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Why error messaging IS customer service (and how Square is learning this the hard way)

Customer service involves a lot of answering reasonable questions and getting legitimate bugs fixed by the engineering team. That won’t change; bug-free products are about as common as flying porcupines.

But there’s a whole realm of problems and questions that are not actually bugs – they’re just the result of bad product messaging. And these items are draining time, money, and customers.

Want an example? Apparently a bunch of Square users currently think that the mobile payment service is “down”. It’s not. But the error message they’re getting is so vague, they assume it is:

Square error message

This is a perfect example of a false customer service issue created by product messaging. One that could seriously deter customers from using the product. One that is costing money to respond to in their support queue. And one that could be avoided.

How does a company avoid these issues?

Little details can easily slip through the cracks, so the best way to fight them is multiple points of review. The UX folks on your Product team should always be designing for error situations as well as a properly-working product. QA should certainly be testing all potential error situations and catching anything odd.

But frankly, customer service has the strongest opportunity to make a better product. They need to get to the root of these problems when they hit the support queue. Anecdotally or through analytics (we have some, if you’d like to check them out), you need to catch problem areas and dig into the WHY. Why are people saying our app is down? Oh, the error message is unclear. Why do people send 2x more tickets about the photo uploader? Oh, the buttons are badly labeled.

helpdesk report

“‘I couldn’t figure out how to ______’ is a clear sign of bad messaging,” says Ted Choper, Head of Customer Support here at UserVoice. “Looking for areas causing confusion or vague tickets (‘Feature x isn’t working’) is a great way to find messaging or UI that can be improved.”

Additionally, a major step of any support ticket is to try to reproduce the problem – that’s a great opportunity to spot any sub-par messaging.

Make this a part of your company process and you’ll avoid wasting money answering issues (and potentially losing customers) over something that is 100% solvable. And more money = more ice cream sandwiches.