Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Neat Links, and General Updates

Hi guys, I had some free time today at the office, and thought I'd share a couple links that popped up in my news feed over the last day or two. One is time-sensitive (and a great deal) and the other is generally helpful!

So first off, the Moto X is currently discounted 100$ until tomorrow, (down to 350$ without contract) which is a pretty awesome deal. This is likely a play to try to clear as much stock from their Texas factory as they can before they close it down later this year. These prices will include customization via the Moto Makr, and in my opinion, this is one of the best Android phones on the market right now.
Click here for more information from BoyGeniusReport (Good until June 5th, 2014)

The second neat link I had to share is a webapp called HardReset. This site is a database of phones with instructions on how to hard or soft reset your phone, in the event you need to. For those unfamiliar, a soft reset is similar to removing the battery from your device, shutting it down, and allowing it to reboot into a hopefully less buggy environment. A hard reset wipes all personal information and data from the device, leaving it good as new, for purposes of resale and software debugging.
Click here to visit HardReset

I hope these two links help someone out there. As to our shop, we have been trucking along nicely these last few months, and have exciting news to present. I was accepted into Hampshire as an incoming first year student a few months back, and as the fall approaches, it's looking more and more like that will be the direction I'll be heading.

This doesn't mean our shop is closing, far from it. As classes start, I will be adjusting office hours, and doing more work by appointment, as opposed to walk-in, but other than that, business should continue as normal. I plan to attend Hampshire with a few goals in mind, relevant to the work we do here at MRRU.

Notably, I plan to use these next few years researching and developing new and interesting options for tools and processes for Repair Artists, both professional and amateur. I hope to push forward the science of the work we do into areas yet unexplored by the repair community. I want to implement powerful diagnostic tools, both hardware and software, to simplify the lives and work of Repair Artists everywhere.

While working on all this, I will certainly have less time to throw at company projects, but I hope that a balance can be found that keeps everyone happy. Here's looking forward to a few interesting years, and hoping for huge strides as we step forward into this new endeavour.

Thank you all for your support along this path as our business grows to serve you better.

Friday, September 6, 2013

So that was a year ago...

I glanced at my blog today, and was astounded at the date of the last post. A bunch of things are different about my little company, but the website hasn't changed. That's a little disappointing, and something I was hoping to spend more time working on this summer. Due to a failed hard drive, it's taking a bit longer than intended, and other projects have gotten in the way.

But on the list of successes, we've managed to service over 250 customers' well loved devices, with many coming back to us for additional tech support and future repairs. We've started a membership program, to reduce costs to our regular visitors by as much as 80$ per repair. We've secured more reliable distributors, improved our back-end software, and increased the on-hand parts supply dramatically.

Other than a nagging need to clean my parts cupboard, I'm thrilled with the way our growth has been rocketing up as we gain a community knowledge of our shop. I'm hoping to be able to hire additional help within the next year, but I'll wait to see what the future has in store.

We just got another sign set up on street level, and the visibility to people walking by is great. We've had a number of people stop in because of it already.

So over the next month, I'm hoping to get more people interested in our new membership program, get the updates to the customer-facing website closer to fruition, and blog more.

Here's hoping,

Friday, May 4, 2012

When Good Repairs Go Bad

So, I work regularly with computer repair technicians, both because I secretly know a lot about computers and like to help out, and also because I have a number of friends in the industry. One thing that I've noticed that differs greatly in their business from mine is the timeline each of us works with.

When you drop off your computer in the shop, you plan to pick it up the next day, or later this week, or generally anytime not within an hour and a half. With cell phones, the way we wear them glued to our hips, as soon as it's out of our pockets, we're lost without them. I personally know how regularly I check my pockets for my phone if I don't have it. It's like a security blanket, knowing how close we are to contact with anywhere else in the world.

This is a bit frustrating, when you work on repairing these wonderful little gadgets, because as soon as a customer has left my store, I'm on the clock. They want their phone back, and I want to get it to them as quickly as I can. This usually goes fine, but occasionally mistakes happen. Sometimes these mistakes are mine, but today I ran into a defective screen.

Taking it out of the package a few days ago, it looked fine. I did my normal inspection for cracks and defects and found none. There was nothing visibly wrong with the screen. But after working on a customer's phone for over an hour (a veritable lifetime in time without a phone), I discovered three dead lines. A dead line is a line for which the touchscreen simply does not recognize any interaction. If you move your finger over it, it will pick up the contact on either side of it, but nothing along that line.

Dead lines are one reason people bring their phones to me in the first place, which is to say, not something that most will find acceptable in a replacement screen. So the obvious solution is to remove the touchscreen, and send it back to get a new, not defective, replacement.

I hate telling people that I can't fix their phone, whatever the reason. People dread the idea of going even a single day without them. In the end, it will sort itself out, but on a timeline they might not be thrilled with. To get a new part shipped will take a day or two, and the repair another hour. Since I charge book time, as opposed to actual time worked, the only additional cost to the customer is in time without a phone.

Still, as the one doing the repairs, I affectionately yearn for the time flexibility that computer repair offers. With it's "day or two" window, over the "hour or two" window I normally (admittedly, voluntarily) work under.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Phone Number Transfers

Phone number transfers, or port-ins, were one of the biggest sources of problems for customers I've worked with. Whether it's confusion about the process, or the information needed, I've had more problems crop up for customers with porting, than with any other part of the sales process. I decided it was time to write a bit about how it works, and why it might be confusing.

If you ever have the misfortune of switching carriers, and you want to bring your phone number(s) with you, you have more preparation to do before you visit your local cell phone retailer. At the time that you set up your account, you'll need, in addition to all the other information you'd need to set up your account, The name and billing address of your former account, the account number, and the account password.

The account number is generally written on your cell phone bill, which should also have the billing address. I recommend taking your most recent bill into the store with you for the port-in. Beyond this information, you'll need the password. This is information a surprising number of customers I've helped don't know. Either they never set one up, or it's been so long they just can't remember. The next step is to call their customer service, and reset their password.

From my point of view, I prefer, unless I'm very busy, to make calls to customer service on behalf of my customers. This is because with experience comes efficiency, and knowing how to talk to the people at customer service to get the answers I want for my customer. Sometimes this requires a bit of creative truthing or selective omission to sneak through the system a little faster, or come out with a better deal for my customer. Resetting a password is something I cannot do for a customer, and I must relinquish the role of intermediary.

A good customer service rep will take advantage of this moment where he has the customer's ear, often going beyond the verification steps to start troubleshooting with the customer. This is usually fine, and often makes things easier for me. Occasionally though, while resetting a password, or getting an account number, my customer will coolly comment to the customer service rep that they're planning to take their account elsewhere.

I don't know why this happens, but it always lengthens the process a bit, as the customer service rep tries to talk my customer out of switching, which very rarely works. In any event, we eventually get the information we need, occasionally by hanging up and calling again. Only once did I ever have a customer service rep refuse to give us information because we were trying to leave. Only option was to try again with a different rep. I don't know if myself or the customer were more surprised.

With the information in hand, punching it into the system is easy enough. The only rub comes with the fact that in most systems I've tried, they don't alert you to an incorrect password. If you happen to guess wrong, or the agent types it in wrong, the only alert you will get to the fact that it didn't work is that 48 hours later, it still won't work.

If it hasn't worked, you have to call customer service, and ask for the port-in center, and they can then tell you why, and help you to fix it. They are usually very helpful once you get them on the phone, but it's the same process all over again.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Eventually, things will sort themselves out.

I've always hated port-ins, but they're a necessary evil if you want to take your number with you. At least they are for most people. There are ways to get around that, but I'll come back to that later.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What Is Your Phone Number Tied To?

It might seem like a weird question, but what is your phone number tied to? There are a couple of ways to answer this question.

Wikipedia posits, in rather complicated language:
Telephone number mapping is the process of unifying the telephone number system of the public switched telephone network with the Internet addressing and identification name spaces. Telephone numbers are systematically organized in the E.164 standard, while the Internet uses the Domain Name System for linking domain names to IP addresses and other resource information. Telephone number mapping systems provide facilities to determine applicable Internet communications servers responsible for servicing a given telephone number by simple lookups in the Domain Name System.
 But that's not very helpful.

For most people, a phone number is tied to a phone. For some people, a phone number is tied to a house, or a business. More and more, though, we see phone numbers as being tied to a person. This is bound to happen, as our phones become seen as more and more an extension of ourselves.

While this tendency to associate phone numbers with people leads us towards powerful new communicative methods, it comes with dangerous risks. Anyone who has had to change to a new number can attest to the difficulty of  doing so. Everyone you talk to has to be updated, and god forbid you forget someone, the consequences could be dire. This danger stems from the distinction between how we think about our phone numbers, and how the technology handles it.

I said earlier that phone number are often seen to be tied to people. The technology dictates that despite the way we think about our phone numbers, they must be tied to your phone. This is also why transferring your number to a new carrier is such a hassle.

There are several emerging services available to bridge this gap. They are all effectively call forwarding services, with a few extra features specific to recent technologies. I run my business on Google Voice, which allows my business number to be tied to me, whether I'm in my office, at home, or on the road. It's been very useful, and allowed me access to some neat tricks with my Android and iOS devices, which I'll get into another time.

While GV is what works for me, there are other call forwarding services out there. PhoneboothLine2, and RingCentral all offer similar services, though generally with some variance to features or costs. I recommend taking a look at the various telephony services, and seeing if any of them could fit into your life.

Tying your phone number to you, instead of to your phone allows much more freedom from your phone carrier. Perhaps, with the right combination of apps and luck, a cell phone carrier could be made unnecessary.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Voicemail Is Not a Backup Solution

So, this is going to be a sad story. I'm sorry in advance, but it's one I need to tell, in the hopes that this post saves at least one person from the same heartbreak as I saw one of my customers experience.

First, some important information, for people who have never used a prepaid phone. Prepaids have two tanks, both of which need to be filled for the phone to work. One tank is full of minutes of talk time, and the other is full of days of service. Any time you refill one, you also refill the other. If you talk a lot, you'll often have service dates well off into the foreseeable future. Alternatively, if you rarely use your phone, you may find you have thousands of minutes to spare, but still need to top up once a month, or once every three months, just to keep service on the device. Often if you run out of minutes, the service days remain, but depending on your provider, if the days elapse, you may run the risk of having your account closed, after some delay.

I was working one afternoon, when a customer came in to top up her prepaid phone. She had a phone, maybe 5 years old, still chugging away, and had a prepaid service she'd carried for at least as long. She told me that due to an unexpected illness, she had been unable to refill her phone before the days remaining on her account elapsed. Her account had been suspended, and she was looking to get it turned back on. She was a customer I had helped before, and she had always been friendly, if a bit less tech-savvy than some.

I asked her how long it had been shut off for, to which she told me she wasn't quite sure. She had been ill for a number of weeks, during which her phone was the least of her worries. She said that it had been off for at least a week, possibly as much as a month. When I commented that she may lose her phone number as a result, she seemed concerned.

She asked me if her voicemails would be accessible, once her phone was turned back on. I honestly told her that I wasn't sure, but dutifully got onto the phone with customer service to find out. After some amount of time with them, I managed to resecure her phone number, and get the phone topped up, but had no guarantee from the customer service rep (who was wonderful, if unsure about the rather obscure inquiry) as to the status of her voice mailbox.

When we turned her phone back on, she gave a call to her voicemail, finding it to be empty. She told me, as tears came to her eyes, that she'd lost the only recording she'd had of her father, whom she had lost earlier that year. She had kept this phone, which she no longer needed, topped up with the sole purpose of retaining her last living tie to her father, the voice on the other end that neither she, nor anyone else could replace.

She was crushed. I talked to everyone I could at the customer service center, trying my damnedest to find someone who would tell me that recovery might just be possible. Again and again I was told that there was no way they knew of to save her father's message. It was deleted when her account lapsed, through little fault of her own.

As she left my store, she could barely hold herself together. I knew she didn't blame me, and I knew it wasn't my fault, and yet every inch of me felt guilty as the bearer of that awful news. "I'm sorry, but you will never hear your father's voice again." were words I didn't say, I didn't need to. But it was the message I had to deliver her.

For the love of all the things that mean something special, things we can't replace, if you keep a voicemail as a memento, find another way to keep it. Whether you use a cable to the mic jack on your computer, potentially with an adaptor (2.5mm to 3.5mm, for most older phones, 6$ @ Radio Shack), or hire someone to do it for you (while not advertised, MRRU can offer this service), find a way to store your special voicemails elsewhere.

This story is not about prepaid phones, or about my guilt in being the bearer of bad news, or even about voicemail, really. This is a story about a recording that meant the world to someone, until that recording was lost forever. If you have meaningful recordings, back them up, and if you have meaningful recordings in your voice mailbox, get them copied somewhere else. Please.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Only Thing To Fear...

I mentioned yesterday that the willingness to dive into unknown problems with enthusiasm could be a valuable asset to any cell phone owner, and that I thought that it was worth expounding on in another post. Rather than let this idea die on the vine, or languish in the annals of my "Drafts" pile, I thought I'd talk about it while still fresh in my mind.

I have helped many people become acquainted with their phones. I have seen hundreds of customers running the gamut from young teenagers with their first cell phones (side note, I was 14 when I got my first, flimsy little candybar phone, and years later, I sold a 9 year old girl a touchscreen blackberry... technological progress is weird), to businesspeople, to octogenarians.

The interesting thing about this wide range of people is that, contrary to what you might expect, younger people do not always grasp technology faster. While it is true that teens tend to desire the latest and greatest technologies, even this is not universally true. I have met many a teen who not only prefer simple flip or candybar style handsets, but even refuse to acknowledge any usefulness in even the most basic of smartphones. On the other hand, I've seen 70-something year-old couples bicker to each other how each has chosen the better smartphone. For the record, if you and your chosen mate disagree on the iPhone vs. Android debate, 46 years of marriage won't fix it.

The only common denominator that I can see in those who will be most successful with their new smartphones, is that they all lack the fear of failure. They dive, head first, into their new devices with reckless abandon, unafraid of the repercussions of a particular app install, changed setting, or customisation.

Contrast this with those who fear their phones from the start, unwilling to touch a single option, or change anything from the stock system they start with. It's no wonder that these people need to be walked, hand-in-hand, through every new feature before they will be willing to try it out on their own. It's no wonder, but it's also no easy feat.

The real secret to learning how to use your smartphone is to be the former, brave owner and commander of your new phone. Take control, explore it as if it were the new world, and you were Magellan. Just don't die along the way, the metaphor isn't perfect. In any event, the worst that can possibly happen is that your phone might start to get a bit slow. You might not like some of the changes you've made, or find that you can no longer easily find things you once could, But there is hope! Between people like me, here to help make sense of your misguided choices, and the cell phone's natural ability to, at the touch of a button, revert to it's original state, there is no mistake you could make that cannot be undone.

Everything you can do on your phone is reversible, usually without any loss of data. I recommend to every customer I train, "Take this phone. Try to break it. If you can, I'll fix it, and you'll know not to do quite what you did there again."

Just to clarify, "Try to break it." has nothing to do with physical damage, just the settings on the phone. People like me exist so that when your phone inexplicably stops ringing, and you can't figure out how you did it, I can set it right, and show you how it happened.

Everything is fixable, and if you're not afraid to break it, you will learn your phone better, and faster, and you'll have far more fun with it along the way. Don't fear your phone, it's only a tool, and it's your tool, not the other way around. Make it yours. You won't regret it.