Isn’t automation supposed to help us do things faster?

I am a technologist. I am a geek. I know that.

I make use of all sorts of gadgets or read about them. I try to follow all the latest developments. I read books to educate myself about new things. At work and at my free time I try to generate new technology. Technology is a large part of my life.

So, it pains me to see technology getting in the way of doing things better, faster, easier. It’s always a human mistake of course. It’s either someone who doesn’t know how to apply the tools at hand or those who designed the tools in the first place.

Here’s a recent story that negatively surprised me.


I love Apple‘s hardware design. Their laptops are gorgeous. It was time for a new MacBookPro.* (Yes, I do choose to run Windows 7 on it… beautiful hardware with beautiful software :-)

Last week, while I was traveling in New Orleans for SuperComputing 2010, I logged into Apple’s Online Store and placed my order, completely forgetting that Apple has a substantial discount for Microsoft employees. This was, of course, my mistake! I had to configure and order the laptop through the “Microsoft Employee Purchase” part of Apple’s web site, which automatically applies the discount. Well, I forgot to do so and ordered the laptop through their consumer website.

Earlier today I got back to the office and was going through my large mailbox when I noticed Apple’s receipt for my order. At that moment, I realized my mistake. Oh well! I thought that since the laptop is still en route, this should be an easy mistake to fix. Little I knew :-(

I called Apple Customer Service and explained the situation. The lady on the phone needed to talk to her supervisor before offering me a solution…

They offered to email me FedEx labels so that I can return the laptop at the moment of delivery. Once the laptop reaches their returns center, they will issue a refund. The refund will take around 5 business days to reach my credit card. I will then be able to order a new laptop, which is going to take more than a week to arrive.

I tried to ask them whether they could just refund me the difference, whether they could just fix my original mistake through the use of technology but, unfortunately, their systems couldn’t do that. It seems to me that either their systems weren’t designed correctly or they just don’t know how to use them.

The end result?

  • They are getting charged with the costs associated with a returned laptop (even though I am sure that those costs are included in the Apple premium we all pay :-)
  • I don’t get to play with my latest toy for another 2-3 weeks
  • Apple gets a mostly perplexed and mildly dissatisfied (mildly since it was my mistake after all) customer


* Jim got a new one so I had, of course, to do the same :-) (an ongoing joke between us :-)

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