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Get with the disruptive app design, granddad: meaningless errors are cool


Something for the Weekend, Sir? An error has occurred… Of course it did – I'm in a hurry and the login is sensing my urgency. Big mistake. Let's try again, more casually. An error has occurred…

So it doesn't like my casual manner. How else could I type my credentials into the login screen to fool the remote computer into letting me view my own data? I try typing them r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y. An error has occurred… I try elaborately. An error has occurred… I try viciously, nonchalantly, softly, insistently, accidentally, musically, and a variety of other adverbs. An error has occurred…

Hmm, it might not be the manner in which I am tapping the keys after all. Perhaps an error really has, well, occurred. The one thing I do know is that my login name and password are correct. It looks like I shall have to contact customer support.

Another big mistake.

The only interface to the system I am failing to log into is a smartphone app with no obvious means of obtaining assistance. This is because it is disruptive. The market was stagnant with web applications that actually worked so someone's disrupted it with one that doesn't. Nor was its $15m of investment capital enough to cover the cost of including a "contact us" href on the app's login screen.

What it does have is an FAQ which comprises exactly 12 questions nobody would ask. I know this is very common these days but in the spirit of disruption they really should start calling it a QNA.

The top item in this QNA, for example, assumes that users experiencing trouble with the smartphone app will tap a button on the smartphone app's home screen that will take them to instructions on how to install the smartphone app. Still having trouble getting this useless heap of disruptive turdpile to work? Go to QNA item number two, which explains how you can buy a premium subscription.

At the bottom of the cascading list of cumulative idiocies, QNA item number 12 reads Further questions? Click [sic] here. Tapping the link reloads the QNA I am already looking at.

I go back to the login screen to look for clues and notice the words "Privacy Policy" in 0.2pt text at the bottom. After the 17th attempt I successfully tap on the microscopically thin link, which fires up my device's default web browser and shows me some sort of four-billion-word legal proviso. Scrolling down the first few hundred screenfuls does not reveal any mention of customer support but then a chatbot unexpectedly pops up asking if I need assistance. At last!

Big mistake.

Your smartphone app is giving me an error, I type. Help, please. The chat bot replies: To find out how to install our smartphone app, click here.

I try again. I have already installed the app and have been using it for a week, I tell them. This morning it is reporting an error at login. I need to contact customer support. The chat bot replies: It looks like you are trying to buy a premium subscription. Click here for the latest deals.

Oh well, back to the app's login screen – which has now frozen. Quitting and relaunching the app reopens its home screen, which I notice for the first time has an "About" button. I must have subconsciously ignored it because the "About" screen in a disruptive app typically informs me what app I am using. This one doesn't; it tells me what smartphone I am using. And my Android version, UUID, screen size, connection type, favourite colour, political affiliations, inside leg measurement, and a date stamp of the last time I had a really good cry.

Yet lo and behold, down at the bottom I can see the company name, displayed in familiar blue underscore. I tap on it and seconds later find myself typing an email to customer support.

The response is refreshingly swift.

This request has been closed. If you wish to reopen it, just reply to this email.

I reply, expressing my admiration for their pre-emptive approach in closing my request without bothering to answer it but insist that I need assistance with an error in its app. Again, a response pops into my inbox within minutes.

Which app are you using? If you need help with the skyscraper construction unit, please click here. If you need help with the global pet grooming division, please click here. This request has been closed. If you wish to reopen it, just reply to this email.

I refrain from telling them that the app I am using is the one that directed me to this customer support email in the first place and that it is not beyond the ingenuity of humankind for such information to be logged automatically with the initial support request – in the pre-disruptive era, at least. Instead, I gently instruct them what their own app is called and report the error message I have been getting.

Thank you for specifying the app. We need more detail on the error message you are seeing. This request has been closed. If you wish to reopen it, just reply to this email.

I apologise that it is not possible for me to give the full error message as it flashes on screen in tiny red text for just a split second. I can see it begins "An error has occurred…" but don't have time to read what follows. I also ask them to stop closing my support request.

Thank you for the information. Please confirm the email address you are using to log in. This request has been closed. If you wish to reopen it, just reply to this email.

I reply with my login email address and a renewed appeal not to close my support request every time they respond.

We are looking into your account and will get back to you shortly. Please accept our apologies for closing the request and rest assured it will not happen again. This request has been closed. If you wish to reopen it, just reply to this email.

I just reply to the email. No text, just a reply.

Your last message was empty. Did you need further assistance? We will keep this request open until we hear back from you. This request has been closed. If you wish to reopen it, just reply to this email.

I reply with one word: fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. All lower case, no exclamation mark.

We have looked at your account and it appears you are using the wrong email address to log in. This request has been closed. If you wish to reopen it, just reply to this email.

I thank them for letting me know and ask why the app does not simply tell me this. If my username is not recognised, it should say so. But if the app reports that "An error has occurred", I make the assumption – wild and illogical though it may seem – that an error has occurred. It would make more sense to tell me what's wrong or at least tell me what to do next. There is a reason that the red light at a traffic sign reads "Stop" rather than "Error".

I do not hear back for an hour. Then I get this:

How did we do? Let us know in our super-quick survey!

Taking the bait, I find myself struggling through a gruelling 45-minute interrogation in the dank basement of multiple-choice Hell just so I can get to the free-text field at the end where I am invited to type in exactly what I think of their time-wasting dipshit disruptive app wank. I click "Submit".

An error has occurred…

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. From now on, when asked a difficult question during a training course, he will no longer mumble apologies and offer to find the answer during the next break. He will just state: "An error has occurred." If the trainee insists, he will invite them to read the QNA. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.

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