Dear Client, Before You Call, Here’s a Checklist

by John Sciacca I can appreciate that the phone is a potential revenue stream for us here at Custom Theater and Audio. And, lord knows that we have gotten more than our fair share of business from people calling us to find out if we do something or to schedule a job. So, while I often w
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by John Sciacca



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I can appreciate that the phone is a potential revenue stream for us here at Custom Theater and Audio. And, lord knows that we have gotten more than our fair share of business from people calling us to find out if we do something or to schedule a job. So, while I often want to smash it into little plastic bits against my desk while screaming, “I hate you! I hate you! I HATE YOU!!!” to punish you for your incessant ringing, I DO appreciate our phone. For the most part at least.

In short, if a phone call is related to anything regarding home audio/video/automation and whether or not we do it, then the answer is, “YES!” We DO sell TVs. We DO install TVs. We DO come out to your home. We DO have a showroom. Yes, yes, yes.

However, if the question has anything to do with a car – we are NOT Custom Theater and Auto, nor are we Custom Tire and Audio – and the answer is NO. We don’t install car stereos, work on car stereos, recommend any car stereos, or help pull broken CDs out of car stereos. We also are not a TV repair center, aren’t interested in troubleshooting computers or phone systems, and we aren’t an actual movie theater, and I don’t know the upcoming show times.

But the calls with the highest potentiometer for truly annoying me are the, “My system is broken calls.” We do a lot – A LOT – of telephone troubleshooting. Partly to help our customers get back up and running as quickly as possible and offer some value added service. Most problems are relatively minor, and can be solved in a couple of minutes on the phone, saving us the scheduling hassle of a truck roll and the customer a $60 bill for us to just press a single button in many cases. (Oh, Tape 2 Monitor button…how many kids did you put through college? Sigh…) And most callers are just thrilled that you are trying to help them with their problems and understand that this call is the single thing standing between them and a no-worky TV. So, they take it upon themselves to be the best little helpers they can be.

But, some callers seem to miss the point here, so I thought I would help them by offering a handy, 10-item pre-call checklist to go over before picking up the phone to call in for help.

1. Have you taken your daily dose of Clonazepam or Prozac or Wellbutrin or whatever it is that you need to take to keep your anger management issues in check? When you call me, I want your chemicals fully in balance, I want your chakras aligned, and I want to be able to hear the chipper tones of sunshine and rainbows coming out of your end of the call. I realize that you might be upset over the situation, but your anger is probably not going to be conducive to the cure and is totally misdirected at me. So if you feel that a warm bath, glass of scotch, or donning a comfortable robe and bunny slippers is going to get you in the right spirit, then by all means, indulge!

2. Let’s come up with a safe word, OK? When I say, “Excuse me…” that means that you have strayed beyond the bounds of what I need to know for this interaction. I do want to hear what is going on with your system, and any troubleshooting steps that you have taken and anything else pertinent to the immediate fix, but we need to focus and stay on topic and keep the hysteria – “DON’T YOU KNOW THAT MY TEAM IS ABOUT TO START PLAYING?! IF I DON’T GET TO WATCH THIS GAME…!!! – to a minimum.

3. You DO realize that you are calling me, right? You have initiated this interaction and are now essentially asking me for help. I mean, minutes before I was just sitting here completely oblivious to you and your problems, likely actually doing something important (we can pretend) so for you to immediately start off totally antagonistic and hostile and unhelpful and put out is not instantly making me feel all warm and fuzzy and cheery and helpful. In fact, it makes me want to break out into cheers of “You, You, You’re a jerk! I don’t care if it doesn’t work!” Or perhaps bring in the JV color squad for, “Sorry that your screen is black! Maybe next time you won’t be such a jackass…”

4. In line with point 3, you ALSO realize that I didn’t break your system, right? Whatever happened has happened on your watch. Now, I’m not implying that YOU broke it either. Sometimes things just break. But, I’d like you to come at me with the same level of respect and not have this accusatory, jabbing-your-finger-in-my-chest tone in your voice. I’m not at your house, and I likely haven’t BEEN at your house for some time. In fact, at MY house, my system is –right now – working. Perfectly. And once you paid your final invoice, it ceased being “my system.” Ownership fully transferred to you. The system that is now not working that you’re calling about… yeah, it’s YOURS. So, look into the mirror before you start using pointy-aggressive phrases like “You did…” and “Your system…” and “You need to…” Instead, think soothing things like, “I’m really hoping you can…” and “Boy, it would sure be great if…” and “Man! You’d be a total life-saver if…” Thems fixin’, let’s get’er done, go team words!

5. This is a really tough one here so I’m going to go slow. I need… for you… to listen… to everything… that I ask you… to do. I’m not asking you questions because I’m sitting here bored at work. That’s what I have blogging for, and, I must say, it is quite the little time filler. I’m asking you questions because I need to know the information in order to proceed. And you might THINK that you interrupting me and talking all loud and trying to talk over me and – seriously? – arguing with me is helping, but I promise you, it isn’t. That’s why we established the safe word up front, remember? Because that kind of behavior makes me think you need to hang up, get a large glass of water, revisit item 1, wait 30 minutes, and then start over. When I hear arguing, I start to think, “Man, maybe this guy really needs some time away from TV… all those moving images were making him really unhappy and tense.”

6. Assume that ANY problem you have had, I’ve dealt with many – MANY – times before. In all but the rarest of rare cases, your system is really NOT that unique. You have a receiver, you have a Blu-ray, you have a TV, and you have a cable box. So when I say things like, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure it is your cable box” and then a few minutes later when I reiterate, “Mmm-hmmm, it pretty much DEFINITELY sounds like your cable box!” then I’d like you to take on just a little bit of faith that, “Hey! Wow! Maybe it IS my cable box!” Look, I’m not saying you’re a bad person. I’m not asking you to take the blame for Time Warner or Scientific Atlanta or anyone else. We’ve got a bad cable box situation here. It happens. A lot. Let’s focus on the solution here and not on defending the cable company. And, for the record, “the TV that you sold me!” has no way of showing a screen that says, “The channel you have requested is currently unavailable” or “To request service, call XXX.” Those are messages from your cable company. That precious guide that is NOT coming up? Yeah, cable company. And when we move on past the fact that it isn’t the TV, please – oh Dear Eight Pound, Six Ounce, Newborn Baby Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant, so cuddly, but still omnipotent – PLEASE do not then start asking me if I think it is your remote control. Because I’m not… I’m STILL thinking it’s your cable box!

7. If you think that the problem IS remote control in nature – as in, “That stupid remote you sold me stopped working!” – then answer these two questions: 1) Does the remote operate EVERYTHING else except the cable box? Hmm? Volume goes up and down? TV turns on and off? Blu-ray does its Blu-ray thing? That all works fine with the remote does it? The problem is that the cable box isn’t changing channels or responding is it? Well then it’s the cable box that’s the problem. 2) When is the last time you tried changing the batteries? Now, keep in mind that when I hear you say, “I just changed them!” I’m really thinking that your use of the word “just” has a very broad and loose definition. Especially since you told me that we “just installed” your system and I’m seeing that it was actually five years ago. Do us both a favor, and just humor me by changing the batteries. If you say you don’t have any more batteries in a defeatist tone like you are now putting that problem back on me, what I’m *hearing* is, “OK, fine. I want you to charge me $60 for a service call plus $4 for a pack of batteries.” Also, when we sold you the new smart remote control, that was not a declaration of, “OK, now would be a GREAT time to throw ALL of your other remotes in the trash! In fact, put them in a pile and jump up and down on them first, really give them a good breakin’. You’ll never need those pieces of crap again!” No. In fact, what I probably said was, “Let’s put these in a drawer where we can find them if we ever need to access them again in the future.” Here, this point, right now… THIS is that future. When I ask you to get the original manufacturer’s remote, this is the moment we’ve been waiting for.

8. I know that it’s a difficult concept to grasp – especially in your super-heightened state of agita – but I am actually on the other end of the phone trying to help you. Oh, it’s true! Because the faster we resolve this puzzle, the faster both of us can go back to doing whatever else we were in the midst of. So, please, do whatever you can in your power to actually assist me in this endeavor. Literally help me help you! It’s probably late in the day – for some reason you angry callers like to wait until around 5:30 before picking up the phone – so I am literally your last chance of being able to watch TV this evening. And I can just tell from the tone in your voice that you aren’t in an “I’ll just curl up by the fire with a good book” kind of mood. So, let’s not blow it, OK? This is a strained, tenuous bond we are trying to develop here and one wrong slip up could result in me saying, “Well, I just don’t think I can help you any more over the phone. I’ll have to schedule a service call.” I’m already *thinking* it…I need YOU to convince me NOT to say it!

9. Along with item 8, when I say something like, “OK, I need you to try this for me…” or “OK, can you read me what this says…” or – the biggie – “I’m going to need you to unplug this (OK, high 90-percent chance that this IS going to be the cable box) for me…” then I really don’t need any guff or back-talk or sass or lame-sauce. It’s time to buck-up, little camper! I can lead you to the water, but you’ve got to decide to swim. And I’m not asking you to jam a knife into an electrical socket. Those wires are not a nest of pit vipers. You’re not going to have to grab a radioactive pellet out of a glass jar of acid. Take a moment, gather your wits, and unplug the frickin’ cable!

10. Please do not – DO NOT – do anything until I ask you to do it. Repeatedly turning things on and off or just arbitrarily pressing multiple buttons on the remote, or jabbing at controls on the receiver, or trying to rapidly change channels or whatever else those competing voices in your mind are telling you to do…STOP! None of that is going to help us. In fact, it is probably only going to set back any progress that we’ve made. You have essentially stood up at the peace talks, declared, “My people would rather DIE than DEAL!” and then buried a knife up to its hilt into the map sitting on the table. It is totally counter-productive. When it’s time to press a button or try something, you will be the second person to know. (PS: I’m the first.)

Now, I’m not guaranteeing that EVERY problem can be successfully resolved over the phone. You might be a perfect little Boy Scout troubleshooter, have earned all of your Phone Call Merit Badges and performed everything I asked you to do perfectly, and we STILL might not be able to fix the problem over the phone. But, if you practice these steps, the chances that your system will be back up and running – and that we can still be friends when we hang-up – are going to be greatly improved!

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