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Sometimes "Winning" is really Losing

Posted on June 5, 2012 at 5:55 PM

A cautionary tale presented in multiple e-mails…


or


How a Client Relationship Can Be Destroyed in Just a Few Hours.


So, we had a customer come in the store awhile back. He asked about having his TV wall-mounted, connecting the gear in a closet behind the TV and hiding all of the wiring. All-in-all, very straight-forward, basic custom install stuff.


I gave him my usual spiel about what is required to do what he is asking; cable costs, parts costs, labor costs, and that wall mounting a set usually takes about 2 hours from start to finish. But that we do retro work on a time and materials basis because you never really know what you are getting into until you start getting into it. Also he's not really sure where he is going to put the gear; it might go below the TV; it might go in a closet; it might go around the corner; there may or may not be power located nearby, etc.


Now, we generally prefer to send out a tech or salesman to pre-scope a job, especially if it involves any type of retro. But we have been pretty busy lately, and this job was not really close to our store, so it seemed like scheduling a call to go and look at mounting a TV – something that goes off without a hitch like 99% of the time – to then say, “Yep. We can do it,” to THEN schedule a time when we could go back and actually DO IT seemed like a lot of extra work as opposed to just scheduling it, going out there, saying, “Yep. We can do it,” and then just doing it. (Did you follow all of that?)


So, I schedule the job and my installer goes out there and he is not back in the usual 2 hours. Or 3. Or 5. He is at the job for SIX AND A HALF HOURS.


Not cool. In fact, muy not cool.


So when my guy comes back I’m going over his worksheet to look for any abnormalities. You know, things like, “I cut in a wallbox and disturbed the sacred tomb of Imhotep and then I had to deal with a pissed off undead Pharoah mummy for like 3 hours!” or “Client went into childbirth and I had to sterilize all of my tools and perform an emergency C-section with my Klein snips and deliver her twins. Which are totally fine, by the way.”


So I see this worksheet and there is a lot of work to justify the time – like there are no entries of “Left for 3 hours to have a massage” or “posted 3 entries to my blog” – but, still, it took too long in my opinion. So I reduce the labor time by two hours, type up the invoice and mail it off.


And that’s when things start going downhill. Two weeks later I get this e-mail reply from the wife.


Hi John:


I was wondering why the invoice is so much higher than what P and you had discussed. The materials cost is what I am addressing.


Thank you


M.


A fair question. And, honestly, one I kind of expected. So I decide to go through the list of items that we used and detail all of the work that we did; offering them an explanation as to why the bill came in high. Here’s my reply:


Mrs. M:


Your husband and I discussed a few different installation scenarios when he was in our store and the parts that would be needed for each.


One item that we didn't discuss was the wall-mount for your TVs. Your husband said he would supply the mount. As you'll recall, you called me back the day before the install and said you needed to add that, which we did.


Another item that we discussed you may or may not need was the Infra-red system (to allow controlling components that were not in line-of-sight of the remote control). We ended up installing that as well, roughly $225, which I told your husband it would cost.


Same with the cabling; I didn't know the lengths or amount that we would need. I told him that we would charge for time and materials used, which is exactly what the bill reflects. In fact, I actually reduced the labor by 2 hours (my installer was at your job for 6.5; I only billed you for 4.5) because he ran into some issues that ended up taking a bit longer than we had planned on.


Thank you,

John Sciacca

Custom Theater and Audio


So far I feel like I'm treading in pretty calm waters, handling customer relations, explaining what we did, and whatsuch and 45 later I get this reply:


Ok.  I just wanted to understand the materials.  


M


Great, thinks I. This is all sorted. Except, not so much. In fact, even as we speak the poop is hurtling through space, flying towards a massive, spinning fan. And 30 minutes later the husband chimes in with this e-mail:


John,


Your email below is grossly inaccurate (see my comments in red)! The ONLY TV installation we discussed was a wall mount. You suggested the IR but did not mention a material costs (I would have thought $200-300 would at least deserve a mention). The installation was pretty much as we discussed. After our only discussion my telephone contact with you was to schedule the work and confirm the scope per our original meeting. I am not complaining about the labor (although something is wrong when a 2hr estimate takes 6.5 hr with no change in scope. Also note that the cables were moved only 2 feet in the same wall.). I think you can understand when the only significant material cost mentioned was a $70 wall mount and the material cost came to about $450 -over 60% of the cost of the total job-with no change in scope.

 

I will comment that we are happy with the installation.

 

Also can you please email me a copy of the bill as I cannot find it.

 

P


One item that we didn't discuss was the wall-mount for your TV.


Wall mounting of the TV was exactly what we did discuss and was the whole point of me going to you. There was never any other TV installation discussed. I originally discussed mounting the components above the TV because I didn’t know you could run IR to them mounted elsewhere. You said you could mount the components on the reverse side of the wall and run IR, which is exactly what was done. When I asked about material the only material you mentioned was the TV wall mount for approximately $70.


As you'll recall, you called me back and said you needed to add that, which we did.


That is not true! The only reason I called you was to schedule the work and confirm its scope from the original discussion. You gave me no further estimates or possible costs.


Another item that we discussed you may or may not need was the Infra-red system (to allow controlling components that were not in line-of-sight of the remote control.


You never mentioned that this would cost $200-$300 dollars!! 


We ended up installing that as well, roughly $225, which I told your husband it would cost


That is not true! you never mentioned a cost for the IR!!


So, you just read that… It comes across as pretty aggressive, right? Statements like “grossly inaccurate” and double !! (which, I believe is referred to as the "Princeton Exclamation") don’t imply that this is a guy that wants to sit with me sipping Montrachet while watching boats sail down the Seine, am I right?


This message definitely feels attack-ey, so I figure that I need to defend my position. Type-type and 30 minutes later I respond with the following e-mail:


Please see my comments below, also in red. I've attached a PDF of the invoice.


Thank you,

John


Your email below is grossly inaccurate (see my comments in red)! The ONLY TV installation we discussed was a wall mount.


Your wife called me the day before the install to ask us to bring a wall mount to mount the television. I believe that you told me you were going to be supplying the mount. I can't recall the exact content of the discussion, but your wife would not have called me to ask me if we sold mounts -- and could supply a mount -- if this was what we had planned on doing.


You suggested the IR but did not mention a material costs (I would have thought $200-300 would at least deserve a mention).


If I didn't mention the price of the infra-red control system at the time of our discussion, I apologize. Generally when this comes up in conversation as an item that might be required, we tell people that it is $225. As this would be the only practical way to control your components if they were not in view of the remote, I'm surprised if I did not mention the price of it. Again, if that is the case, I apologize.


The installation was pretty much as we discussed. After our only discussion my telephone contact with you was to schedule the work and confirm the scope per our original meeting. I am not complaining about the labor (although something is wrong when a 2hr estimate takes 6.5 hr with no change in scope).


Retrofit work is always a bit of a gamble when estimating time. Especially when we don't go out and do a site survey prior to the work. My installer ran into two different fireblocks in your wall that both required drilling out. without cutting multiple holes in your walls. Normally we would run into none or just one. This added a lot of time. We also had to assemble the shelf provided by your wife -- from four separate half-round pieces -- and install that. Again, extra time we hadn't planned for. Running the IR system and connecting it also took extra time. I don't think that it should have taking 6.5 hours, which is why I reduced the bill by 2 hours.


Also note that the cables were moved only 2 feet in the same wall. I think you can understand when the only significant material cost mentioned was a $70 wall mount and the material cost came to about $450 -over 60% of the cost of the total job-with no change in scope.


I know for an absolute certainty that we discussed you needing HDMI cabling. This would have obviously been above the cost of just a $70 wall mount. The three lengthy HDMI cables (one each for your Blu-ray, cable box and computer) made up a significant cost of the parts used. Also, the way your TV accepts HDMI cables required using separate 90-degree adapters to ensure that the TV would sit flush to the wall; something we couldn't have predicted without seeing the back of your TV.


I will comment that we are happy with the installation.


I'm glad for this; our lead installer is a meticulous worker and I'm happy that you are pleased with the results.


Reading that over, there are probably some passages that should have been softened or toned down or at least reigned in a bit. But his message kinda comes across like I was just straight-up lying to him and I'm not sure there is a way to confront "YOU ARE LYING!" with anything but "NO I'M NOT. AND HERE'S A BUNCH OF REASONS WHY!"


I didn't have to wait long to find out how he felt about my response because 90 minutes later I got this reply.


John,


Your response below indicates you are more interested in proving a customer wrong ("I know with an absolutely certainty"?) than resolving what might have been a misunderstanding. Based on this email exchange (not on the work or cost) you will not get any future business or referrals from me. I suggest you take a course in how to conduct yourself with a customer and address his issues and concerns.

 

P


There it is. I may have “won” the battle and proved my point, but it came at the expense of any referrals. Referrals from a customer that just a couple of hours previously had written “we are happy with the installation.” Referrals -- and repeat business -- being where we get the vast majority of our work. To me, it wasn't about proving him wrong, but about proving that I wasn't.


Further he added some more red text for my salting-in-wound pleasure.


Your wife called me the day before the install to ask us to bring a wall mount to mount the television. I believe that you told me you were going to be supplying the mount. I can't recall the exact content of the discussion, but your wife would not have called me to ask me if we sold mounts -- and could supply a mount -- if this was what we had planned on doing.  


The issue was whether we supplied the mount or you supplied the mount. Wall mount is the only installation we discussed; there were no other options. Why else would I have told you we would supply the mount and why else would you have given me a $70 cost for a mount. You are creating an issues where none exists.


If I didn't mention the price of the infra-red control system at the time of our discussion, I apologize. Generally when this comes up in conversation as an item that might be required, we tell people that it is $225. As this would be the only practical way to control your components if they were not in view of the remote, I'm surprised if I did not mention the price of it. Again, if that is the case, I apologize.


This was my only issue. Thank you for the apology!


Retrofit work is always a bit of a gamble when estimating time. Especially when we don't go out and do a site survey prior to the work. My installer ran into two different fireblocks in your wall that both required drilling out. without cutting multiple holes in your walls. Normally we would run into none or just one. This added a lot of time. We also had to assemble the shelf provided by your wife -- from four separate half-round pieces -- and install that. Again, extra time we hadn't planned for. Running the IR system and connecting it also took extra time. I don't think that it should have taking 6.5 hours, which is why I reduced the bill by 2 hours.


Again I did not complain about the labor!


I know for an absolute certainty that we discussed you needing HDMI cabling. This would have obviously been above the cost of just a $70 wall mount. The three lengthy HDMI cables (one each for your Blu-ray, cable box and computer) made up a significant cost of the parts used. Also, the way your TV accepts HDMI cables required using separate 90-degree adapters to ensure that the TV would sit flush to the wall; something we couldn't have predicted without seeing the back of your TV.


I did not complain about the HDMI cable and yes we discussed them and I anticipated those costs.   

 

I followed up with this e-mail, but I’m afraid it was too little, too late in this case.


Mr. P:


I'm certainly sorry that you feel this way, and I apologize if my message came across that I was trying to prove you wrong. It was certainly not my intention. Rather I was attempting to defend why the material/parts cost was significantly more than the $70 of the mount that you mentioned.


We generally give a written proposal/estimate listing the parts that we believe will be needed on a project prior to doing any work. It was an error on my part in not preparing a written proposal to you up front detailing all of these items.


It is difficult to read "tone" in an e-mail sometimes, and I apologize if I became overly defensive. I had attempted to be proactive in reducing your bill by 2 hours before even mailing it, as I felt it took significantly longer than you and I had discussed.


Regards,

John Sciacca


The moral of the story?


Part 1: Always give a written proposal, even for the "simple" things. There would have been no I said/you didn't say questions then.


Part 2: In a tense customer situation, it is often best to have a “cooling down” period where you step away before saying or writing something you might regret and won't be able to take back. Especially in an e-mail where things like !! may or may not mean that someone is on the warpath. I really should have re-read my messages and tried to see how the customer might interpret them.


What do you think? How would you have responded to his first e-mail?

Categories: June 2012, CTA, Rants

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6 Comments

Reply jeremy abreu
1:07 PM on June 6, 2012 
Hi John,

As someone who has been in your customers position previously with a company similiar to yours, I feel that I have good insight into this. After his email, you should have cooled off for a period of time(hour or so) and then picked up the phone and called the customer to have a conversation about it. As you state in your email, it is very difficult to decipher tone in email and people sometimes fall into the "keyboard toughguy" mode where they type things that they would never say in person.

I think you were very generous in reducing your labor costs by 2 hours but you erred by not providing a written proposal with complete scope that your customer would have to agree to and sign off on before work commenced.

I agree with your customer that a $200 cost for the IR repeater system is something that most definitely should have been addressed when speaking with the customer initially.

Also, given the unique circumstances of the distance involved in the location which hampered your ability to scope a bit, I don't think it would be unrealistic to ask the customer to email a pic of the proposed location within the house so you could do a quick eyeball to identify anytihng which may be an issue, this isn't going to let you see inside the walls but should stilll help and the customer shouldn't object as you are trying to scope the job correctly.

Would like to hear your additional thoughts on mine,

Thanks,
Jeremy
Reply John Sciacca
5:01 PM on June 6, 2012 
Well, since I mentioned most of the things you pointed out --- that I should have waited before responding and that I should have given him a written proposal -- I definitely agree with your comments! I stand by that I did tell him the price of the IR system. It is just part of our general patter of mentioning it. "An infrared system lets you control gear when it is out of site. The kit includes a target, connecting block, power supply and emitters and sells for about $225." I have said that probably 1000 times, so I can't see why I didn't say it this ONE time. But, had it been written down, it wouldn't be a question.

So, lessons learned. Nobody's perfect. Not even me. :-)
js
Reply ted_g
1:09 PM on June 8, 2012 
John -

I think you handled it well, if not great. Typically, it is common practice to "reply in kind" in business communications...meaning, they send you a email, you reply via email.

With the benefit of hind sight - I can say that when it comes to dealing with consumers [hey, you chose this crazy career] it is probably better to deal with satisfaction issues by phone. Email offers way too many opportunities for misunderstandings and miscommunications - you can't accurately ascertain the writer's tone, emphasis, or "air". By not having any visual or aural clues, it is easy to mistake their true meaning.

Having said this, I think your response was reasonably measured, given the natural tendency to be defensive. The reality of dealing with consumers is that they are not always reasonable and that is a challenge for retailers and installers everywhere.

Whenever I speak to a retailer or installer - well, they all have horror stories like yours...usually worse.

I would wait a few days and send a small item - like a bottle of wine (not too expensive) or something and apologize for coming off a little too intense. You may be able to save it...but if not - you know you went "above and beyond the call of duty" for the sake of customer service.

And next time, when the hair on the back of your neck stands up when you read a customer email - my advice is to pick up the phone and call.

Oh how I love to Monday morning quarterback!!

Ted
Reply John Sciacca
4:55 PM on June 8, 2012 
ted_g says...
And next time, when the hair on the back of your neck stands up when you read a customer email - my advice is to pick up the phone and call.

Ted

Think that is prudent advice, Ted. Picking up the phone would have certainly been a better option in this choice. Often, as a writer, I prefer the opportunity to craft a reply -- even if done hastily -- versus having to an encounter where you have to come up with the "perfect" reply or answer in a potentially confrontational situation.

Also, this happened several months ago -- I had been sitting on the post for a bit. I wanted to see if going back and reading it over would change my own opinion of how I handled things.

I think his "tone" was certainly overly aggressive, but I should have definitely followed the advice of Proverbs 15:1 - "An answer when mild turns away rage..."
Reply ted_g
5:24 PM on June 8, 2012 
John Sciacca says...
Think that is prudent advice, Ted. Picking up the phone would have certainly been a better option in this choice. Often, as a writer, I prefer the opportunity to craft a reply -- even if done hastily -- versus having to an encounter where you have to come up with the "perfect" reply or answer in a potentially confrontational situation.

Also, this happened several months ago -- I had been sitting on the post for a bit. I wanted to see if going back and reading it over would change my own opinion of how I handled things.

I think his "tone" was certainly overly aggressive, but I should have definitely followed the advice of Proverbs 15:1 - "An answer when mild turns away rage..."


John...you have such a good "bed side manner" that I'm pretty sure your soothing voice would have been able to calm them down and [gently] guide them back to reality. Me? I would have called them to look out their window at the SCUD missile I have generously chosen to provide them...at no additional charge!! ;-)
Reply John Sciacca
5:27 PM on June 8, 2012 
ted_g says...
John...you have such a good "bed side manner" that I'm pretty sure your soothing voice would have been able to calm them down and [gently] guide them back to reality. Me? I would have called them to look out their window at the SCUD missile I have generously chosen to provide them...at no additional charge!! ;-)

Clearly we've never met. Hi. My name is John. Many people tell me I'm a jerk. How are you? :-)

And everyone knows that SCUDs are too unreliable and tend to break up on descent or fly way off course. You need something like a Maverick or Paveway.... "Oh, that sparkly laser shining on your window? No. That's nothing. Just ignore it for a few more seconds...."