I tried to login to my Gmail email account the other day and was greeted by this error:
The server encountered a temporary error and could not complete your request.
Please try again in 30 seconds.
Oh, no! What happened? Is my email in danger? When will I be able to get my email?
Cryptic error messages can lead your customers down some scary psychological paths. They will imagine the worst case scenario even when the problem is minor.
The next time I tried Gmail, I got a better message:
We’re sorry, but your Gmail account is currently experiencing errors. You won’t be able to log in while these errors last, but don’t worry, your account data and messages are safe. Our engineers are working to resolve this issue.
Please try logging in to your account again in a few minutes.
This message helped eliminate any fear, uncertainty, and doubt with these words: “don’t worry, your account data and messages are safe.”
A simple, yet reassuring message is all it takes keep your customers calm.
If you have a sense of humor, you can combine the practical example above with that of popular photo sharing site Flickr. When catastrophe strikes Flickr, instead of yelling “Server Error,” they proudly proclaim “Flickr is having a massage”.
Whether you are funny or serious, remember three things:
- Reassure your customers that their data is safe
- Set expectations of when everything will be back to normal
- Instruct the customers on what they can do in the interim