Practicing Mistake-Promoting Instead of Mistake-Proofing at Apple

Mistake proofing is a wonderful management concept. Design systems not just to be effective when everything goes right but designing them so mistakes are prevented.

I have had several bad customer experiences in the short time I have had my iPad mini. One of the most pitiful is caused by mistake-promoting process design. As the name implies that isn’t a good idea. Mistake-proofing processes is a good practice to strive for; processes that create extra opportunities for failure impacting customers negatively are a bad idea.

My experience below is but one mistake-promoting practice that has caught me in its grips in the short time I have owned my iPad mini. I want to view books on the mini but can’t find any book reader. So I decide, fine I’ll just install the Kindle reader app.

I go to do so (run into additional issues but get through them) and then Apple decides for this free app, on an iPad I just bought with my credit card a week ago, to block me from getting what I need and force me to revalidate my credit card. This is lame enough, but I am used to companies not caring about the customer experience, so fine, what hoops does Apple want to force me through?

But guess what, the unnecessary steps Apple decided to force me through are broken so I can’t just waste my time to make them happy. No. They have created a failure point where they never should have forced the customer in the first place.

So they not only didn’t mistake-proof the process they mistake-promoted the process by creating a unnecessary step that created an error that could have been avoided if they cared about mistake proofing. But instead they use a mistake-promoting process. As a consumer it is annoying enough to cope with the failures companies force me through due to bad management systems that don’t mistake proof processes.

Companies creating extra opportunities to foist mistakes onto customers is really something we shouldn’t have to put up with. And when they then provide lousy and then even incomprehensible “support” such the “change your name” vision Apple decided to provide me now it is time to move on.

After 5 years of buying every computing device from Apple, they have lost my entire good will in one week of mess ups one after the other. I knew the reason I moved to Apple, the exceptional Macbook Air, was no longer the unmatched hardware it once was; but I was satisfied and was willing to pay a huge iPad premium to avoid the typical junk most companies foist on you. But with Apple choosing to make the process as bad as everyone else there isn’t a decent reason to pay them a huge premium.


The prevalence of mistake-promoting management systems is one indication (of many) that we have so much room for extremely basic improvement in how things are done that there is no need to worry about companies will soon complete doing all the sensible ideas even just Deming and Ackoff explained decades ago.

If you are starting out your career and are worried management improvement expertise is no longer going to be required in a decade or two (because of course all the good ideas will be adopted), don’t worry. There will be a need for widespread remedial management system consulting 50 years from now. As a customer you should worry about that but as a career choice it isn’t one that is likely to be made obsolete by the passage of time.

When Apple isn’t just failing to practice mistake proofing but doing the opposite and creating processes that promote mistakes in instances where the process never should have even gone in the first place we can see how long it takes to get even obvious ideas to be incorporated into management systems.

And it isn’t like this mistake promoting process that Apple has in place is unique. Plenty of companies do the same things to customers every day.

I think management systems are better today than 30 years ago. But the progress is amazingly slow. We are decades behind even incorporating many very basic and simple management concepts into the management systems in our organizations. I really do hope our organizations start to pick up the speed at which they improve. We shouldn’t have to suffer from the waste and failures created by organizations with such outdated practices as we do today.

Related: Bad Weather is Part of the Transportation System (systems must cope well with typical variation)Deming and Software DevelopmentMistake Proofing Deployment of Software CodeIncredibly Bad Customer Service from Discover CardHow to Improve

And the experience with Apple “customer service” to deal with this various failures just makes it plainly obvious Apple has little respect for me. The people obviously don’t understand basic customer service. I don’t think this has anything to do with the people’s capability.

It seems to have everything to do with the systems in place as Apple which seem to be about as bad as most everywhere. Pay the least you can. Provide minimal training. Provided semi decent canned response for many problems but lousy responses for people that already did all the obvious stuff before contacting you. And even if they provide all that background, it doesn’t matter, send out the same pattern responses. It isn’t like Apple is bad compared to most everyone. It seems to be the exact same level of we can provide answers about 80% as effect as 2 minutes on Google and anything beyond that we just keep repeating the stuff that doesn’t work.

I have had two excellent experiences with customer help desks: Crutchfield and Canon (I wouldn’t be surprised if these were both a decade ago, yet I still remember – I look forward to buying a Canon SX-60 as soon as it is released). Otherwise it is something I avoid if possible, and when I can’t I get the exact same poor results everywhere – just like the experience with Apple so far.

Apple support has stated they don’t allow unmasking of the password field on entry forms. I think this likely leads to less secure passwords being used by iOS users but the choice is Apple’s to make.

4 thoughts on “Practicing Mistake-Promoting Instead of Mistake-Proofing at Apple

  1. Paul Sheldon

    John, I have an iPad Air. When I installed the Kindle reading app, my already purchased books showed up immediately. I haven’t attempted a new Kindle format purchase, so I can’t comment in that area. I also own an older Nook Color so I installed the Nook app. No problem obtaining existing or newly purchased books there either. Due to the password/keyboard problem you mentioned, I make new Nook purchases on my computer and then they download to the Nook and iPad. The reason I do this is that I use KeePass password safe to store my passwords and the master password KeePass is long and difficult to remember, especially when you can’t see what is already entered. If cursor keys were available, that would simplify matters considerably for me. I have not found a keyboard app for iOS which is a reasonable substitute for the standard. I did find “hidden” special characters such as backwards quote mark accessed by keeping your finger on the “related” key for the hidden options. Probably only a bluetooth keyboard will “solve” our difficulties.

    Reply
  2. Robert Drescher

    Hi Jon

    I can feel for you we have one Apple product an IPod and having to deal with them over the problems it has experienced has taught me to avoid them, after all look at the company that actually makes the Apple products. On the other hand the only other computer or electronic device maker I have had problems dealing with is HP and like Apple I will not buy anything major from them either, there are just too many others that do a better job.

    One thing I always consider when looking at getting a new device is how I have been treated by companies whose products I have bought before, good treatments means I am actually willing to pay a slight premium, though so far I have actually never had to pay one cent more, in fact usually I find the best deal comes from a company that cares about customer service.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: Carnival of Quality Management Articles and Blogs – June 2014 | The world is too small? or Is it?

  4. Pingback: Stop Sign Mistake Proofing » Curious Cat Engineering Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *