The high cost of errors

Artwork courtesy of CyboRoZ (Creative Commons)

Artwork courtesy of CyboRoZ (Creative Commons)

Last week, I ordered a software upgrade for a computer program at work. Because we are a nonprofit, and the online ordering would not let me enter the tax exempt information, I was forced to call the customer service line to place my order.

I talked to a lovely woman who was helpful in setting up my tax exempt status, and quickly processed my order. Her closing words were that I would receive an email with the download information, and that my email address would serve as the user ID for my online account to access my download.

So I thanked her and hung up. And waited. And waited. No email. I waited a bit longer, thinking maybe she had to complete some part of the process after we hung up, but after 30 minutes with no sign of an email, I got concerned.

I tried logging in, and receiving the message that that user name did not exist. I had paid nearly $1,000 for this upgrade, and it was not ok that I couldn’t access it.

I called the tech support number she had given me, and that was the beginning of a 2+ hour phone call in which through the language barrier, we discovered that a letter had been left out of my email address. In spite of the fact that she had read it back to me, and also had a similar email from a co-worker already on the account to go by.

Sadly, after that wasted afternoon, I still did not have access to my software. The tech on the line tried 3 separate email addresses and was unable to set up my account so I could access it. In frustration, I finally decided to cut my losses that day and try again another day.

A few days later (I needed a break after that frustration), I tried again. This time it was “only” an hour and a half on the line, but the tech was able to successfully set up my account AND send me the receipt for my purchase. Success.

Over a half a day of my work time was lost because of inaccuracy. That is a high cost to pay for a simple error.

In how many other situations has my time been wasted, or have I wasted other people’s time because if inaccuracy? How many times have I gotten in a hurry, and caused more time on the back end of a task or process to fix a problem, that could have been avoided by paying more attention at first?

Not everyone is detail-oriented, but here are some simple ways to avoid the pitfalls of inaccuracy:

  • Slow down – many tasks, especially repetitive ones, can become so second nature that we rush through them. That’s when we make mistakes. Take the time to do things right the first time, so you don’t waste time having to fix it later.
  • Limit distractions – you have email chiming, people stopping by, phones ringing, music playing, and you wonder why you can’t focus. If it is something important that needs to be accurate, limit as many of the distractions as you can in order to put your full attention on the project or task at hand.
  • Take breaks – if you are doing focused work that must be accurate, take frequent breaks to rest your eyes and mind. When you spend too long on the same task or project, you begin to lose concentration, and that’s when you make mistakes. Even if it is a quick walk around your office for a minute or two, the break will help you come back refreshed and focused.
  • Pay attention – sometimes we hear what we want to hear when talking to people, but it’s important to make sure you are collecting the information accurately. Something as simple as making sure the website is .com and not .net can make all the difference in the world.
  • Write it down – don’t trust your memory when someone is telling you important information. Write it down to make sure you have it right.

When we slow down in order to make sure things are done correctly, we end up saving time on the whole process. After all, who has time to do things over again?