We all make mistakes. Every retail web site team should have come to that conclusion by now and spent a few resources on the message and information they show a customer when this happens. 404 pages have been notoriously machine friendly but confusing and scary to humans. I ran across two nice examples of companies that were thougtful about the information provided to someone browsing their web content. These are valiant attempts to recover gracefully and admit what is true. We all make mistakes.
Using an on brand and eco approach, Gaiam addresses the 404 page with light hearted humor. They then immeditaely present the customer with 2 contact options to resolve the issue. This reinforces the trust with the company. It also turns what could have be negative into a positive interaction and chance to surprise and delight the customer when it could have taken a turn for the worse.
Columbia uses their brand in the 404 error page as well. It shows that a bit of thought and some empathy for the customer were part of the process at the company.
The 404 page is a great example of an opportunity to do something small and make a large impact. When you think about the customer experience across many parts of your company, many of these types of opportunities present themselves. That is why it needs to be part of the company culture to seek out those opportunities and excel at customer delight. Understand all parts of the flow and tune each step along the way.