Not a death spiral, I'm trapped in a closed loop of customer experience

Much, much worse than a vicious circle

Apple HQ

Something for the Weekend, Sir? I've got myself stuck in a ring. Yes, again. Medical assistance may be required.

What I need is a Doctor of Logic because I am frequently trapped into closed loops of nonsensical barmpottery as I tiptoe between the narrow electrified fences that define the path of hot coals risibly referred to as "customer experience".

Here's an example: I just moved house. I'd forgotten all about this but it seems that before anyone will let me do anything such as turn on the water supply, get connected to broadband or switch branches for a bank account, they demand a proof of your new address. This turns out to be closed loop.

Offering to show the deeds for the property in my name along with solicitors' correspondence apparently counts for nothing. What everyone wants is an electricity bill.

This is awkward because the electricity company also asked me for a proof of address. I suggested they bill me first and then just look at the bill, but they asked for something more reliable – such as a water supply invoice, a broadband contract or my bank account address.

And so round and round we go, indefinitely, pointlessly, helplessly, until I take matters into my own hands and knock up a convincing "bill" in Adobe InDesign. If I didn't, I'd be trapped in the loop forever, without water, electricity, internet or a chequebook.

Customer experience loops are Hell. At least with a vicious circle or a death spiral, you're getting somewhere.

Mme D is cursing over her laptop. She is trying to update her details on a government administration website and has spent the last ten minutes looking for the place where you remove out-of-date contact details.

It turns out that in order to deregister yourself, you click on a tab labelled REGISTER.

That's right, much in the same way that in order to unsubscribe from something you'd instinctively click on SUBSCRIBE, or in order to purchase something you'd click on SELL, or if you wanted to sit down you'd click on JUMP.

She came out of that one relatively intact, only arguing her way through the shitbrained customer experience loop for 10 minutes. She could have found herself booked in for the full half-hour.

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One is compelled to wonder whether such closed loop logic is actually the dominant philosophy pervading product development today. This would certainly explain a lot. For example, I can think of no other explanation for the interdimensional horror of gut-heaving wretchedness that is the Egg Master.

Just imagine the R&D department where this noxious kitchen gadget – "a new way to prepare eggs" – was conceived. I'm guessing it was a couple of dudes sitting in their nan's spare room and still tipsy from the previous evening's rum-and-Tizer "cocktail experience" night.

Dude 1: People like to eat eggs. And sausages.

Dude 2: Let's build a cylindrical grill to make egg sausages.

D1: Wouldn't it look like a vibrating sheath sex toy?

D2: Hmm, it'll also destroy the flavour of the eggs.

D1: And it'll look like it's shitting out a yellow turd.

D2: I agree. It's revolting and utterly useless.

D1: Let's call it Egg Master.

D1 and D2: Yay!

Thus the modern foodie is trapped in a never-ending loop of buying kitchen gadgets called Something Master that swiftly get stored under the sink with the rest.

You can see the closed loop in fake news, whereby unsupported airheadedness pilched from Wikipedia is supported by corroborating evidence that turns out to be someone else quoting from the very same Wikipedia page.

I have a vision of a conference room at Apple HQ in which top executives decide what new features to put into the Apple Watch, with the single proviso that they must have nothing to do with showing the time. Help users get fitter, they say. Help them do better cardio workouts. Show them their heartbeat and respiration charts. Lots of nodding ensues and a minion runs out with a scribbled note to hand to the marketing team.

The next day, video ads proclaim that the Apple Watch "reminds you to breathe".

Cough cough gah I forgot to breathe. No, sod the doctor, get me a watch now!

You see, you can very easily trap yourself in a closed loop of illogic. To recoin a cliché, industry has developed a strict system of thinking only inside the box while convincing themselves otherwise. Self-proclaimed disruptors are a classic example: all of them do the same thing as each other, which is do what's already been done before, then make the same mistakes that have already been made.

The more the disruption, the more the status quo is maintained.

Closed loop thinking becomes the norm. It seeps out of the heads of disruptors, influencers and other such imbeciles and into actual products and customer experiences.

Talking of Apple, I was feeling whimsical this week and allowed macOS Catalina to install itself on my laptop. Afterwards, it informed me that my installed copy of Apple's music-making app GarageBand would no longer work under this new operating system and that I should update it. It helpfully presented a link to the Mac App Store to facilitate this.

I clicked on the link. The Mac App Store informed me that all my Apple apps were up to date, including GarageBand.

I tried launching GarageBand. A message said that it wouldn't run under the new operating system and that I should update it from the Mac App Store. It helpfully presented a link to facilitate this. So I clicked on the link.

I am still clicking my way around this closed loop as I type this. I may have to write a script to carry on doing it for me when I nip out. I daren't break the circle. As an exemplum of sheer nonsense, it's just too perfect.

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He apologises for the slow typing this week – no doubt you noticed this while you were reading – but he is still using one hand to click on macOS prompts. His script didn't work and he is running out of food. @alidabbs

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