Some “Policies” I Probably Should Clarify

I had a sad misunderstanding with a customer this morning, which resulted in my early departure from her home. Here is what happened, to the best of my recollection: I arrived at her home late, I think about ten minutes after nine. I said, “Hello,” and asked her how she was doing. She said fine and and kindly asked be to take off my shoes, which I was intending to do anyway. Everything seemed to be okay. I made my usual preparations. We talked a bit, and I began to tune. I set the temperament and realized that I was going to need to do a “rough tune” because the pitch of the piano was surprisingly high. I told her about it, and she was fine with that.

About that time, a potential new customer called and wanted to schedule a tuning. I was in the bathroom at the time and asked him to call back in a few minutes, which he did, and we made an appointment. When I hung up, the lady whose piano I was servicing came into the living room and asked me not to take calls while I am servicing her piano in the future. I explained that it was someone wanting to make a tuning appointment. She said that she did not want me doing my office work on her time. I explained to her that I don’t charge for any time that I might take to schedule an appointment with another customer — I charge a flat rate for my tuning service, and even if I were on the clock, I would deduct such time from my fee. She said it didn’t matter. She didn’t want me doing my office work at her home.

At some point she told me that she had thought I would be gone by ten. She had to leave at ten to drive up to Denver to meet someone. So she was under some pressure, and said that we would have to reschedule. I told her I was sorry about the misunderstanding, but that it usually takes me about two hours to tune, and with the “rough tune” I was doing, I probably wouldn’t be done until eleven-thirty or twelve. I asked her if she would mind if I stayed after she left and just locked the door behind me. I have plenty of customers who do just that. She said that would not work and that we would just have to reschedule. I got my calendar out and asked her if she would like to take care of scheduling right then. She said, “No.”

She looked away with a pause, looked back and said, “I think I will just get another tuner!”

I asked her, “Why?”

She said, “I don’t like the way you do business.”

I asked, “What do you mean?”

“You came late, and you never apologized. And you have taken two phone calls on my time.” I pointed out to her that I had remembered from the last time I tuned for her (two years ago) that she didn’t like my tool box on her wooden floors, so I made a point to bring a large, soft cloth to put my tool box on.

She said, “That was nice, but. . . . ” (I can’t remember how she finished the sentence, but she basically again voiced her displeasure with my way of doing business.

I finished the unisons that were out of tune because of the pitch raise I was doing.  She said that she’d  pay for the time I had spent.

I said, “No, thank you.  I don’t take payment for jobs that I haven’t done.”

I put my shoes on, told her once again that I was sorry for the misunderstanding, said, “Goodbye.” and left.

I could share more, but it wouldn’t be necessary for the purpose of this essay. I believe and hope that what I have written is a reasonably accurate review of what happened.

I want now to share some “policies” that I follow in my business that I think were a problem to my customer today. I hope that by sharing these I can eliminate some similar problems in the future.

1. When I schedule a tuning, I reserve two hours for it. If I think a pitch raise/”rough tune” might be needed, I reserve another hour. I don’t want to cheat my customers by scheduling so tightly that I have no elbow room to take extra time and care that might be necessary to do a job well. I frequently tell new customers that this is my practice. Because I have previously tuned for my customer today (about two years ago) she wasn’t new, and I didn’t go through this information with her a second time. I wish now that I had. This whole ugly misunderstanding could have been avoided — I think.

The application here for customers who call me to schedule is this: Ask how long a service will take before you make an appointment. Avoid scheduling if there is a likelihood that you will have to leave before the piano service is done, unless you have no qualms about leaving a tuner alone in your home  while you are gone.

2. I do take calls at my customers homes while tuning for them, and I have no compunction about this whatsoever. I am a one man business. I do not have a secretary. I have a cell phone. And I have lost too many potential clients by letting their calls ring through instead of answering. When I answer their voice mails a few hour later, they have, in the meantime, frequently found someone else to work for them. Before I had a cell phone, my wife would take messages for me and promise callers that I would contact them as soon as I got home, which was my steady habit. But after hearing, “Oh, I’m sorry . . . . I didn’t really think you would call back . . . . I got someone else . . . . Sorry” — after hearing this too many times, I got a cell phone, and I have been doing business this way ever since. In twelve years I have not had a complaint about taking calls until today. What I do have, however, is a lot more customers.  (By the way, every one of the several customers whose opinion I have asked about this incident has told me they have no objection to my taking calls while I am working for them, nor do they understand why anybody would.)

3. I avoid using my phone on the road. When I am running late for an appointment, I generally elect to keep driving rather than making myself even later by stopping to phone. Most of the time I drive up to a client’s home right about 9:00 a.m. or three or for minutes before or after. I have had people compliment me for being on time so frequently. When I am late, I seldom forget to apologize and give an explanation. Virtually all my customers are extremely gracious to me when I fail to be on time.

Today, I failed to ask my customer to forgive my tardiness, perhaps her first real aggravation with me.

Customer application for this point: Please remember to take the traffic in Colorado Springs into consideration when anyone is running behind in an appointment with you. Even with careful planning it is possible to run behind after you have given your best effort.

I am truly sad about what happened today, and I hope that I will never have such a misunderstanding with a customer again.

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