My 3 year-old HP Officejet printer has developed a “fatal error”: Every time you print something it immediately gives the “carriage jam” error message and you have to shut it down and restart it for the next print job (not terribly practical in a business). All my web research confirms that this is a software issue that cannot be fixed except by returning it to the manufacturer. Since they won’t even give you the time of day under $100, it makes no sense to get it fixed since a new one costs about that (and that’s just the way they like it!).

A couple days ago I bought a new HP Officejet 6500. Yesterday I set it up. It took about three hours, much of that unwrapping the incredibly well-designed protective packaging. I installed the print cartridges, software, etc., and printed the test page. Beautiful. Then the machine died. “Print head error oxce32jds” it reads, followed by “Ink system error 07fgh432kc” (or some shit like that). I tried every suggestion in the manual, but it appears to be a terminal problem, due to a defective print head. Today I must return it to Costco and get a replacement, and go through the whole fu*^ng process all over again.

Repacking the whole thing was a nightmare. It’s clear that these products aren’t ever meant to be repacked, a probably effective return deterrent to the fickle buyer. But I must say that the packaging is incredibly well done and great at protecting a basically fragile product, ensuring safe delivery to the customer through many components of the distribution chain.

But here’s the irony: They spend millions to design clever and effective packaging to ensure safe delivery…of a defective product! It’s like the old Seinfeld episode with the hotel reservation. Gerry to hotel clerk on being told they’ve lost his reservation: “It’s not enough to take the reservation…you have to actually hold the reservation”.

There’s a great line from Six Sigma (the quality initiative pioneered by GE): “The customer doesn’t experience the mean…he experiences the deviation from the mean”, i.e. it doesn’t matter if you deliver a perfect product 99% of the time…the client with the bad one experiences a failure of 100%!!!