Is your web site a Lisa or a Nelson?Why you should help users recover gracefully from their mistakes

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We all like to talk about how organizations can recover from their own customer service failures: the gadget that won't connect, the handle that snaps off, the delivery that never arrives.

But how about when the customer screws up? How easy do you make it for them to recover lost information, correct a mistake or get out of a dead end?

Put it this way: if the web is like an episode of The Simpsons, is your site more like helpful, compassionate Lisa, or Nelson "Haw, haw" Muntz?

After a pretty Nelsonish user experience, here's what I included this in a customer feedback survey from Rogers Communications.

Their kind Twitter customer service rep, @rogers_kate, helped me resolve an issue where I was trying to update my expired credit card info for my iPad data plan. The interface wouldn't accept my email and password, and offered to send my my forgotten password. It turned out the problem was I was using the wrong email address - but I didn't find that out before wasting a lot of time troubleshooting.

Every person I dealt with was great. But the interface for handling billing info on an iPad is awful.

Telling someone who's just entered the wrong email address for their account that you've sent them a password reset email, when you actually haven't, leads to lots of digging through inboxes, checking spam filters and troubleshooting. If instead the form had said "Incorrect email address - please try again", I'd have saved myself hours - literally - of frustration.

So kudos to your customer service team. And a tsk-tsk-tsk to whoever set up that billing workflow.

I should have added a little wrist-slap for yours truly; the original error was mine. I just had no way of knowing I'd made it. And customers logging in with the wrong email address, when many of us are running around with three or more, is commonplace these days.

From forms like that iPad billing registration that mislead the customer, to email authentication error screens that tell you you've entered the wrong username or password but won't tell you which one , helping your customers emerge gracefully from their own mishaps will make you some friends.

And save @rogers_kate from yet another tweet of distress.



Lloyd Dewolf says

March 16, 2012 - 1:05pm

Don't you go slapping your wrist, not even a little. There is no such thing as user errors!

You bring up painful memories of people arguing that WordPress should have a similar "feature" of security through obscurity not revealing the validity of a username. is one example of this over reoccurring question.

Until the Operating Systems step up, 1Password is the solution for password madness.

Rob Cottingham says

March 16, 2012 - 4:48pm

Thanks for that, Lloyd - and for fighting on the side of the usability angels! And that story's a helpful reminder that excessive focus on security can damage a community, when it comes at the expense of participation.

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