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It feels like incredible customer service might be bad for the environment

It feels like incredible customer service might be bad for the environment


Sometimes a broken thing should be replaced, but sometimes it’d be nicer to just repair it.

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Close-up of the hole where the right joystick cover should be, but now there’s an analog mechanism with a skinny metal rod protruding out. Visible face buttons are the B, Y, home, and plus buttons along with a silver directional pad on a matte black controller.
My controller’s joystick broke off. Sure, I’ll take the free brand-new controller, but I really just wanted a replacement plastic part.
Image: Umar Shakir / The Verge

It’s a good day when you get a free replacement for something broken. For me, it was a new controller. My old controller had its right joystick snap off in my bag. Despite the protruding nub snapping off, the analog mechanism still worked — so I reached out to the manufacturer for a replacement stick, and instead, they sent me a very nice and very new replacement. The thing is, like Carrie from Sex and the City, I didn’t want a replacement Blueberry iBook, Aiden! I just want my PowerBook fixed.

Don’t get me wrong. Of course, I am just as grateful for the replacement as I was for the Thanksgiving turkey I’m still digesting. But my request to customer service wasn’t for a replacement — it was for a part. I inquired again about the part, but they said to just dispose of the broken controller. Not a fan of wasting a good controller, I headed over to eBay and found a broken one I could source parts from. Once I got that in, all it took was 11 screws and I was able to harvest my joystick.

I opened up the donor controller I bought from eBay for $15 and harvested the joystick part I needed.
I opened up the donor controller I bought from eBay for $15 and harvested the joystick part I needed.
Image: Umar Shakir / The Verge

Sure, it took a bit of time and patience on my part to figure out which donor to get, wait on slower eBay seller shipping, and then actually fix it. So I can see how a quick and easy replacement controller would be better for most. I can also sit here and say this repair job is super easy, but for many, dismantling anything can be a scary task. But I’m still trying to cut down on waste here, not make more.

Imagine if your car had to be replaced when a hose got a leak. That’s basically what an increasing number of electronics makers expect of you every time a keyboard stem snaps or a joystick breaks, and the right-to-repair lobby has only begun to stem the tide. Replacement parts for this controller, like so many electronics out there, aren’t always easy to find.

Products from larger manufacturers, like Samsung’s Galaxy devices, Microsoft’s Surface Pro, and Apple’s iPhones, are only now starting to have parts and repair guides available — and that’s happening as more right-to-repair legislation passes. But other products like the MacBook have limited components that are replaceable by design, while Apple Watches can barely be opened by the end user. And let’s not look back at the tech piñata that was the 2017 Surface Laptop.

Electronics manufacturers are going to have to do better in a world that faced a record 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste in 2019, with only 17 percent of it being recycled. In 2021, there was a marginal improvement, but only due to an economy affected by covid.

I get the other side, too: great customer service is key to retaining customers. For a company trying to build a reputation that it stands by its products, swift replacements will always garner positive feedback. Megacorps like Amazon offer quick refunds for stuff — sometimes not even asking to send the old item back. And Apple offers quick swaps for AppleCare customers, recently allowing “unlimited” accidental damage replacements. Plenty of people are reaping the benefits of it by not having to deal with a repair process.

For me, though, I’m all about the repair process. I accepted the replacement controller, got a donor controller, and after my self-repair, I now have two working controllers. That’s a victory for me and a small win for the environment. And now, I’m wondering what the donor controller needs to get working again.