IndustryImpress Them When You Mess Up

writes on February 16, 2011

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I’ve been reminded over and over again lately how important it is to impress people with how you handle it when you’ve given them a bad experience. A lot of times we gloss over the bad parts of the experiences we give our customers and users, very likely because we’d like to completely avoid those bad experiences. Unfortunately, though, bad experiences are pretty much inevitable. You’re going to make a mistake, or there’s going to be a bug in your code, or your server’s going to be overloaded. Something bad is going to happen. Here are a few great examples of doing a great job at picking up the pieces after a bad experience.

Throw a parade

OK, don’t literally throw a parade, but do something completely unexpected and fun. Ryan’s post about Walt Disney really got me thinking about this. It’s boring at Disney before the park opens, so they have a parade. It’s simple and unexpected, and turns a bad experience turns into a great experience. A great way to do this would be to send your user a great gift, like a cake or a t-shirt, along with an apology note. Say you’re sorry in a super creative way. Just keep it unexpected and make sure it’s fun for your user.

Great error pages

I was completely tickled when I came across GitHub’s 404 page. Dropbox’s 404 page isn’t nearly as funny, but is still really interesting. Take time on those error pages, because whether you want them to or not, users will bump into them. A little bit of delight can really smooth over a problem.

Give a refund

The other day we had a bit of video downtime on Think Vitamin Membership that affected a few users. The downtime was short, but we went ahead and contacted the affected users and gave them a credit. I was really surprised to get an email from almost every user that we credited thanking us for being proactive and letting us know that we really didn’t have to give a credit.

There’s an obvious direction that this can be taken that’s completely wrong. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t worry about having problems with your service because you can patch things up with a funny image or a gift. That’s not the point at all. It’s more just that there will be times when you’ll bump into problems, and when you do being creative and proactive can go a long way.

I’d love to know how you impress your users when you mess up. Let us know in the comments.

4 Responses to “Impress Them When You Mess Up”

  1. I love the parralax effect on GitHub’s 404 :)

  2. I think putting time into 404 pages is definitely worth the extra effort, but I recently came across an article over at FastCo that makes a good argument against overly “cute” 404 pages.

  3. Phillip Sheppard, a 52-year-old technology executive, tried to impress everyone on his tribe by telling them he is “a former federal agent” and he is an expert at analyzing people’s behavior. As soon as he said that, I thought he just wrote his ticket …

  4. Cute 404 page. It’s not boring as usual. hehe

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