Helping customers respond to errors


Yesterday, I needed to make a purchase from a site that I’ve been doing business with for years. I added the products to my cart, proceeded through checkout, and submitted the order. Then things went south. The site generated a cryptic error code, and asked me to call customer service for help.

I dutifully followed the instructions, and waited on hold for about ten minutes. Once the customer service rep picked up, he immediately found the issue: the credit card was declined. It turns out they had an old card on file, so I replaced the card in my account with the new one, and the transaction went through fine.

So what’s the problem? Well, I had to spend ten minutes on the phone to deciper an error code that clearly meant the credit card transaction failed. The site should have just said “We had a problem processing your card. Please check the card number and expiration date and try again”. This would save time and money for them, and make things much easier on customers.

The moral here goes something like this: if you have information on why a problem occurred, then tell the user about it. Don’t make them call you to figure out what the code means. Even if you have to give three or five or ten possible causes and solutions for a given error code, you’re at least providing customers with a way to resolve the issue quickly — on their own terms.