The human factor and owning your problems

Yesterday, I attempted to register for Google I/O along with thousands of other people. I got a 500 server error at first, and then had to wait in line 5 times (6 minutes each time) before the long-awaited-for ticket opportunity appeared. Long story short, the transaction didn’t work the first time, and the second time it looked like it worked but the timer still ran out and kicked me back to the main page, and tickets sold out quickly thereafter.

I looked at my Google Wallet and lo-and-behold, there was a transaction for the ticket but I had no confirmation email and no form to actually register for the conference. I emailed the Google I/O support email address for help. About an hour later, the transaction was inexplicably cancelled.

I am not alone in my experience. Plenty of my friends had the same problem and were also left without tickets. And just look around Twitter.

This afternoon (more than 24 hours later) I finally got a response to my email:

Hi Zach,

Tickets for Google I/O 2013 have sold out. We understand that you experienced issues with our registration process. If you weren’t shown the registration form during the registration process, the process did not complete, and we apologize that we are unable to provide you a ticket to this year’s conference.  We see that the charge to your account has already been cancelled.

We hope that you will join us for the live stream of the keynote, top sessions and our special Google Developers Live @ I/O programming.

Watch our Google Developers page for future updates on Google I/O. In the next few days we’ll be posting more on how to join a viewing event with I/O Extended. #io13

Regards,
Google I/O Team

I’m an understanding person. I’m a software developer and I know testing your software for the kind of scale they had yesterday is really, really hard. But the problem I have with the response is that it uses indirect wording.

We understand that you experienced issues with our registration process.

No, I experienced a problem. The word issue downplays the actual problem at hand. Google’s servers and code didn’t handle the demand well and I wasn’t able to register. This is their problem. And furthermore the email says nothing about what they are doing to fix it.

Here’s what I wanted to hear:

Hi Zach,

We’re terribly sorry our registration service didn’t scale well with the demand and that our problems prevented you from being able to register successfully for Google I/O 2013. We’re working to fix these problems to make registration better in the future. We would really like to rectify this and get you a ticket, but unfortunately tickets have already sold out and we can’t fit any more people in the Moscone Center. It looks like the charge to your account has already been cancelled.

Even though we can’t get you a ticket, we hope you will join us for the live stream of the keynote, top sessions and our special Google Developers Live @ I/O programming.

Watch our Google Developers page for future updates on Google I/O. In the next few days we’ll be posting more on how to join a viewing event with I/O Extended. #io13

Once again, we are really sorry our problems prevented us from getting you a ticket.

Regards,
Google I/O Team

See the difference? Doesn’t that feel better?

We’re all human, and we make mistakes. Our stuff isn’t always going to work and other humans understand. Willingly taking the blame for your mistakes and problems makes people feel better about them.  Own your code.

Now I’m not going to say that it was the I/O team’s intention to shift blame with their response. I’m sure they’re nice people. I write this more as an example of how a choice of words can make a difference when talking to your customers.

Disclaimer: I will be interning at Google this summer.

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One response to The human factor and owning your problems

  1. Nice Blog Post Zach! You are absolutely right :)

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