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Slices Of Apple, Part 4 August 7, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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This is the last in a series of posts dissecting Apple’s recent misfortunes during the rollout of the iPhone 3G and related technologies.  You’ll find the first post here.

Avoid Denial

It appears that Steve Jobs has been reading these blog postings and taking my advice to heart.  Although he has not contacted me directly, he clearly agrees with my assessment of his recent misfortunes.  And, visionary that he is, he has actually started to act upon the advice I’m about to share, even before I posted it to this blog.

That guidance is simple: when you are having some sort of systems or project meltdown, own up to it.  The sooner you step up and take responsibility for the problem, the sooner you can move forward with fixing things.  The existence of the problem is not up for debate; if your users think you have a problem, you have a problem.  As I learned from my first boss in computer operations, the customer’s perception is your reality.  Accept that reality and deal with it.

In Apple’s case, their initial reluctance to admit that they were fallible only damaged their credibility even further.  They then began to split hairs: the MobileMe meltdown only affected 1, or 2, or 4 percent of the user base.  If you are among those 80,000 people, your perception is that it is affecting 100 percent of the users that matter. Offering statistical analysis of a problem is not a useful approach.  Apple is in a hole, and the rule of holes is simple: when you are in one, stop digging.

Given the lightning speed with which this all gets transmitted by the internet, Apple’s repeated refusal to acknowledge their customer’s reality only compounded things that much quicker.  Perhaps a general extension of the “avoid denial” rule would be “especially when your users are well-organized and digitally connected.”

Even with Steve’s “leaked” email, Apple is still in a bit of denial.  His email was sent to employees, not customers.  While there is no doubt that employees are getting hammered from within and without, the only people that really matter are the customers.  These people paid $99 for a service that doesn’t work.  To bring closure to the bad rollout and to move on to actually fixing it, Steve Jobs needs to apologize to his customers, publicly and sincerely.  Only then can he hope to rebuild the fractures that have resulted from his poor planning and execution.

I hope he’s still reading.

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