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FutureNow Article
Thursday, Sep. 1, 2005

Honey v. Vinegar

By The Grok
September 1st, 2005

Error messages that avoid blaming your visitors reinforce your customer focus

My neighbor to the right shakes his head and informs me, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” He does this whenever the topic of my neighbor to the left comes up in conversation – it’s his way of saying my neighbor to the left is lacking in the interpersonal communication skills department.Far too many Web sites serve up a nasty dose of vinegar when it comes to the language of error messages: “Somewhere in the transition from offline to on-, we lost the mantra, “The customer is always right.” Online, most Web sites treat users as if they’re always wrong. At least, the error messages on Web sites make it seem so.”1

Frankly, I don’t think customers are always right. But, as they are in control here, I absolutely believe you have to give them the appearance of being right. Call me a short, green Machiavelli if you will, but in this case, I’m one hundred percent behind the idea that the ends justify the means. Swallowing the blame for those times when things go wrong – at the very least, finding a way to deflect blame from your visitor – eases the persuasive process and goes a long way to improving your image.

It goes like this …

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