A CITY in love with its gadgets, Hong Kong is nonetheless a negligent lover, preferring to abandon objects rather than keep them going past their period of fashionability. It seems wasteful. And yet, it makes sense once you've seen the Hong Kong repair centre's training manual.
How to run a service centre.
Congratulations. You are now an authorised service agent for a major appliance manufacturer. That means you are authorised to do everything in your power to prevent people from getting things repaired. It won't always be easy; some people are notoriously reluctant to throw money away. But follow the advice herein, and before you know it just about every appliance brought in will get chucked in the bin outside your door.
Rule 1: Keep a large bin outside your door.
Rule 2: Location, location, and location. In Hong Kong, an authorised service agent should not consider anything closer to Central than Kwai Chung. Tuen Mun is better. If you're not sure your location is remote enough, listen to the voices of customers phoning in, when you tell them to bring their food processor to Fanling between 10 am and 3 pm. If you do not hear 30 seconds of stunned silence as they compute the cost of a new one versus a lost workday, then you should relocate, perhaps to Tap Mun Island or even the Spratlys, if you can figure out who owns them.
Rule 3: Walk-ups are preferable. People might conceivably haul a washing machine up three flights in 34 degrees Celsius heat once in their lives. They'll opt for washing their clothes in Kai Tak nullah rather than do it a second time.
Rule 4: Charge a fee just for looking at broken stuff. This goes against common courtesy, common sense, common business ethics, and even common decency. As such, Hong Kong people will tolerate it without so much as a whimper. Many even wish they'd thought of it themselves. When you announce the $150 fee for looking at a broken electric pencil sharpener, do it with authority, so no one grasps the full implications of this insult: that you must pay us just to look at the trash we sold you.
Rule 5: Twist the knife. When someone brings in a stereo amplifier, don't just write down 'stereo amplifier - no sound.' Write, 'stereo amplifier - old, obsolete, discount grey import demonstration model, cabinet dented, rusted on bottom, dust in vents. Signs of botched attempts at home repair. Infested with cobwebs, weevils, and lice. Constantly abused and mishandled by maladroit jelly-and-grease-covered fingers. Will try - and we said, 'try' - to breathe some life into this dangerous, outmoded and faintly absurd contraption.' Rule 6: Keep twisting the knife. When the customer brings in a cordless telephone, call in your assistant, who does a double-take as his spectacles fall to the floor. Explain to your assistant that this is what a model 3XC looked like - the one your grandfather used to tell stories about. Thank the customer for lightening your day with this bit of pleasant nostalgia, and ask him what his business is. Quite often it turns out to be nothing at all.
Rule 7: When you estimate, shoot the moon. The price should be less than the cost of a new item, but so marginally that the customer will feel like a fool whether he agrees to the repair or not.
Rule 8: How to get spare parts: Spare parts? For THAT? Rule 9: Conditions, conditions. All payment must be made in cash or .999 fine gold. One month warranty on repairs, not counting parts, labour, wear, negligence, or act of God. Warranty void if the user does not have proper fung shui. Warranty period began as soon as the repairman pronounced it ready, two weeks ago last Thursday. Is it our fault the customer couldn't get back to our new fully-equipped Mai Po service centre to pick it up then? Rule 10: Sometimes a customer still wants something fixed. Don't get overstressed. Remember the service agent's motto: It's Just Not Worth It.