Failing Correctly

the Twitter fail whale error message.

Today’s post is about a great example of how you can fail and leave users feeling good about you.  I signed up for a new web service after I read about it on a tech blog. I won’t tell you the name but in short it’s something that syncs all of your contact information together in one place. When you have as many “places” as I do, and the accompanying contacts, this is a great thing to have. If it worked. And it didn’t. But here’s why I’m OK about that.
As soon as I set up my account I asked the system to do its thing. It became obvious after a few minutes that it was hung up. I guess the tech blog did a great job in publicizing the service since it was serving even basic web pages very slowly. It couldn’t keep up with demand. Sort of like a certain fail whale we’ve all seen.  I tried again – no luck.
I tried the service a few hours later but the same issues arose. However, there was now a very visible banner across the top of the synch page that said something to the effect of “we know we’re having problems and we’re aware the slowness is frustrating. We apologize and are doing everything we can to fix it. Please bear with us.”  Fabulous communication – admit the problem, explain what you’re doing, and apologize. 3 for 3!  But they went even further as the situation took longer.

This morning there was an email from them:

We are terribly sorry for the slowness of (name of service) the past 24 hours. We’ve had an incredible amount of new user sign ups and we’ve been working around the clock to keep up with demand.

We’ll let you know when everything is back to normal.

If you have any questions in the meantime, please contact us at

Yes!  Proactively, they apologized again and said they’d reach out when the problem was fixed (a not-too-subtle way of saying stay off the site until we can fix it).  This is a textbook example of how to fail completely (the service didn’t work) and make users feel good about you (I’m not canceling anything and am willing to give them a chance to fix it).

Is this how you handle problems when they occur?  Shouldn’t it be?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Helpful Hints

3 responses to “Failing Correctly

  1. Radar

    I want to know the service…I have too many places for my contacts. Sounds like great customer service so far….hope the actual service is good.

  2. Ha, I do exactly the same thing for our internal content management system being used by 300+ users when things go wrong, and it’ll eventually grow to be used by thousands of employees. I made the suggestion of adding a notification area at the top of the user interface long ago, and finally got it implemented when resource was warranted.

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