As I commented last night , one of the errands I had after an exhausting and long journey back from Europe was to deal with a laptop that I had purchased three weeks ago just before the Feast that had ceased to work when I was in Moscow. Before telling this story, it would be good to know that I have a well-earned reputation as a Chinacutioner, that is, as someone who slays cheap Chinese electronics, something I have pondered before . My own personal experience is perhaps a bit too emblematic of trends in technology and in our general culture, so it is worth pondering them in some detail. First I will explain what happened last night, and then I will ponder what it might mean in the context of the larger culture around us.
After arriving back in Portland close to 8PM, it was almost 9PM by the time I arrived in Wilsonville. I was sent to the service desk in order to see if something could be done for the computer, but when the screen didn’t light up it was decided that it would end up being a return, and I ended up with a better laptop without having to pay too much for it. The experience reminded me of a time when I was a teen when my family had purchased a printer that ended up breaking on the first day and that when we returned the printer to the store, the model was no longer available, and the store attempted to upsell us for a model that was $50 more successful while making us wait, all while my mum kept on talking about the experience and what the store was doing and scaring away customers. Their attempt at wearing us down didn’t work–we ended up with a printer that lasted for a few years, and the store ended up going bankrupt.
There are a few lessons in that. The best case scenario when it comes to buying any product is that both the product and the service will be legendary. If one of the two is great and the other is not so great, the situation can still be saved. A company that has terrible service can have a wonderful product that makes it so that few people find out how terrible the service is, or a company with a mediocre product can survive because its service is legendary and ensures continued goodwill, but a company that has terrible products and a terrible service attitude ensures its own failure by making sure that the customer has nothing to distract them from how upset they are at what is going on. I consider my experiment last night to be more on the crappy product and good service side; clearly the company I got my computer from takes its risks on dodgy products for low prices and seeks to maintain its customer satisfaction through good service when the risks don’t pay off. Whether that is a winning strategy is too soon to say, but it certainly does beat the alternative of being crappy in both goods and service, even if it falls short of an optimal strategy of good quality all around.
Nevertheless, it is possible that the company has little choice. For better or worse, most of what we consume in society is made by people who do not care much about the quality of the products involved but are making such products as cheaply as possible and where everyone involved is trying to save money, including the customers. We may not like the game we are playing, but given that everyone is doing the best that they know how to do, the universal dissatisfaction does not mean that anyone is actually doing as well as they could do or that the world is as good as it can be. Good enough can all too easily be a salve for not doing it well enough. And in this world, there is a lot that is done that is not really good enough, unfortunately. And now in the midst of all of my other tasks that are taking up my time setting up a computer is added to them. That’s the way that life works, though, more things to do in less time with less resources.