Each day I travel at least 3 hours in train through Switzerland. This means that sometimes, even with the Swiss precision, my train is late. The Swiss railways uses a simple trick to give sense to that frustrating experience. A few years ago they just announced to the travelers «We will arrive with a delay of 5 minutes». Today they always use a sentence like the following. «Our train will have a delay of 5 minutes because it had to wait for another train». The mere fact of explaining why things happen helps the traveler be less frustrated. Before the company introduced these types of explanations you got frustrated about the company. Today as a traveler I get frustrated about the situation. I understand that sometimes my train is late because it’s the fault of someone else. I understand that my train is late because it waited for a travelers in transit. And at least this is a good think for someone.
The example of the Swiss railway company helps us to plan the following rule.
«Always explain why a problem happens. Give meaning to the situation.»
On the web, we see a lot of error pages which apologies to the user. They say: «Sorry something went wrong». It’s great to apologize. But it would be even stronger if we gave sense to that frustrating moment. Don’t make it complicated with technical information like the code of the error. Nobody cares about the code of the error. But as a user, I’m asking myself what just happened. Just tell me that. In a simple straight forward manner.