Saturday, February 23, 2008

Errant Error Explanations

You are on an airline’s Web site, one where you’ve registered before. You want to log in, and it asks you for your email address. You enter the email address, but the site says, “Invalid email address.”

You look at the email address. It is correct. You try again. “Invalid email address.”

At a recent conference I attended, a speaker told this story from the airline’s point of view. The engineer responsible wrote the code to look up the email address provided. Anything other than a match returned “Invalid email address” because, from the engineer’s perspective, that’s what it was.

However, a significant number of people were entering valid email addresses, just not the ones they registered with. Many people got stuck there, thinking the site was somehow telling them they didn’t know their own email addresses.

Having discovered the problem, the airline did two things:

  • Changed the error message to something like, “We don’t recognize that email address. Did you type it correctly, or could you have registered with a different email address?”
  • Reviewed all other error messages on the site with customer-facing professionals.

The lesson: What happens when things go wrong needs as much consideration as what happens when things go right.

No comments:

Post a Comment