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Service from the Customer's Viewpoint
March 1956 Radio-Electronics

March 1956 Radio-Electronics

March 1956 Radio-Electronics Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio-Electronics, published 1930-1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

Being a repairman of any sort has always resulted in a wide variety of customer responses. Of course poor technicians deserve all the derision they receive, but good technicians often catch a boatload of grief whether or not their efforts result in success. Nobody wants to pay more money than he has to, but too often the owner of a property who is in desperate need of knowledgeable help has a sudden change from gratitude for the technician's willingness to take on the challenge to maniacal repulsion when informed of the cost. I have always endeavored to perform as much needed labor myself as possible, whether it be car repairs, home maintenance, appliance fixing, electronics troubleshooting, etc. However, there are some things you simply cannot do for yourself either because of a lack of knowledge, lack of necessary equipment, or government licensing. On those occasions, I try to remember be as polite and gracious as possible, even after being presented with a bill including $90 per hour for a car mechanic.

Service from the Customer's Viewpoint

Service from the Customer's Viewpoint, March 1956 Radio-Electronics - RF Cafe

You can make him your most valuable booster, adviser and business consultant.

By J. Bruning

How can a service technician use the customer's viewpoint as an aid to making more money? Why is it smart business to look at each trouble through the eyes of the customer instead of the service technician? Suppose the customer does try to tell you what he thinks is wrong with his set. How can you turn his interference into a source of extra money? In short, what can the service technician do to insure that the customer is not only a source of income but also a valuable business adviser.

We will assume that the technician is neat, fairly competent as a technician, reasonably honest and has the customer's interest at heart. Let's start with a simple case from an old-timer's notebook:

"He didn't get the job." The time was in the days of radio sets with external loop antennas. The customer was a casual acquaintance of the youngster who was just starting to become an old-timer. Said the man, "I have a very fine radio that just stopped playing. What would it cost to fix it?" In his most professional manner the youngster replied that he would have to look it over and then make an analysis of the trouble and come up with an estimate. A few hours later the youngster was busily inspecting a real dog, and an ancient one at that.

A separate loudspeaker was connected to the set through a plug and jack system. Applying hand pressure against the plug brought in the program loud and clear; releasing the pressure caused silence. So our hero propped a book against the plug to keep the set playing while he continued his "analysis." Moving the volume control caused bangs, scratches and blasts from the loudspeaker. Touching the loop antenna in its swivel joint caused more noise. Rotating the tuning capacitor caused a still greater racket. Closer inspection of the loop showed that it had received a direct hit by a well aimed pillow thrown by one of the numerous progeny now standing around with big saucer eyes.

Our hero made a fast mental addition of all the damage, completed his "analysis" and came up with his estimate. "Mr. Jones, it will cost $25 to put your set in first-class condition." There followed a long silence while Mr. and Mrs. Jones looked at each other. Then the fatal words, "Thank you very much for looking at the set. We'll let you know."

A week later our hero watched a neighborhood technician of inferior ability enter the Jones' house and emerge triumphantly a half-hour later with a $5 bill clutched in his grimy hands. How could this happen? He couldn't have made all those repairs in a half-hour! And at such cut-throat prices! Something ought to be done about these chiselers! Curiosity got the better of bitterness and our hero forced himself to ask his competitor what had happened. "Aw, it was nuttin'. Just hadda tighten up the loose spring on the jack." And how about all those other things wrong with the set? "Aw, gee, they didn't need fixin'. The old guy was used to them noises."

Our young hero retired to nurse his wounds and think about this strange turn of events. An inferior technician had taken a job away from a far more capable mechanic, had received $5 for 30 minutes' work and had satisfied a customer all in one fell swoop. And the set still wasn't really fixed!

It didn't take too long for the lesson to sink in. Our hero had been so wrapped up in the technical phase of the job that he had not even bothered to consider the customer's viewpoint. And what was this viewpoint? Simply that the set had been playing and then all of a sudden the music stopped. All the customer wanted was to hear music coming from his loudspeaker once more. Very simple - and at the same time, a very profound lesson in business economics. Find out what your customer wants and supply that want as cheaply as you can.

"No magician explains his tricks." The time, a little later. The place, a different town. The problem, a set that developed a loud howl if anyone walked across the floor. This set had been worked on by just about every technician in town and the customer had spent some real money. Now he was desperate for help. So he took a chance and called the newcomer. Our hero went over that evening all decked out with a clean shirt, bow tie and neatly shined shoes. He could sense the quick air of approval as he entered the room. There followed a brief period of questioning to determine just what trouble was being experienced. It was learned that the set had been thoroughly inspected, inside and out, topside and below decks. It was evident that the trouble must be some form of poor connection in a place that was not ordinarily visible. It was probably not a poor soldered joint, plug and jack connection, nor loose tube socket. It might be in the grid leak circuit. Possibly the clip that held the grid leak in place. Being careful not to disturb any other part, our hero took a long stick and very lightly touched it to the clip holding the grid leak. Crash, bang! "Ah-ha," said our youngster to Mr. Smith, "just a dirty grid leak holder." It took but a few moments to remove the grid leak, scrape the corrosion from the mounting clip and replace the grid leak. Success! Absolutely no noise, even when shaking the set.

"That is fine," said Smitty. "How much do I owe you?" Trying not to look too pleased, our hero replied, "Oh - that was very simple. Nothing at all difficult. Just a lucky guess." "But how much does it cost"? asked Smitty. "Oh," said friend hero, "I guess $5 will be about right." Instead of profuse thanks came a cry of rage. "What? ...

$5 for that simple repair? ... Five bucks for scraping off one little piece of dirt? ... What do you think I am, a fool? ... Do you think I'm going to pay you $5 for 5 minutes' work? ... " Our hero gratefully accepted the single dollar bill offered by the irate Mr. Smith and departed in great haste (leaving behind a screwdriver worth $1.39).

What had happened? Why was Mr. Smith willing to pay $25 or $30 to six other technicians who had failed to find what was wrong, but was furious at the boldness of the lucky service technician who had found the trouble and wanted $5 for his effort? Pretty soon, the answer started to form.

"Lucky." That was it. Mr. Smith had thought that he was lucky. There had been no outward indication of skill, knowledge or display of troubleshooting technique. And where had Mr. Smith got his idea? Why from the technician himself! What a fool to have told the customer, "Oh - that was very simple. Nothing at all difficult. Just a lucky guess!"

So a new lesson was learned. Don't talk down the value of your work. The customer can't read your mind. He doesn't know that you spent hundreds of hours learning the little tricks that make your work easier. Don't explain how simple it is to recognize some symptom of trouble that enables you to put your finger on the defective part; Oh! So you already know that? You would never fall into that trap? I wonder. How many times has a TV technician carefully explained to his customer that "those horizontal lines or streaks across the picture tube mean that the horizontal oscillator tube is bad?" Customers are not all ignorant. If the streaks tell you that the horizontal oscillator tube is bad, they will also tell the customer the same thing the next time they appear. All he has to find out now is the location of the horizontal oscillator tube.

You don't have to mystify your customer but during your course of instruction be careful not to explain away the need for your future services!

"If the customer has a crystal ball, use it." The war is now over. TV is in circulation. Not the scanning disc, but real honest-to-goodness black-and-white TV with a giant 5-inch screen. The flurry of fix-your-own-TV books has not yet hit the market. But customers - as always - are pretty sharp. Joe, "the man next door," has one of these super-dupers but unfortunately his picture is rolling badly at times. Joe once fixed a lawn mower so he figures he is a pretty good mechanic. Anyway, he greets our hero at the door with the remark, "I think the volume control is bad." Our hero tries not to show his scorn as he adjusts the vertical hold control, touches up the other controls and steps back to survey his work.

The picture is clear and steady. "Joe," he says, "the volume control has nothing to do with synchronizing troubles. See how good your set is now?" Joe has to admit that the rolling has stopped. He quietly pays $3.50 and says goodbye.

But he is not really convinced. And he has lost face because he had told his wife and 12-year-old boy that he knew the volume control was bad. Secretly he hopes that his dear wife will not yell at him as soon as the service technician leaves. $3.50 is a pretty steep price to pay for someone to come in and turn a knob!

Next day it happens again, Pop comes down the stairs. What does he see? Yes, the picture is skipping. Each time Hoppy fires his gun the picture jumps two or three frames.

"How long has the picture been jumping?" yells Dad. "Oh, it's been doin' that all afternoon," says Junior. Joe turns down the volume control so he can hear what Junior is saying, and lo! the picture has stopped rolling. Now it's Joe's turn. "It is the volume control after all," he yells. "Wait till I get that ignorant repairman over here. I paid him $3.50 for nothing. Now he's got to fix it, and I'm not going to give him one cent this time. He owes it to me!"

In a few minutes our hero arrives. Joe turns up the volume control to a point where the mirror starts to jump off the wall. "Look!" yells Joe. Sure enough, the picture is rolling a mile a minute. Our hero quickly adjusts the hold control. The picture stops rolling. Then he turns down the volume control low enough to be heard as he starts to explain to Joe. Just then the picture starts to roll again. Our hero is stuck and he knows it.

One hour later the set is in the shop. Sure enough, the volume control does affect the vertical hold. He connects a v.t.v.m. across the plate supply and swings the volume control. Yes, the B voltage climbs when the volume is low and drops 30 volts when the volume is maximum. Hmmm. Poor regulation of the power supply. Can't handle the load to the audio amplifier. Out comes the selenium rectifier and in goes a new one. Yep. That does the trick. The B voltage now swings only 5 volts and there is no sign of rolling. Back goes the set to Joe.

"It was the volume control after all, wasn't it?" says Joe. "Yes," replied our hero in a quiet voice. "You were right all the time." Joe looks around the room in triumph. Now he feels a little better. His honor has been vindicated. Joe continues, "I've already paid you for your labor. What do I owe you for the new volume control?" "$3," says our hero, and he is glad to get the money.

After returning home our technician thinks about the problem. He has told a white lie to Joe. If he had told the truth, Joe would not have believed him. The new rectifier cost $2.65. Total time spent was 3 hours. Cash received, $6.50. Net profit for 3 hours' work, $3.85. That's good for a weekly salary of $51. Our hero just lost a good deal of his reputation and went through an embarrassing situation. You can be sure that Joe will see to it that all his friends and neighbors hear how Joe had to tell the dumb repairman what was wrong with his set!

Our hero reconstructs the chain of events. Why didn't he play along with Joe in the first place? If Joe wanted his volume control changed, why not do it? If he had taken the set to his shop yesterday, he would have stumbled across the relationship between the loud volume and the loss of sync. He could have phoned Joe and told him that after changing the volume control, he had discovered that the selenium rectifier was also defective. He could have charged for both the volume control and the rectifier, and he could have added a sure $5 for shop labor. Joe would have gladly paid. And Joe would have thought our hero was a pretty smart apple to have discovered that the selenium rectifier, buried way down inside the set, was also bad.

Those who have never had to repair a TV set may rise up and say this is an example of unethical practice ... that it is crooked business to replace a part that is not in trouble. Is it? Do painters skip the good woodwork and only touch up the bad spots? If you hire a gardener to make a new lawn, why does he dig up the good grass too? And why do you change your tires after 40,000 miles?

There are times when you will wish to recommend the change of some part just on general principles. Is that ethical? Or is it a wise precaution? Do you know any good TV man who only changes one capacitor of a defective vertical integrator? Or still better, one who doesn't substitute a printed-circuit integrator when the old R-C network acts up? And in a set full of old tubes, if you have to replace the 6BG6, wouldn't it be foolish to leave in the old 1B3? So put your mind at ease. Strike a balance between your conscience, the life expectancy of the part in question and your customer's desires. Do the work suggested if it appears at all reasonable. Look at it the way the customer did. He wanted a certain thing accomplished. He is willing to pay for it. If you refuse to comply, you have inadvertently placed your own personal lifetime guarantee on that component.

"Good poker players always win."

Our hero used to play poker with an old grandfather-twice-removed. The old codger was a clever player. During the evening he would win a little and lose a little. But sooner or later one player would hold aces, another a full house. The betting would be fast and furious. But grand pop would win, and I do mean win.

This might seem a little remote from the problem of a customer's viewpoint, but it isn't. How did Grandpop become such a consistent winner? He had run-of-the-mill hands like the others. On these he didn't do much better than anyone else. But when he had a good hand, he made it pay off. There is a sales approach hidden in this that can mean real money to you. All good service technicians know that on most jobs you do little better than break even. Your profit can't be too high consistently. Let's follow the trail of our hero as he misplays a good hand. What would you have done?

The set, an ultra-modern 24-inch TV; the customer, a new one; the problem, picture is dead. Our hero, now considerably older and wiser, gets the job. He neither wastes time nor hurries unduly. He preserves the right professional approach.

He smoothly and methodically tracks down the trouble and discovers there is no light from the neck of the picture tube. He fights down the impulse to show this important clue to the customer. He uncoils the leads from his ultra-modern v.t.v.m. Then he removes the picture-tube base socket and tests for heater voltage. It's there. Now for a continuity test of the heater. Ah-ha! Wide open!

Our hero, who in the intervening years has gradually become an old-timer who wears glasses, gets up from the floor. Everybody fears the worst, and here it comes ... "Your 24-inch picture tube is bad." Silence.

Someone has to break the spell. Our old-timer feels real bad about the situation. So he speaks. "Sometimes, when we have this kind of trouble, the tube itself isn't really bad. It may be the wire inside the base pin has come loose. Let me look it over again. Maybe there is something I can still do for you to save you some money."

So he retreats behind the massive console. Out comes the soldering iron. Maybe a little heat and some more solder will re-establish contact between the heater lead and the base pin. So he re-solders the pins, connects the socket, plugs in the cheater cord and turns on the set. Several seconds later there is a momentary flash of light as the 6SN7 kicks off. Then, success! A big bright picture flashes across the screen.

So he puts the back of the set together and puts away his tools. He gets out his sales record book and he writes out the bill. Total time, 30 minutes. Total charge, $5 for repairs. Service call free. Parts used, none. Pop pays the bill gladly. Everybody is full of goodwill. Pop even holds open the front door while the old-timer struggles out with his three suitcases full of tubes, meters, analyzers, tools and sales book.

Who was the smart business man? Who held the best cards in that poker game? How much money was either in the pot or could have been put into the pot? The old-timer had held a royal flush. How much did it payoff? How much could he honestly and conscientiously have made it pay off?

That customer stood to lose $60 or more. Only the knowledge, skill and experience of an old-timer stood between the customer and his expenditure of a large sum of money. What was this knowledge, skill and experience worth?

My answer is that the laborer is worthy of his hire. The customer was not buying 5 minutes of fast work with a soldering iron. He was buying years and years of experience that made it possible for the old-timer to use his soldering iron at the right time and at the right place. If his efforts were successful, he rightfully deserved a successful reward. From the customer's viewpoint, the service technician had been a life saver. There is no doubt that the customer was ready, willing and able to pay handsomely. Don't kid yourself that the job wasn't worth a handsome return. From the customer's point of view, a tragedy had been averted. Why didn't our old-timer look at it from the customer's point of view?

To sum up one basic thought will help you to income and prestige: Always look at your jobs from the customer's point of view.

If it is knowledge, give it to him - but be sure you charge for it. If he wants a fast repair, give it to him and be on your way. (If the sound is dead, put in a new 6AQ5 or 6V6 and get going. Don't spend all night touching up the horizontal drive and vertical linearity controls.) If he wants a thorough overhaul, arrange to do it but point out in advance that it will cost real money to restore real performance to an old set.

Don't worry about your competitors who are perfectionists. It's O.K. to add all the little fancy touches, provided the customer wants them and is willing to pay for them. The difference between a $50 and a $150 weekly income is not in seeing how little you can do for your money but rather how much you can do that you will be paid for. People always have been and always will be happy to pay good money for what they consider good service. Make sure that your estimate of what constitutes good service is based on your customer's point of view.



Posted October 14, 2022

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