live|work: Healthy Machines — A New Service?

washing-machine-kk.jpgI wish, I wish every (electronic) product I own had it's own IP address so that when it decides to no longer work or when a part fails then I can service it or at least I can organise servicing it easily and seamlessly because all of the information about it would be right there linked to its very own website, not lost in a warranty and instruction manual that I can't find. This is a service vision (or dream) I've been having recently miles from London where my washing machine resides and is currently "making a lot of noise Tamara", or so my tenant tells me. The easy option is to make the sweeping assumption that the machine is probably getting old (circa 6 years +) and it's time to throw it out and go purchase a new one and a brand new warranty and instruction manual that I will never use again. And it goes on So, in this context, I am about to throw away a sizeable carbon footprint and a whole load of toxic material because I never received the warranty documents from the previous owner of my apartment, I don't know what exactly is wrong with my machine and I can't find a local engineer who is interested in it. I've been told, "it sounds like the bearings have gone Miss. Get a new one, I'm sure it will be cheaper". The whole thing is a clouded mystery. I can find hundreds of websites linking to spare washing machine parts and DIY masters prepared to fix washing machines themselves blogging furiously about this, but none of these fulfil my needs.

I am hereby locked into the product paradigm and I don't like it. I don't necessarily want to purchase a new one. I want to see/know where the machine is feeling pain and I would happily pay a premium to get it fixed if I could — if there was a service in place to support the hardware. Oh, and if I throw it away, there will be no trace whatsoever of my action. No one will know how much carbon I have just chucked down the drain and how much toxic produce I have just added to landfill. It goes out of my life, out of my hands and out of the hands of the manufacturer.

If we thought about electronic products as one part of a service that is fulfilling a need then perhaps the consumer proposition, the business model and our relationship with the object would be very different. The sum of the need is much greater than a one off purchase of a product and a one-year warranty on paper. In this instance it starts at the decision-making process through to purchasing, fulfilment, instalment, use (washing my clothes), servicing, repairs, upgrades and then eventually, one day, end of use, recycling and reuse. This doesn't have to be a service model where I don't buy/spend bucks/own the machine. (Electrolux famously prototyped such a Pay Per Wash service in Gotland, Sweden. The washing machine connected to a household electricity meter via the Internet to a central database that tracks the energy consumption of the product. Customers paid for the function of washing alone. See here for notes on it . But it could be an enabling consumer service that supports my product purchase. The value chain is extended when you look at the sum of the need.

Think of a washing machine as an inanimate object, well I'm asking for a (preventative) healthcare system to support it all the way through to its pending death one day. I might pay an ongoing service level agreement fee (like I do for my boiler), but I would certainly pay to access the healthcare system and for the pay-as-you-go healthcare support I need. In this scenario, I am also investing in a long-term relationship with the manufacturer and provider of the service, exchanging data and regular contact with them over the lifetime of my living object. I would grow old with them, spending money over time to service my need and optimising the use of my product. That has got to valuable.

I'd like to fine-tune my washing machine to suit my needs and to suit my bright green vision of the future. If I had to move house and leave my machine behind, I would like to had over the health report/system to the new owner and they would pay me to do that (hang on, I am handing 'Electrolux' a new customer and relationship here, so perhaps actually they pay me to do this). If I really wanted to upgrade my machine, I'd like to e-bay my old one, health service and all, to a great new home. And all of this would be possible.

The PC market and software industry are closest to this model. But there's room for improvement in terms of making the service consumer-friendly and democratic. I was pleased to see that Dixons in the UK have recently launched a domestic technical support service. TechGuys is customer-friendly proposition designed to support digital tech in the home. The research showed that more than two thirds (67%) had thrown away equipment in frustration, rather than try to repair it. Their service intervenes in the system to address this issue.

I'm asking for a product-service for all my electrical goods. Dream on Tamara, you've got a broken machine on your hands to dispose of back home and a brand new manual and warranty to lose.

Written by Tamara Giltsoff

WHAT'S HOT ON FACEBOOK

treehugger slideshows