So I dropped and broke my cell phone which I bought pre-owned from ATT. Now that I had broken it, I didn't want to buy a new one--not even a new used one. I wanted to get it repaired. The personal price of new was too much. So was the planetary price (which, by the way, thanks to the use of the mineral coltan in cell phones, includes a lot of dead Congolese children).
So I called ATT. They would be glad to help me. They'd send me another refurbished phone for $100 as long as I'll sign a contract promising to be ATT's customer for another two years.
"And then you'll take back my phone and refurbish it?" I ask the customer service person.
"No, you get to keep it," she says.
"But then I'll have two phones. I don't need two phones," I say.
"You can have a backup for if your main phone breaks," she says.
"But my phone is broken, so it won't be a back up. Can you repair it?"
"We don't repair phones," she says.
I hang up. I find a little shop in New York's West Village and they say they will try to fix my phone. The man solders this bit and reattaches that bit. It's still not fixed. It doesn't work. He spent on hour working on it but he charges me nothing. I'd have to buy a new motherboard, the man says, which is too expensive.
ATT on the other hand is still willing to send me another refurbished phone in return for my signature on a new contract. I finally capitulate and tell them to send it. I would have preferred repair, but it least it's not new.
We have witnessed two ways of doing business at play:
- The man in the shop offers reuse in a way that is better for the environment and of service to the customer.
- ATT uses my bad luck in dropping the phone to leverage another two year contract out of me--a sort of consumer coercion --and won't even try to repair my phone--a zero for effort when it comes to reuse.
With the economy the way it is, along with the fact that we are in the middle of an environmental crisis, even the New York Times thinks Americans are going to stop the conspicuous consumption. In that climate, in the long term, which business model do you think will win?
Let's put it this way: I'm not happy at all about having my arm twisted by ATT, and if they had made me a loyal customer they wouldn't have had to blackmail me into a contract. On the other hand, I'll be telling everyone I know about the repair man in the little shop and look forward to being his customer again.
Indeed, let's not forget that this is the age of blogging, where a big-mouth writer like me tells a few thousand of his closest friends about every little experience. Because, speaking of telling everyone about the repair man in the little shop, the name of the business is Portatronics, and they repair all sorts of portable electronic devices. I hope you'll use them instead of throwing your stuff away.
As this story turns out, Mr CEO of ATT, whose way of doing business proved best?
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.