in a clear, concise manner.
When your customers get an error message, they don’t know if it’s because they did something wrong or because the world is ending. Help customers understand the situation and why they got an error message.
Sometimes you can’t tell why an error occurred. In that case you definitely need the next element in place.
Tell Them What to Do Next
Don’t just tell people what happened, tell them what to do about it. Tell them how to proceed. In the case of an error, help them start over or complete the task they were in the middle of when your error so rudely interrupted them.
What is the natural next step your customer would need to take after they got an error? The natural, next step should be what your error message points people towards and helps them do.
Error messages should never be dead ends for your customers. You want their last interaction with you to be positive and leave on a good note.