Oversaturation, service attitudes, yelp reviews, the home based business, and more.

Posted Saturday, August 4, 2012

Please pay attention to the disclaimer below. I do not want people reading this entry, or any other, if they are skimming through to try to get an idea of what I’m trying to say. If you’re doing that, you’re missing the point.

I remember three and a half years ago when you had to beg to find someone who wasn’t clueless to help you repair an iPhone or Apple laptop related problem for less than an arm and a leg. People would literally smile and thank god after I met them or told them a price. Lots has changed since then. Oversaturation of the field has led to customers being impressed less often, for they can go to one of many establishments to get the same service.

I’m focusing a lot of this blog on one place, Park Slope iPhone Repair. They provide a service of replacing iPhone LCDs in Park Slope, cranking away hundreds a month with an excellent success rate. You likely won’t find any complaints of bad workmanship Googling around. It’s a solidly run operation. However, reading through the reviews, I honestly feel this is where I’d be now if I didn’t change the business model to have a centralized workshop with workers who act more like waiters than gated-community-service providers. I empathize and disagree with some of this at the same time. During some of this blog, I will be arguing with myself, as a business owner who often misses the simplicity and freedom of the home based business model. We had a limited scope of services and rejected customers who fell outside of what we do here.

A disclaimer, this blog is intended as a case study, and to showcase how the customer climate has changed from three years ago based on increased usage of social media and increased competition in this field. If you Google as far as your eye can see, the owner of PSIP hasn’t broken anything and has an excellent track record of properly done repairs. We have no vested interest in slamming the guy, he was just chosen at random as a home based repair business. If you Google around, you’ll see dozens upon dozens of glowing five star reviews, because the owner actually does do a good job and very much cares about providing a quality job for his customers. This entry will come off as somewhat negatively biased because the images below are not of the 40+ good five star reviews they’ve gotten. Keep in mind I am trying to illustrate a specific point here, and because of that – this will seem negatively biased. We don’t think PSIP offers poor quality repairs, or poor service, and if you leave this blog thinking that, you’ve missed the point and honestly are screwing yourself. Look past the surface to get to the real point of this blog – please.

With that behind me,

This one I can kind of empathize with, on the repair guy’s end. It is tiring to hear people consistently try to beat your prices down when you’re already doing the work at rock bottom prices. There’s several stores right near this guy that want about double. Can’t you simply be happy with a deal and not lowball? It happens here too. Someone will have a moderate motherboard problem. We say $150. They ask if we can do $100. Do you seriously have any idea how many places are going to charge $350-$600 for this same shit? Ugh. It does become irritating after a while. You just want to beat them over the head with their laptop. They treat it like shit and have the nerve to lowball the cheapest repair shop that will remedy their damage, right?

No. In the service industry, the customer is always right. That is, if you wish to be over the top successful. You can’t think of customers as nuisances. It is like the teacher that says “I’d love my job if not for children.” The recording engineer who barks “I’d love my job if not for musicians.” What the fuck is wrong with you people? My fourth grade teacher was one of those, who would go next door while we were busy with a difficult test and go “I’d love teaching if not for the kids.” You just have to eat it and politely tell them no and get on with your day.

I used to hang up on people. I’d say $290 for a service, they’d ask if $200 was ok, when I was putting $250 worth of crap into their computer. Sometimes I wonder if the only reason this did not result in a bad review was because of Yelp’s lesser popularity at the time, and the complete lack of competing services. Once you get to a certain level of professionalism, you simply can’t take it personally when people try to haggle on price a little bit. At the time, if someone repeatedly called back, I would often take a non professional tone, or tell them to simply fuck off.

In the current climate, lowballing is more common. I have noticed among our supply company’s customers that it is becoming more common for people to ask for more for less, and to play the smaller guys against each other, because this industry has a LOT more smaller guys now than it did three to four years ago. There are iPhone repair shops coming up on every corner.

Further, three to four years ago, people simply didn’t use much other than citysearch, which was rampant for its false reviews anyway. If someone had a semi bad experience, you did not find them Yelping like now. Sure, Yelp was AROUND in 2008, but did even 30% as many people USE Yelp in 2008? I doubt it.

On one hand, I feel you just have to apologize profusely from the bottom of your heart for something that isn’t really your fault, in order to make people happy. On the other, I sincerely doubt even doing that will actually get you anywhere in this new, hyper¬†competitive, review based climate. Yelp at times is similar to eBay, or high school – a popularity contest on crack, where the truth, reality, & rational thought do not mean as much as just making everyone happy.

Imaginations are funny things. I have my days – where I can be talkative in a positive light, and very charming. There are customers who have come here to have something done who were told 15 minutes over the phone. The service winds up taking 50 minutes due to high volume of customers, and through some subtle charm and engaging them in what we are doing – they actually become happy. The same person who is about to leave bitter over time, leaves happy. That happiness manifests itself in an interesting way; it stimulated their imagination. I can prove it, because we have a Yelp review from this customer saying it was done in under 20 minutes. I looked at the clock. It took over an hour.

The imagination goes both ways, however. Memory is fickle. There is a quote from one of my favorite movies, Memento, that I feel is very relevant here.

“Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They’re just an interpretation, they’re not a record, and they’re irrelevant if you have the facts.”

So, someone not 100% happy – even if they are not happy for reasons outside your control, can distort facts. A polite “no” can be turned into a hangup inside someone’s imagination. It’s why when someone asks about unlocking, I am forced to apologize as sincerely as I can, tell them I am awfully sorry that I cannot help them, and kindly refer them to someone who can. A simple no should suffice, but in the “new world” of customer service based around a high school like popularity system, that doesn’t cut it. I’m not happy with it, but I’ve adapted and taught the staff the same.

I know it sucks to get a call asking about something you can’t make money off of. The phone rings, you hear money, you pick up, and find out there’s no money. However, I feel different levels of courtesy should be offered to different people. If someone calls asking if you can fix their water damaged car keys, for example, let ‘er rip. If someone calls an iPhone repair service asking about an iPod, a gentler touch is in order IMO.

Stuff like this is cool because it’s just making it easier for the rest of us. We pride ourselves on being affordable, it is the cornerstone of our business. However, offering a 1 year warranty, treating difficult customers with respect, occupying a storefront in Manhattan and having a great staff of capable technicians all have to be factored into our costs of doing business, which make our service more expensive – about 5-10 percent on average. Also, there are those who will drop their phone in a toilet, bring it to us water damaged, and come back 1 week after a screen replacement to say it’s “acting funny”, and blame it on us. This has literally happened over three times. Thank the lord my superficially charming personality coaxes the truth out of customers without much effort. This is often required in this business if you wish to get the truth out of people, because many will lie, lie, lie because they think it is the right thing to do. It doesn’t do me much good in my personal life, but it works wonders in a storefront.

To save our reputation, we’ll be forced to fix the water damage for free, because they’re accusing us of breaking it. My speaker got to sounding funny after you replaced the LCD. Yeah, I know you replaced the LCD six months ago and we dropped it in the toilet 3 times since then and we never complained until now, but dude, you did it. Sigh. This also, unfortunately, gets passed onto our repair service prices. We have to factor taking one for the team for the sake of preserving overall customer satisfaction.

Checking up on the competition allows us to understand who customers will be contrasting us with when they walk in the door, and allows us to be better prepared. Confused? Allow me to explain – wording the prior two paragraphs to customers while explaining our pricing is very difficult. Going “well, they’re $15 cheaper, but X is a RAGING DICK!”¬† – is MUCH easier! :-)

Kidding. For real, kidding, we usually just tell people to use us because we have Street Fighter Alpha 3 in the lounge area.

Goodnight everyone.