Saying You’re Sorry: How To Handle Really, Really Big User Experience Issues

User experience isn’t just a one time thing — everytime you use an application or website, they get to know the brand for better or for worse. Bad customer service can also affect user experience.

When something really bad happens (say, your site goes down for hours or days like eBay, Amazon, and MySpace have all experienced), there are three simple rules to follow.

Say you’re sorry

The last thing a customer wants to hear is that it isn’t your fault, especially when it is. Google, one of the largest email providers in the world, had issues with Gmail the other day — and said they were sorry. Like it or not, email for many of us is a very personal experience, and the Gmail Product team acknowledged that.

I had an issue with United Airlines (and Expedia) over a mis-booked ticket. United did a really good job making my life easier and rebooking the ticket so there wasn’t an issue.

Say it in public

Some companies are completely open about some of the issues they are having. Dreamhost had a billing issue earlier this year, and they posted about what happened, and how they were going to fix it. Because of their honesty and candor, I personally like them as one of the better companies out there (and so do many of their companies). Their blog is amazing for company news, and that makes me a happy customer.

MySpace does it all the time. We all know it’s not the most stable platform, but it’s gotten much better over the last few years, and even when there are issues, they publish notices notifying users about the issues with the system, and that it will be fixed soon. MySpace is a bit different because of the informal nature of how they speak to their audience, but they do speak to their audience in language their audience understands, and not some obscure error message.

Say how you’re going to fix it

What Google didn’t do very well was explain what the issue was, which is ironic, because many of the Google users are very technically savvy, and know when they’re being given a line, or something else is being used as an excuse.

All end users want is to be told, “this is how we’re going to make your life easier.” They don’t want excuses of how the weather affected their flight, or why their credit card number was being resold to Indonesians and Romanians. They just don’t want to happen again. You might not be able to prevent it again, but you can take steps to lessen the chance.

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