Continuation – oversaturation, service attitudes, and more.

Posted Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I am continuing on the prior blog on how over-saturation of the market has effected expectations. As stated 2 entries ago, there was once a time where people literally begged for their machines to be worked on. People were incredibly nice for no reason. Today reminds me of how much has changed in the portable device service industry. To reminisce: it almost didn’t matter how you acted, whether you were charming, attentive, etc. People would hand over fist fight to pay retail prices when my work was limited to a one man shop, working out of my apartment in 2008.  This sense of general gratefulness was not required, or necessary. I simply find it worth a short blog entry to point out how it appears to be gone.

One customer purchases a repair service, and lives in Jersey. They would like the address modified to Seattle to be delivered to someone else. Our default, free shipping option is FedEx ground – very speedy to from New York to Jersey, not so speedy from New York to Seattle. Without telling us of the urgency that the package be delivered by a certain date, they give us the new address, and we ship the laptop accordingly. This person is incredibly disappointed and irritated that it takes an extra three days to get it to Seattle, as the intended recipient is moving to Oregon before the delivery date. FedEx is unable to turn the package around in time. This laptop was repaired the day it was received and sent back the same day. Cursing ensues on the phone at our lack of ability to offer them anything other than a redirected package, which is all we can do once a package has been shipped out. There is nothing we can offer this person to make them happy. The screaming match ended when we hung up the phone. Once the cursing starts, I tell my people to just give up.

The old adage, the customer is always right comes to mind. Many who work in the service industry understand that there is a lot of money to be made in the service industry. As such, simply bending over and taking it when someone is completely wrong, and making them happy, is the right thing to do – for the good of the business. In the service industry, reality has no place in consumer happiness or ratings. Perception is. It is all about perception – how someone perceives they were treated, and perceives a situation. We understand this very well – there have been times in my history where I was one overworked technician, with fifteen machines in front of me that needed to get done by tomorrow, many with fairly difficult to solve problems. Setting up the experience to be a good one starting with a confident, understanding, empathizing technician from the moment someone walks in, and setting expectations accordingly has a lot to do with it. If a misdiagnosis is made, we’ve usually eaten it and just done the work for free. I figure, if we fucked up, we should fix it. On occasion, it will happen. However, in this particular case, nothing can be done. Short of hijacking the truck the laptop is on, then walking to a FedEx store to overnight it to the new address, we can’t really help this person. The customer is always right, but here, how can we help fix their problem?

Someone else comes in for motherboard repair. The board is so warped from heat that a new chip will not fit on it properly. It is eventually repaired. We give them their laptop, and they leave. The customer states they’ve already paid. We note no deposit, apologize for the inconvenience, and ask if they paid under any other credit card name, etc. We comb through merchant services, eventually searching for any transaction within one week of the date range, with no help. We ask for a copy of the receipt, which we figured would settle the matter, but there was none. We’ve never billed a logic board repair prior to it being completed – we believe firmly in the superstition that taking money before a repair is completed will lead to the failure of that repair. My mentor told me of this five years ago, and it is true. It happens time and time again. Getting paid before fixing gear is bad karma. They paid, and left incredibly unhappy. We made considerable effort to find this transaction, by searching by card #, first name, last name, both. We checked all physical receipts from that time period and were very apologetic while taking up this three minutes of their time. The adage the customer is always right comes to mind again. However, here, we are not dealing with perception, as much as we are dealing with fact. If someone thinks they paid for something, but did not actually pay for it, there is little we can do. They left fairly agitated, however, short of giving them the full repair, which was completed to perfection, for free – I am not sure what could’ve been done to make them happy.

We’ve also had many customers come in for smaller iPhone repairs – power buttons, headphone jacks, which we have at $45 + tax, and have been sighed at several times. This is an issue of perception – surely a lower price would fix it. However, at this price point, we are actually below the craigslist average for people who work out of their apartment. A one year warranty from a licensed business with quality parts is actually less money than going to a guy who is doing this in his bedroom, with no guarantee, on a regular basis. I feel this is in great contrast to the market climate four years ago, where people working out of their apartment would be accommodated by their customers while paying retail price.

It makes me wonder, if this turn is because of a shift in consumer behavior in the field, or if it is simply the result of a growing business – more people, means more people of all kinds. More happy, and more ornery. We are more likely to remember the ornery.

One of my weaknesses as a person is that I sympathize too much with the trials and tribulations of others, often ignoring fact and reality in favor of making people happy. To this end, I have often gone as far as to have trouble sleeping if I thought one person were waiting a day extra for something, even if it were outside my control. Peers in the field think this is asinine. They clock out and the work stays where it belongs, at work. Should a part have arrived late, causing someone to miss finishing a paper that cost them a college class, they do not care. I’d sooner give someone my personal laptop than see that happen. And it is a weakness, because, whether the onslaught of irrationally angry people is because of a growing business or a changing culture, we can’t let it touch us on a deeper emotional level. I feel our business model will be shifting towards aiming to service more customers, rather than living in the irrational fear of a bad review, or a single dissatisfied customer. I truly care that people leave our shop happy. However, at the end of the day, we also need to accept that some people will not under any circumstances leave happy, and we(mostly myself) must learn to become okay with this if we are going to keep our sanity in the upcoming months.

Thoughts?