Designing for Careless Mistakes

Photo by Flickr user griffithchris.Ted’s Valentine’s Day tweet: “Nothing says ‘we value your involvement’ like an email that starts with ‘Dear Name,’ – personalization fail.”

His point: this is not a particularly good way to sustain the support and enthusiasm of your donors.

I think he’s right, but I think there’s also another story worth telling: Setting up a merge with the recipient name but then not actually bringing those names in is such an obvious, careless, predictable mistake. Why would the CRM software allow a user to make this mistake in the first place?

Email clients are often designed to warn you – before they actually send the email – that you used the word “attachment” but didn’t actually attach anything, just in case you meant to. It’s an obvious, predictable error, and the software is designed to pay attention and warn you before you actually make this mistake. Hootsuite (my favorite third party solution for managing twitter feeds) won’t post your tweet until you actually tell it which account you want it posted to. Inadvertently tweeting to the wrong account is an obvious, easy-to-make, and predictable mistake, and HootSuite – by design – helps prevent you from making it.

Sure, there was a user error on that Valentine’s Day email. Somebody screwed up the merge on the ‘name’ field. But some user errors are common and predictable enough that the software ought to help you avoid making them.

A hint to CRM publishers: help me – as a typical user of your product I am tight on a deadline and prone to making careless errors – avoid making really stupid, careless mistakes. If I try to send an email that’s going to end up in everyone’s inbox with a “Dear Name” salutation, please make sure I actually want to do that before you send them.

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