When we think of Chat app errors, some of us may think of HAL 9000's infamous error message from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey: "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that." Entertaining cinema; frustrating Chat app interaction. Instead, HAL should have responded with an actionable error message.
An actionable error message tells the user how to proceed towards their goal; hopefully without encountering another error, like a missing space helmet.
Error message structure
An actionable error message is structured like this:
- What went wrong. Saying why the Chat app can't complete a request helps the user resolve the issue. Explaining why an error occurred builds trust.
- How the user can proceed toward their goal. It's never enough to just say what went wrong. Tell users how they can move past the error and complete their goal.
- How to get help. If the user is still stuck, tell them how they can get more help. This could be a
/helpcommand or a link to documentation for your Chat app.
Example error messages
Let's look at some example error messages. Each of these error messages is written as an actionable error and as an inactionable error.
Example error message: incorrect date format
The user entered a date format incorrectly. They wrote
November 19, 2021, but the app expects
Here's an actionable and an inactionable version of the error message that the app responds with:
The app responds with a good, actionable error message:
I don't recognize the date format you entered. Write dates as
yyyy-mm-dd, for example:
2000-01-31. For help, type
This error message is actionable because it:
- Says what went wrong. The app doesn't recognize the date format.
- Explains how to fix the error by telling the user the expected date format. Because the date format is technical, so the app gives an example date that helps people understand what to write.
- Offers more help with a
/helpcommand. If users are still stuck, they know how to learn more.
The app responds with an unhelpful, inactionable error message:
Enter the correct date format.
This error message is inactionable because it doesn't:
- Say that it did not schedule the meeting. The user might be hesitant to re-schedule the meeting, or they might assume that the meeting was scheduled.
- Tell users how to format the date. Instead of assuming that users know how to format the date, it should say that it's expecting the date format
- Offer more help. When users are stuck and don't know how to proceed, they might stop messaging the app.
Now think about your error messages. Are they actionable? If a user who had never worked with Chat apps before reads your error messages, can they proceed and achieve their goal?
Try it out
Now that you know how to write actionable errors, can you identify which of these errors is actionable?
Scheduler app creates calendar events when users message the app with the keyword
schedule. In order to create a calendar event, Scheduler requires user authentication. If a user hasn't authenticated, then the Scheduler app responds with an error message.
/login. To learn more, type
- What went wrong: the app requires authentication.
- How to proceed: type
- How to get help: if the user wants more information, they can type