We’ve all heard the old adage, “The customer is always right.” That no matter what they want, no matter what they demand, no matter how outrageous, off-mark or bizarre the request, that the customer is still right.
But, in the *real* world—especially when it comes to technology requests—we know that sometimes the customer is not right. And some of the things that happen at a client’s home not only aren’t right, they’re just plain *wrong*. Because once you step outside of the controlled confines of your showroom and into the strange and foreign world known as “the client’s house,” you can, and will, encounter any number of strange and bizarre situations.
My company has certainly experienced our share of awkward “What the…?!?” moments at client’s homes over the years. Some of my personal “favorites” include:
• Going to troubleshoot the customer’s fixed AV system with him standing beside you and pressing play on the VCR, only to have the movie “Naughty Nympho Nurses” pop up right in the middle of a, uh, naughty and, umm, nympho scene.
• Asking a client to select a DVD for us to demo the system and having him specifically select a hardcore porno title because, “I want to see how it looks with my Boom-Boom movies!”
• Going up on a ladder to install some speakers and finding a bowl of white powder that wasn’t confectioner’s sugar on top of an armoire…
• Sitting down to discuss the system with a client while he is wearing a robe. That keeps yawning open. To reveal that he is wearing nothing under the robe.
• Having a customer who feels that you coming over to install his audio system is the perfect time to sit back and light up a fatty while he watches you work.
• Installing a new music server to a client’s system and adding the music from their computer where you discover their hidden porn stash in the My Music folder. While the wife is standing right over your shoulder.
So, I reached out to other installers to see if they would share their bizarre client stories with me. Here are their responses. And if you have a bizarre install story to share, please feel free to add it in the comments section!
“Once upon a time, I went to put together a quote for a pro football player. We went through the house room by room discussing his AV needs and talked about everything from a theater in his basement to a TV above the fireplace. When we got to the bedroom we started to discuss the best placement for the flat panel. He then hopped on the bed and asked me to lay down to see if the viewing angle would work. I politely declined.”
Heather Sidorowicz (@tech_chi)
Project Manager/Designer, Southtown Audio Video
“One of my very best clients is an older gentleman, he and his wife in their late 60's. They are extremely wealthy, owning an entire floor in NYC. His wife spends most of her day in the parlor with her personal maid but always conveniently leaves the door open when we are there. She walks around the room in a completely see through robe with nothing underneath it. On very special days, you will walk by to see her doing Latin aerobics in the robe, with her maid holding on to her in case she falls. We are always very cautious of walking by her open door as you never know what you will see in there.”
Todd Anthony Puma (@thesourcehti)
President, The Source Home Theater Installation & Design
“I have a quick story that happened about a year ago. We had an alternative lifestyle couple as a client that sold their home. The very nice conservative banker that bought the home needed a consultation and training on how to use the system that came with the home. When we went into the master bedroom to go through the operation and testing, we found that nothing was working. It was discovered that the IR emitters had been pulled off the equipment; probably by the movers who did not realize that it was staying. I lifted the Satellite receiver to look for the IR bud that was missing. My new customer, the conservative banker, was standing right next to me as I lifted the receiver to find a leftover gift from the previous owners: wedged between the Blu-Ray Player and Satellite receiver, a disc with the label showing two men locked in a very uncomfortable looking embrace with all body parts exposed. I quickly lowered the Satellite box and explained that we would have to have one of my technicians do a software upgrade and fix the master bed IR system at the same time. Neither of us said a word about the disc as we briskly exited the master bedroom.”
Chris Porter (@chrisporter9587)
General Manager, Peak Audio & Video
“This happened to me when I was fresh in the AV industry. My first installation, to be precise, and I was just a month into the job. The client had a Paradigm 5.1 system in the living room and standalone stereo systems in the bedrooms. The architect’s team had already placed the speakers and all I needed to do was calibrate the system. So I do my job of calibrating the systems and called in the client’s wife in order to explain the operation to her. She and the maid were the only people in the house and boy does she come onto me! First all giggly and jolly at how wonderful the system was, then subtly touching my hands as I kept teaching her the operations of the remote control. I left soon after, trying my best to avoid anything even remotely stirring. Of course the incident was never mentioned at work. I later learned that the client had CCTVs fitted in all the rooms, including the bedrooms, fearing his wife’s escapades. I was of course cowering in fear. Thereafter whenever I had the necessity to visit the site, I’d go in, avoid any contact with her, and get out. Disturbing, to say the least."
Varun Jagger (@varunjagger), Pune
“A few years back, I had a client that loved his booze but loved his ‘professional dancers’ even more. It was this love that prompted his question, ‘Do you think cameras would be ok in a vent?’ I knew immediately where this conversation was going. The client asked me to put CCTV cameras in his bedroom HVAC vents to record his escapades. ‘I want to document my fun where I don't remember much in the morning,’ he said."
Jeff Terzo (@jterzo1)
Regional Sales Manager, RS Pro Sales
“Here's a few of our latest awkward client run-ins I've been compiling from the techs and salesmen over the last few days.
One of our clients here in the mountains of NC is a well-known folk artist and art collector. As artists can sometimes be, he is on the eccentric side at times. Anyway, he called us to come out for a service call on his alarm system. Upon arrival, he answered the door completely in the nude expect for a pair of socks. He then welcomed the tech and invited him in as if every one of our clients was a naked, elderly man and nothing was out of the ordinary. Taken aback by the gentleman's nonchalance over his lack of clothing, the tech didn't know whether to come in and start working or run away. Several jokes about being old, naked, and ‘not giving a damn’ from the client and some pants defused the awkward situation and allowed the tech to get to work.
At another job, we were called out to look at system in which the Netflix in a Blu-ray player had stopped working. A simple adjustment to the Wi-Fi and player fixed the problem and the tech indiscriminately selected a movie to show the clients the system was working. The look of horror on the wife's face quickly made clear that something was amiss. The movie selected didn't start at the beginning, but rather, had resumed at a steamy love scene where someone had left off watching. In an awkward flurry of button presses, the tech scrambled to get the movie stopped when he realized what was happening. Luckily, the brief moment of embarrassment turned into a good laugh for everyone.
Also recently, one of our salesmen took a couple and their contractor to the home of another client who allows us to use his theater for occasional demonstrations. When our salesman pressed the 'Sat' button on the touchpanel remote, the lights dimmed, the curtain opened, the star field ceiling turned on, and the audio/video equipment powered on just as expected and designed to do. What wasn't expected was that the Satellite receiver was tuned to the Playboy channel. Nothing sells the impact of a 148-inch cinemascope projection screen like a 5-foot tall, giant, naked breast!
At another job several years ago during a retrofit of a security system, one of our techs found a trash bag full of cash hidden above a drop ceiling. He immediately went to the homeowner to let him know what he had found. Without concern, and without checking the bag if any money was missing, and acting as if everyone kept a large bag of cash stashed away above their drop ceiling, the homeowner's response was along the lines, ‘Oh yeah, that. Umm, just put it back when you're finished. Thanks.’”
Josh Ware (@mhstechnologies)
Engineer, Mountain Heritage Systems
“A few years ago we did an install for one of our long-term clients at their hunting lodge about 200 miles from our main shop. This project started off as a two-room cabin and when we were given the final plans, it ended up as a 2,800 square foot, three bedroom upstairs and two bedroom downstairs retreat. The project specs called for complete perimeter security, plus fire and smoke protection, and four interior cameras. One of the cameras was to be placed in the upstairs hallway showing bedroom entrances toward the upstairs great room. But in the final design, instead of a master suite, two bathrooms were placed side by side in the upper hallway with no private entrance. As we finished our install, we suggested that this camera be placed out of service whenever the security system was not in away mode. The owners, a father and son, did not want that as they wanted to see what their teens were up to when they weren’t around. Needless to say, we installed, tested and monitored the system per the scope of work. Six weeks after final install, I get a call while in church that there is an issue at the cabin and we need to come there NOW! It seems the father and mother were down for a long weekend and after a nice evening went to bed. Sometime during the night the mother needed to use the facilities and the camera caught her coming and going completely in the buff with perfect clarity. The next morning, the son decided to check in on the parent's evening and logged into the camera system and found an R-rated version of his mother. Needless to say, I drove down after church and reprogrammed that camera to only record when the system is in away mode.”
Ric Johnson (@rightathometech)
Chief Technology Officer Right at Home Technologies, Ltd
“Our customer asked for a very special situation. He is older, probably in his early to mid-70s. He wanted both digital cable and satellite TV in his house. We finally figured out that we could modulate his satellite receiver over the existing coax lines, and run it in parallel with the digital cable boxes. We even set up his universal remote controls with a special “satellite TV” button. The macro on the remote takes him right to the input on the TV, and ensures that the satellite receiver is on the right channel when he needs it. His wife (about 10 years younger, in her mid-60's) tolerates it, but doesn’t understand it. The reason: the satellite receiver is dedicated to the 24 hour a day porno channel. I still shudder when I think about this project.”
Name and company withheld by request
John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.