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I just returned from a transatlantic trip, where I had the misfortune of being delayed for four hours, while they replaced a valve on the left-wing engine. Wonder how I know (in excruciating detail) exactly what was wrong with the plane? the captain kept us passengers informed.

The principle of giving customers more information, even if they cannot act on it, is sound product practice. Even if I am not able to answer to  “is there an aircraft engineer on the plane” call, I feel comforted that something is happening, and I vaguely can understand what and why.

Imagine replacing generic “error” messages with a little more information, hopefully useful. Just knowing if the problem is with connectivity, internal server state, bad configuration or software bug all have immediate next step actions you can take like calling support and alerting them to the bug, giving relevant information.

Even if you cannot take action upon getting the error message, there are other messages conveyed by giving more information:

  • “We know what we are doing”: we are on top of the situation, we have a probable diagnostic, and we are working to fix this, you are in good hands. Sharing a bit more info allows for instilling confidence in the other side.
  • “We trust you, we are working with you”: We are not isolating you but rather doing the opposite – including you as a viewer to our problem solving process.
  • “There is a deep reason, this is not a triviality”: We are sharing the tech details with you, not to confuse, but to explain. Share these in simple English and be truthful, to gain your customers trust.

I was still unhappy about the delay, but being able to understand the cause relieved a some of the feelings accompanied with waiting.

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