My Annual Airing of Grievances

In the spirit of Festivus, here are eight things customers say that make me want to cancel my donations to the Human Fund.
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“Welcome, newcomers. The tradition of Festivus begins with the airing of grievances. I got a lot of problems with you people! And now you're gonna hear about it!” -- Frank Costanza, Seinfeld

I had planned on writing this a few weeks ago, but then I was pre-empted by the Resi year-end 100 top posts countdown and then by all the CES coverage, and then by a bout of post-CES flu. So, just imagine that it’s December 23, we’ve put up the pole, had the dinner, and now it’s time for the Airing of Grievances where we can talk about all the instances where customers have disappointed us over the past year.

Like many of you, there are many things I like about this industry. The smell of a new projection screen unrolled for the first time. Handing a remote over to a client and watching him press the “Play Movie” macro and everything firing up perfectly. Getting a thank you letter in the mail – along with the final check – for doing such a great job. But after 16 years working with customers, there are certain things people tend to do repeatedly that over time can slowly erode away pieces of your soul.

In the spirit of Festivus, here are eight things customers say that make me want to cancel my donations to the Human Fund.

“Do you remember me?”
This is usually uttered by people that haven’t been in the store in like 10 years; a time when they came in and did something non-memorable like purchase a single interconnect cable, looked at a CD changer, or just came in to randomly reminisce about a stereo system they bought years ago in Europe at the Army Post Exchange. Truth is, I’ve probably dealt with 1,000 or more people since this brief encounter, and chances are I probably don’t remember you, and putting me on the spot with it just makes it awkward for both of us. Far better to start off with something like, “You might not remember, but I was in here a while ago and we talked about…”

“I've spent a ton of money here.”
There are probably like 10 clients that have actually earned – or spent – the right to utter these words, and if you are one of them, believe me, I already know it, and you don’t need to tell me. For everyone else, it’s such a pretentious thing to say, and it doesn’t inspire me to want to go out of my way to help. Also, when someone says this, I literally immediately think, “There are people that have spent more in sales tax than you did on your entire system.”

“This is an emergency!”
Unless there is an actual Hunger Games going on and your family member is one of the tributes, then there are no real “I don't have TV” or “my remote control isn’t working” related emergencies. I will do my best to help you over the phone – especially in light of how much money you have already told me that you’ve spent with me – and if we can’t resolve it I’ll get a tech out as soon as possible. But chances are you have three or more other TVs to use and the problem is cable box related in nature anyhow. (Now if it is a security system or HVAC issue – say it is 15 degrees outside and your thermostat is stuck in High Cool mode – then feel free to use the E-word.)

“I know you showed this to me but I went ahead and bought it elsewhere. That's okay right?”
It continues to surprise me how many people think we are like some kind of information lending library, and that we like nothing more than for people to come in, browse for a bit, get some knowledge from the extensive reference section, and then leave to go purchase it somewhere else. And then come back to us to integrate it!

“These sound almost as good as Bose/Let me tell you about the 901s I owned.”
I don’t think there is any other product in the history of commerce that has the depth of brand loyalty and fanaticism as Bose. And nowhere does the Bose ethos run deeper than with those that have owned a pair of 901 speakers. (With properly installed EQ box, of course.) You could give a world-class demo using a set of Pass Labs signature mono blocks fed by an Antelope Audio Rubicon DAC playing through a pair of Wilson Alexandria XLF’s of a double-rate DSD recording of literally angels singing and the Bose owner would still not be thoroughly convinced. “Sure, I mean, it sounds good, but that Bose sound…”

“I'm not trying to buy the top of the line.”
There are so many things about this phrase that gets me. First, most people seriously have no idea just what “top of the line” even means when it comes to audio and video. Second, this phrase is usually uttered by someone after I demo a system that is anything but top of the line, say a $1,500 surround speaker package. Third, when you told me that you were looking for a small system for your bonus room, I pretty much already ascertained this for myself. (Selling AV gear for 16 years will do that for you.) I’d much rather you just used the actual translation of this phrase which is, “I’m not really looking to spend too much money on this…” Even better, give me your budget and then we can get to work and find the perfect system for you.

“My system has never worked.”
I seriously have a hard time believing that you lived with the system for years with it “never working” and you have waited until now to suddenly bring it to my attention. Has this been an item that just kept getting bumped to the bottom of your to-do list? “Call stereo guy and get system fixed – has never worked.” If something wasn’t working, the time to let me know about it was then, like immediately after we did the work, when I could totally do something about it right away and not several years later. Because as much as I’d like to be, I’m not omniscient and I don’t know that you are having a problem if you don’t tell me about it. And, also, saying, “My system has never worked” is not going to get you a free service call years later. Sorry.

“It's easy and it will only take you about five minutes.”
This is usually uttered by someone trying to justify me cramming in their service call when I’ve already told them that our schedule is jammed and that it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to get a tech out there today. The thing is, since the customer doesn’t really have any idea what the actual problem is, how do they know if it is easy or how long it will take to fix? Second, sure, it might only take five minutes, but that doesn’t include the time it takes to drive to and from their house.

Now it’s your turn. I know you’ve got some grievances you want to air. Go ahead—Festivus doesn’t end until someone pins me…

John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.

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