Posted Saturday, June 1, 2013
A kind young woman walked in with a dead laptop. It won’t turn on. In the end, it has a problem we’re all too familiar with – nothing but a bad keyboard. She tells me Apple told her around $800 – mistake #1. She also makes mention that her parents are going to pay for the repair. Mistake #2 – I now have justifiable cause to inflate the bill(“Apple said $800”), and reason to believe she will be able to pay for it! Make it any easier and I might just be able to levitate the money out of its wallet.
Alas, I can’t. I don’t have that killer instinct – the predatory nature required to rip people off. I am confident these factors would turn the problem of a bad keyboard into a much higher bill. Something $300, or $400, or $500 would be her bill, had it been brought to the wrong place after she said what she did. She would’ve never had a clue what we did, had I decided to pocket an extra $130 today courtesy of a white lie.
Technicians can do this and make customers happy. I can’t say I know someone perfectly from just one meeting, but I would put money on the idea that she’d have been equally happy with a $280 or $320 repair. And this is why technicians do this – they get both benefits. The same happy customer, and more money! Win win. Right?
Wrong. It is because of this behavior that we are branded with a reputation of con artists and grifters; reminiscent of the used car salesmen of the Great Depression.
One thing I noticed looking through the bad mechanic and pricing videos ETCG1 have on youtube, was how much there was in common between auto mechanics and laptop repair technicians. I’m not going to say I looked through any of the repair videos. I don’t know how to drive a car, much less fix one, and I probably won’t anytime soon. Where I live and work in Brooklyn & Manhattan, I can often beat cars on bike due to traffic, so I never learned how to drive, and as time goes on I think I am less likely to learn. The people who drive seem so stressed out screaming at other drivers, screaming at traffic. This is unlike most of the country, where you need a car to be productive.
Onto the point. A lot of similarities in the two businesses stuck out to me. How to deal with people who blame you for breaking something since you worked on their car, when you should eat it, how to price jobs, how to deal with problem customers, how to deal with fellow servicemen, how to deal with problems when a job takes you longer than it should or less time than it should, how to set up your labor pricing. It all seems the same as running a laptop repair shop that focuses on repair of physically and liquid spill damaged computers.
One thing I ran into that troubled me greatly is when a job is quoted at a higher price because of how it came in. I’m not good at analogies, and I know close to nothing about cars. Let’s say someone goes in for routine maintenance and you notice some part is in poor condition – but the car works fne. That customer may be less willing to pay as high a price for the maintenance as they would be if the car were brought to the shop under different circumstances. Let’s say, instead of scheduled maintenance, they came to your shop on a tow truck because their car stalled on the highway. I am guessing that it would be easier to talk them into a higher bill, even if you are replacing the same part. Whereas $120 may be the limit of what they are willing to spend during maintenance, they might be willing, and expecting, to pay over $400 if that same part failing caused a complete stall of the vehicle.
Let me use an example from the laptop industry – keyboards. If someone comes in because they spilled a tiny bit of water and the shift/enter keys don’t work, they would be charged the $175 for keyboard repair, and up to $350 at neighboring shops. However, there are many circumstances where the entire keyboard fails, and the keyboard includes the power button. Under these circumstances, the laptop does not turn back on, so the customer does not have a clear idea what is wrong with the machine, and many technicians often take advantage of this and add 30%, 70%, or 110% onto the price for the same repair.
To be clear, I am not talking about times where cable pins are burned away or motherboards are corroded, I am talking straight keyboard damage – with no other issue. I have seen what should have been a $225 keyboard bill go up to $350 just because it wasn’t turning on when they came in – just because the customer was honest about the fact that Apple wanted $700 to fix their computer.
This seems incredibly wrong to me. Again, I am not talking about a quick estimate where the technican assumes other damage. I am talking about the final diagnosis, where the technician is 100% sure the keyboard is the only problem, but he over-bills the job using an ambiguous diagnosis to shield him from customer speculation.
I have been the person selling these before, because it was my job. I hated it. I hated the fact that I was good at it! I am not a natural born salesman, but I am a technician, and I’m good at what I do. I’m damn good at what I do! I also like helping people. I’m not a salesperson. I’ve failed at selling credit cards, sporting goods, health insurance, and much more in my lifetime for a living. What makes me good at selling repairs, is that I know what I’m doing and love what I do. I enjoy helping & informing others. I have a direct, informative, confident approach with customers that allows me to gain their trust, and I was abusing this left and right to milk people for money, and it made me sick.
The excuse most commonly used by the technicians who do this are “well, was the customer happy? Because that’s all that matters.” I could never appreciate that cop-out.
I recall one occasion someone paid $375 for what should have been a $130 repair at this establishment. The woman actually came up to me and hugged me after checkout, because Apple had told her $800 to repair. This felt terrible. I did all I could to maintain a proper smile and not puke in front of her, but I couldn’t do it – it was this incredibly insincere smile, and I was unable to hold in my disgust at what I was doing. She was too happy to notice. Since she was “happy” , I hadn’t done anything wrong… really? That’s the benchmark?
I’m not great with analogies. Let’s say I’m in a comic book world – I’m a shapeshifter. I can take people’s appearances. I have a crush on my neighbor’s wife. One day, I kill her husband on his way home from work and take over his appearance, and go about living his life. I take her out and we have a romantic evening – and maybe go on vacation together. She’s as happy as can be.
Have I done nothing wrong, because she is happy? If she knew I were not her husband, if she knew I murdered her husband – she would be incredibly shocked, angry, livid, disgusted.
I believe the same is true with the repair. She is very happy that she paid $375. However, if she knew we performed a service that was on this very company’s price list, their website, their ads – for $130, would she be happy? Probably not.
I understand in this industry that a little bit of white lying is sometimes necessary. I recently posted a video about an experience I had where I was bitched out terribly because I had stuck to my estimate of $150, even though I didn’t have to replace any parts. I figured I was in for a $15 part and a 1 hour repair, or an $80 part and a 15 minute repair. I was actually in for a $0 part and a 3 hour repair. In the end, everything worked as I promised it would, and I charged the agreed upon price of $150 to fix the problem. The customer was incredibly angry because he was the type of person that was ok paying for replacement parts, but needed to think he was setting his own labor value – something under $30.
I don’t think people become bad overnight. I think it happens step by step. You lie here because it is more practical and you’re doing nothing wrong. Then you lie again to make life easier and you notice you can make more money while they’re happy… so that’s not doing anything wrong. Then you lie left and right because you think that’s just how it’s supposed to be, but it’s not. It’s not at all.
I’m an idealist at heart – always have been. I become excited when I can make the world a better place. I don’t mean picking trash off the side of the street(although I am avidly against polluting and bitch out friends who throw cigarette butts on the sidewalk), I mean doing what I can in my job, my hobbies, and my personal life to make the world a little better.
Part of this idealist philosophy is not lying to people in order to take more money, even if they will be just as happy. As I become older, I am a little more pragmatic, a little less idealist, and a little more in touch with the rest of the world. Part of that means seeing things as other people see them, and something I’ve noticed is that a lot of good people lie to make more money, and make people happy doing it. I notice that the honest businesses are the ones with one location, struggling employees, and stagnant business models. However, the ones ok with lying a little are the ones taking their business to the next level, expanding, receiving news coverage, hiring more people, with founding partners buying luxury condos out of state. Above all – in spite of all the lying to extract more money – their reputation remains untarnished. and So this leads me to the great question – is this wrong? Am I an idealist, blind to the practical ramifications of running a for-profit repair shop?
There are a plethora of reasons that the average consumer does not trust, nor like, the mechanic or the technician. Now that I am on the other side of the fence, I want to do my part to change this lack of trust & dislike as much as I can.