Service of Assuming: Upgrades that Benefit the Vendor

January 11th, 2021

Categories: Customer Service, Technology, Upgrades


I’ve written before about upgrades that aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be and more often than not, are of little if any benefit to the consumer.

The evening before my apartment building was to replace washers and dryers we received a notice. The dedicated plastic credit cards that start the machines were to be replaced by new ones along with a fancier digital gadget to activate them. The old cards would no longer work and after the installation there would be no way to read the old cards to see what money remained. [We are usually given at least a week’s notice if the water will be turned off of elevators repaired. This last minute notice is unusual.]

“Let the company know how much is left on your card,” the instructions stated, and there would be two ways to be reimbursed: mail the old card to the company along with the amount or transfer the money to the new one via a series of steps on the new digital gadget in the laundry room. [A tenant who’d figured out the latter step saved me time by doing it for me. Grateful, I paid for a load of her laundry. For this to happen, however, the tenant had to first notify the washing machine company with the amount on the old card.]

Armed with a new card with money on it I asked “what happens if the Internet connection is down when I need to refill the card?” I might need to take a night course at MIT or drag my laundry back upstairs and wait until it is restored to proceed.

My guess is that many tenants have no idea how much was left on their old cards–nice for the washing machine company as ours is a big building.

More important, the instructions encouraged tenants to download an app on their smart phones to use the machines in future. This presumes that every tenant owns a smartphone and that they want to download another app, creating one more potential leak for hackers to play “suck my money.”


Turns out that for now at least you can use the card to work a machine.

I wrote at least based the model of the future of MetroCards used to pay carfare on NYC subways: the cards have a short life. In two years we will only enter the system by digital pay via a smartphone.

Take a look at the locations in Manhattan that are scheduled to dole out Covid-19 vaccines. [I trust the list will grow in time.] All require appointments, some made by telephone; others online. What if a citizen has no access to the Internet?

Do tenants who chose the app option need to leave their phones with a housekeeper or guest who want to do a laundry so they have the indicia to flash at and start the machines?

Should businesses and organizations assume that all potential customers are up to speed technologically?  Is the savings so great that losing a few customers because they’re not doesn’t matter? Have you gone head to head with technology?


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7 Responses to “Service of Assuming: Upgrades that Benefit the Vendor”

  1. Moustapha Bin As-Lip Said:

    The world’s worst example of this, even without smartphones, were all those not-so-faintly threatening ads we used to see all over the tristate area when E-Z-Pass went over to no longer using toll booths.

    It was touted as a major advance in travel technology but in reality the ‘meat’ of the ads was the threat to bill the owner of the car for all tolls now automatically collected on trips HE hadn’t actually made! I’ll bet it saved the Toll & Tunnel Authority bags of money. AND as an added bonus, no one can argue about these incorrectly incurred tolls any more AND they no longer have to apply car-pooling discounts, so the new method of collection can net them even more bags of money!

  2. Hank Goldman Said:

    Hank on Facebook: Technology has been a lifesaver during pandemic times… Staying in touch via zoom, etc.! But I agree you have to give people an alternative like using cards and or cash.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I always thought E-Z Pass created a brilliant way for the company to make money. It would suck money out of my credit card when it felt like it, making interest on the unused dollars in my account that never went below $25.

    Gift cards are similar. The company has use of the money while the recipient decides how to spend it. Often there are a few dollars left which never get used because the card is lost or it’s too much trouble to drag it around. Multiply say $3 times millions of cards…WOW! The mother of these concepts were traveler’s checks which nobody remembers. They charged a fee per $100 and had use of your money until it was spent. A beautiful thing, but not for the consumer!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I rely on technology and embrace it–until it creates a hurdle or it makes me do something I don’t want to do.

    In addition, I resent the assumption the designers often make. In the case of access to washing machines and dryers, for example, the app on a tenant’s smartphone assumes that a tenant always does his/her own laundry. What happens if a guest wants to do a laundry? Or if the tenant has a housekeeper? Do tenants leave behind their phones while off to work?

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    So I don’t need to complicate my life with a smart phone — does this mean I won’t be able to ride the subway? How about the bus? Is a taxi lobby at work, or must one pay that way also? Perhaps this bright idea will meet with resistance, unless everyone is provided with a smart phone + instructions to pay for public transportation, free of charge.

  6. Hank Goldman Said:

    Hank on Facebook: We are entering a new phase in our lives… We need to carry around 13-year-olds who know everything technological as soon as they’re born! My grandson does things so intuitively… But eventually I’m sure we will get the knack of it… There must be a guest mode for your Washing Machine… If not then your complaint is right on the button!

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’m envisioning a child assigned to anyone who went to school before personal computers. While I think ancients can grasp what they must to function I resent being forced to upgrade gadgets I have or access online banking or borrowing techniques I distrust.

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