Cutting the Baby in Half: Mediating Customer Complaints

I recently had a King Solomon situation where two of my installers insisted one thing and yet the customer told a completely different tale.
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You’ve likely read or heard the biblical account of King Solomon. Although young when he took the throne, Solomon became known for his unparalleled wisdom, and no account of his clevernous is more famous than when hearing the dispute between two women who both claimed to be the mother of a child. After hearing both women’s stories and claims to the infant—they both gave birth to boys around the same time, but one morning awoke to find one infant dead and the other living—Solomon decreed that the fairest solution would be to have the baby cut in two, and each woman would be given half the child. When one woman said she would rather see the baby live and given to the other woman, Solomon knew she was the true mother and awarded her the child.

Sometimes it can feel like you need the Wisdom of Solomon when presiding over disputes or issues between staff or customers. Of course you aren’t a king, can’t cut anyone in half, and are often walking a fine line of trying to do right by your company, yourself, your employees and your customers, but still wisdom, judiciousness and tact are frequently called for.

It’s been drilled into our heads for years that the customer is always right, but if you’ve been installing for any length of time then you know this is certainly not de facto all the time. There are, in fact, many times when the customer is not only “not right,” but even completely wrong.

How often have you had someone insist that something had been working before your crew arrived and then didn’t after they left? Things that you know there was just no possible way it could have ever worked the way the homeowner was describing. Like the necessary cable not even being there or the component not even having that inherent feature/capability. Or where you get blamed for something that “had been working” that now suddenly doesn’t even when it was in a part of the home you didn’t even enter or have anything to do with?

These are often frustrating things where we are forced to just “suck it up,” fix the problem with a smile, and move on. And often times, just taking the hit and moving on is the best solution not only in the short term, but also in the long run.

I recently had a King Solomon situation where two of my installers insisted one thing and yet the customer told a completely different tale. The issue was further complicated because all of my previous dealings had been with the builder who was directing us what to do, and then with the co-owner—the unhappy customer’s daughter—who was also deciding what the system needed to be, so it was a bit of a convoluted patchwork tale of different bits of information.

The crux of the problem was that my techs cut-in and installed in-ceiling speakers in the front of the room that could one day serve as front left/rights in case they ever upgraded to surround sound. The homeowner said he wanted them in the middle of the room in line with speakers in the adjoining kitchen area, and he wanted the speakers moved and the ceiling repaired and repainted and—of course—wasn’t going to pay for any of it.

My technicians insisted that they discussed this with the gentleman prior to cutting in and installing the speakers. They said that they told and showed him where they were going to put the speakers in the ceiling and then why they felt that was the better location—a primary reason being that if you were watching TV and using the speakers, it would sound odd to have all of the audio coming from directly over your head—and that he stood there and watched them while they cut the speakers in and installed them.

Now, after living in the home for a month-and-a-half, the customer began complaining about the speaker location, saying that it was not what he wanted, and, in fact, told the guys not to put them there. He wanted to know what I was going to do to resolve it.

I started by speaking with my techs to confirm what they recalled happening and what they remembered about their discussions with the gentleman. Further, would it even be possible from a framing standpoint to move the speakers to where the customer wanted? I also discussed what we could do with the least difficulty, time, and expense to resolve the issue.

When the customer came in, I let him explain the situation so that he could vent his frustration and I could clearly understand what it was he was wanting.

When he was finished I said, “Sir, my techs say that they showed you where they were going to cut in the speakers and that you even watched them cut them in. Can I ask why you would let them go ahead and do something that wasn’t what you wanted instead of just stopping them right then?”

He said he didn’t want to tell my guys how to do their job…

Resolution? We’re going to order an extra pair of speaker grilles that the customer will pay for and we will move the speakers back to the location the customer wants on our dime. The new holes we cut out will fill the old speaker holes and we’ll glue some magnets to the ceiling to attach the dummy grilles. My guys think it will take about an hour.

Not quite cutting a baby in half, but the customer leaves happy and we move on to install another day.

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

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