Friday, January 19, 2018

Understanding Misunderstanding: Sometimes It's Not Just a Stupid Question

A few years ago, I had a call at my store from a student asking if I did key duplication and how much it cost. Being a shipping and office services center, I indeed did duplicate keys, at the time only charging $2.99 per key. So, I told her, "Absolutely! It's just two ninety nine per key." All seemed well.

She called back a minute or two later and said, "Wait, did you mean two hundred and ninety nine dollars or two dollars and ninety nine cents?" I was dumbfounded by the question. Making a snap judgment that it must be a prank, I gave her a sassy Seth Meyers-style "Really!?" Followed by a "Grow up." And then I rudely hung up on her. I did not handle the call gracefully, especially considering that it was most certainly not a prank...

You see, shortly after that incident I had another student ask me the same questionseeking clarification on whether key duplication was in the one-figure or three-figure range. And since then I've had quite a few more young clients react in a similar way when they find out how much key duplication costs. In fact, just yesterday someone said, "I thought making a key would be at least $40!"

Here's the skinny: most key blanks cost me between 17 and 29 cents each; it takes less than a minute to cut each one. I charge more than $2.99 now, but even at that price it was still a great margin on a very easy service to provide. And, being in a college town with students constantly moving in and out, I do quite a bit of volume in key making; I've even done them in bulk for some local property managers. Key cutting is a great add-on to my business, and the operation takes up less than three square feet of floor space at my shop. I love it! My prices are slightly higher now, but remain very fair and still less than but competitive with other options in my area.

I've thought about it a lot: how could a good portion of this new generation of people sincerely not know if traditional non-chip key duplication costs $2.99 or $299.00? How do they have no concept of a price range? After all, it's just a tiny piece of metal with a few notches cut into it. Well, the answer is simple: they've just never had to do it before.

A good percentage of the local students with whom I work come from privileged backgrounds, so they're not a representative sample of the population at large by any means. Most were born at the end of the 1990s and some in the early 2000s. Many of their homes used code pads or smart entries, not keys. Or, if they did have keys, likely the kids weren't the ones responsible to have them reproduced. Their cars used fobs, not traditional keys, with average fob replacement costs around $200 from a dealer (and up to $500 for luxury models). And I think it's fair to assume that they've likely had little need or reason to walk by the key machine at Home Depot and make mental notes of prices.

It's purely a matter of one's frame of reference. For me, growing up in a similar family business to the one I now own, if I needed a new key for my car, house, locker, or mailbox, I would just make one myself on the old key machine that we kept in the back of one of our shops. And my first car, a 1985 white Chevrolet Impala with a V8 engine, suspension like a dream, a giant maroon vinyl bench seat up front, and a fancy schmancy tape deck with a removable face that I paid way too much to have custom installed when I was a junior in high school, didn't even need a key to start it by the time I was done with it. After 200K+ miles, the key starter bit was so worn out that all I had to do was twist the general area around where the key used to go and my baby would start purring. And, after I locked myself out a few times and had to jimmy the door open with a wire coat hanger, I learned that I could screw a spare door key (door keys and ignition keys were two separate things then) behind the front license plate (but not behind the back plate, because that’s where the gas tank was). Life was simple. And I feel like there was always an occasion to make a duplicate key for something or other.

Those experiences aren't anything most in the new crop of young adults have ever gone through. Most have also never had occasion to write a check or address an envelope, so when they come in for the first time and have to mail a rent check to their #oldschool landlord who doesn't take electronic payment, they are completely lost and bewildered. I guide them through the processas Uncle Marty doesand give them a template I've made to show them exactly where the from address, to address, and stamp go on the envelope. They are fascinated by the process and many of them take a copy of the template with them to share with their friendsa novelty for the group.

When they buy greeting cards, at least half of my student clients don't know that the envelope is included with the card at no additional charge; they don't know that matching envelopes designed specifically for each card are tucked in behind the cards on the rack. When they come to the counter to buy the card without an envelope and I point out that they're welcome to take the envelope that goes with it too, most of the time I get a blank stare in return. So, I walk them to the card rack, show them where the envelopes are, and watch their faces light up with excited revelation: "You mean the envelope is free!?"

Many of the students I work with have never packed a box before. They come in to my shop to buy boxes when they're preparing to move, but when they come back to put those boxes into storage or ship them, I'm constantly amazed at how they've attempted to close them. Flaps are bent, folded, and crammed every which way but the way the box was engineered. They use every kind of tape they can find (including Scotch tape, masking tape, and duct tape, none of which are suitable for shipping) and put tape everywhere on the box except over the seam where it should be. It's really quite intriguing. What I think is common sense because it's what I grew up doing isn't common sense to them. Rather, constructing and taping a box is a brand new challenge that they've never had to think about before. And, to their credit, I can attest that they are seriously creative in their solutions to this challenge!

The study of generations is fascinating. I'm fortunate to be part of a team at AMBC that's doing a lot of research in this area. One team member, Sarah, who's a baby boomer with millennial children, is an expert on the millennial mindset. Other team members, Seema and Fahim, who like myself are Generation X, study the topic hard and, because they have both millennial and Generation Z children, bring a lot of insight on the contrasts in thinking, processing, and frames of reference between millennials and Generation Ztwo groups often mistakenly bundled together, but really quite different. 

We study these generations because their spending habits are so varied, and understanding those habits helps our and our friends' businesses market more appropriately and effectively, meet changing needs and patterns, and grow. I won't get into all of that generational generalization now, but I promise it really is an interesting area of research. (And, yes, I did check with #GrammarGirl to make sure I capitalized generation names correctly, the distinction among which is also quite interesting.) (

My point with all this is to remind you and me to consider someone's context when they're doing something that might make absolutely no sense to us or when they ask what we might think is an incredibly stupid question, so much so that we may even assume they're playing a prank on us. Someone may be from such a different background, culture, level of exposure, or generation that something we understand as common sense may be a brand new concept to them. Sure, we may chuckle under our breath or roll our eyes at times, but deep down we must understand that where we're coming from isn't where everyone else is. 

I strongly regret my reaction to that student who called about the $299.00 keys. I belittled her and hung up on her, though she was just asking a legitimate question. It's a hard lesson to learn, but I hope I can understand a little bit more moving forward. Sometimes we think we have a lot to teach someoneespecially someone younger with seemingly less life experiencebut the education works both ways. 

What we have yet to learn is far greater than what we think we already know. 

#AMBC4ME #AskUncleMarty #BabyBoomers #Millennials #GenerationX #GenerationZ


Also published on the AMBC blog on January 19, 2018.

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