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Customer issues
#1757380 09/22/11 12:21 PM
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Would love some opinions on a situation I ran into with a new customer recently.

Customer is a church music director and teaches at home (not sure about piano, possibly only voice teaching). Piano is a 20-year-old Petrof grand. Her previous tech retired.

She told me there was a "tink" sound at G4, also that she finds her treble register a little bright. I tuned the piano, and offered to vacuum, since there was a lot of dust and eraser shavings in the tuning pin area; I also used my Spurlock tools on the soundboard. I used to include this for customers with grands but had recently decided to start charging extra. I diagnosed the "tink" as a damper wire touching a string, but it took me a while to figure this out, and since I do not have a lot of experience with grand dampers and do not have the appropriate tools, I told her I'd have to come back and deal with it later. Since I spent time diagnosing the problem, cleaning the piano and doing a careful tuning, I did not have enough time to voice hammers. Since I was unable to solve the damper problem, I did not charge extra for the cleaning.

Borrowed a tool, studied up, and went back this morning. Though I was there to try to fix the damper problems, the customer asked me if I could voice down the treble a bit, so I needled some hammers, which she was very happy with, and I thought, good--at least I can charge a bit for the voicing. Bottom line though, I could not fix the damper problem, since I do not really know what I am doing and was very nervous about creating new problems. I promised to get a colleague to help us, which I will do. When I presented what I thought was a modest bill for the voicing, she balked, said this was turning into the most expensive piano tuning she'd ever had, and the problem still was not fixed. She said she was used to having her piano tuned and voiced once a year for $20 less than what I charged her for tuning alone (though she got cleaning too).

I realize that when there's a persistent problem, all the other good stuff you may do is meaningless. If I had been able to fix the problem at the tuning, however, I think I would have felt it was reasonable to charge a bit extra for it; it doesn't seem reasonable to expect tuning, cleaning, voicing, and a damper adjustment (especially if it involved pulling the action) for what I usually charge for tuning.

I realize that very experienced techs can tune more quickly than I can, and have time left over for voicing and fixing little problems. But I am not there yet, and though I want to offer good value, I also need to make a living.

She wasn't unreasonable or argumentative, but I was surprised. And since she could be a great source of referrals, I want her to be happy. So although I offered a couple of points to challenge what she said she expected, I agreed to not charge her for the voicing after all.

But the whole thing leaves a bad taste, and I have a feeling I'm not going to get any referrals from her anyway.

Should I have handled this differently? You can bet I will be at the next available PTG convention, taking damper classes.

Opinions welcome.


Anne Francis
Piano Tuner-Technician

Check out my blog! www.annefrancis.ca/blog

1906 Heintzman upright (rebuilt)
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Re: Customer issues
Anne Francis #1757395 09/22/11 12:42 PM
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Anne:

Sorry that this happened to you. It has not happened to me, but I have a plan in place in case it does. Hopefully I will be able to go through with it if necessary.

I will present my bill and they can pay it or not. If they refuse to pay it, fine. I will not make a fuss or try to get them to “agree” with the bill. I will simply not schedule any more appointments and take the loss. After all, if they were not satisfied the first time, why would they be the second time?


Jeff Deutschle
Part-Time Tuner
Who taught the first chicken how to peck?
Re: Customer issues
Anne Francis #1757410 09/22/11 01:03 PM
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I see two different issues here.

1. There are some skills you need to develop, which you have identified and have a course of action to address. That's great! Soon you will be damper-ing with the best of them.

2. You charge more than she is used to paying. Even if you had accomplished the tuning, voicing, cleaning, and fixed the damper issue all in one visit, she would still have thought she was paying too much. Obviously if you had done all this, you would feel more at ease in charging your fee, so that's something to work towards (see point #1). But, it looks to me like her retired technician wasn't charging enough. I've noticed that some (some, not all, please don't get upset if y'all feel I'm casting too wide a net, just an observation here) technicians who have been in the field for a long time, don't regularly raise their rates. Whatever their reasons are, it will lead to sticker shock when their clients find another technician.

If you get all her tuning referrals, then you'll likely encounter this sticker shock-itis when you go do those tunings. Something to think about and be prepared for. I am not suggesting that you lower your price, but just that you have it thought out in advance, and are able to talk about it in a non-confrontational and friendly way. That could mean that you offer a discount for the first tuning, or whatever.

Good luck!


Zeno Wood, Piano Technician
Brooklyn College
Re: Customer issues
Anne Francis #1757444 09/22/11 02:12 PM
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I agree with Zeno. Developing your skills is first on the list which you are planning on doing. You will also be able to charge more then too. Plus, the time spent doing additional repairs will be cut way down as well.

I have encountered the same thing with tuners that under charge and give lots of things away for free. Including cleaning, voicing, repairs etc. They are not doing anyone any favor's but for their customers. It seems like they want to make themselves look good more than anything else to me.

Clients should not expect us to include or do extra things for free any more than they could expect a furnace repairman or electrician to do extra things for free like clean their ceiling panels "as long as you have them down" or replacing one more wire for free. Either way you look at it, it all takes additional time regardless of what it is.

You might be able to work with her, to get her to understand what is involved with pianos, tuning, repairing and all of that otherwise, sometimes, it is better to write certain customers off that expect more than we can afford to deliver.



Jerry Groot RPT
Piano Technicians Guild
Grand Rapids, Michigan
www.grootpiano.com

We love to play BF2.
Re: Customer issues
Anne Francis #1757463 09/22/11 02:36 PM
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One more thing:

Get yourself an old grand piano real cheap (there are people giving away 80 year old decent makes in wretched shape) and use it as your project piano. Take out all the the dampers, bend a bunch of the wires the wrong way, rebush the guide rail and glue on new damper felt. Install the dampers and regulate.

The nice thing about piano work is that after you do something 88 times you get pretty good at it!


Zeno Wood, Piano Technician
Brooklyn College
Re: Customer issues
Jerry Groot RPT #1757465 09/22/11 02:42 PM
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Thanks, Jerry and Zeno. I was so horrified when she balked, that I immediately backed off; she told me she thought I charged more than other people, which I don't think is true. It occurred to me that her previous tech may not have been charging market rates. Though I tend to charge a little more up front and then charge less if people tune every year, which I explained to her. (I'm not keen on the practice of offering a discounted first tuning, then they get sticker shock later.)

Jeff, if she was rude, or if she wasn't the kind of customer I'm trying to get more of, I'd do as you suggest, but that's not the case. In fact, one of my other customers was coming out of a lesson as I walked in. Luckily I remembered her. I don't want anyone badmouthing me!


Anne Francis
Piano Tuner-Technician

Check out my blog! www.annefrancis.ca/blog

1906 Heintzman upright (rebuilt)
Re: Customer issues
Anne Francis #1757515 09/22/11 04:02 PM
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I always try and relate my business to any other service business and by that, I mean one that comes to your home. Our prices should reflect something similar to theirs in my opinion as our cost of doing business isn't much different than theirs is. For example, this week, my dryer died. The service repairman came to the house, spent 10 minutes, did nothing but give me an estimate of $400 to replace the motor on my dryer and charged me $68. I chose not to do the work and replaced it instead however, he did NOT give me a free estimate and would not have, because I chose not to do the work. He always charges regardless because his expenses remain the same. Something to think about anyway.


Jerry Groot RPT
Piano Technicians Guild
Grand Rapids, Michigan
www.grootpiano.com

We love to play BF2.
Re: Customer issues
Anne Francis #1757539 09/22/11 04:32 PM
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Interesting discussion!

I just looked at your website, Anne and saw that your basic tuning fee is $100. That is certainly NOT a high fee by any stretch.

These types of situations can be very emotional. Setting fees in general is quite emotional. We have to decide what we are worth, which can bring up a lot of feelings. Am I worth it? What will my clients think if I raise my rates?

Having key members of the musical community can be very helpful to your business. So having even a small confrontation over price can be unsettling.

I had a call a couple of months ago from a guy with a Steinway who moved to my area from NY. I told him my service fee and I could tell he was somewhat incredulous. He said his NY tech did it for $110. I talked with him about the difference between "just a tuning" and "full service". Since he was going to be going out of town for a while in a couple of weeks, I agreed, against my better judgement, to just tune the piano and charge what his NY guy did.

When I got there, the piano was in pretty sad shape - not because there was anything major wrong with it, but because many minor things had accumulated over the years because all the tech did was "just tune" the piano. Soundboard was filthy, hammers were very flat and grooved, regulation was poor, too much friction, tone uneven and difficult to control - you get the picture.

Chances are your client with the "tinging" damper had the same problem before you came along. The previous tech never fixed it either. I'm guessing he was not a full-service technician either, but "just tuned". It sounds like you are on the right track.

Dampers are tricky business. There will be some excellent damper classes at next year's PTG conference in Seattle. Be sure to sign up for "Grand Damper Systems Demystified" with Rick Baldassin. It's worth coming just for that class. But sign up early, because it fills up. Fred Redikopp will also be teaching "Everyday dampers". His damper class in Kansas City earlier this year got great reviews!

Hope to see you there!






Ryan Sowers,
Pianova Piano Service
Olympia, WA
www.pianova.net
Re: Customer issues
Anne Francis #1757570 09/22/11 05:02 PM
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You didn't say what tool you borrowed, but there are several tools needed for bending damper wires. As techs get towards retirement, they tend to quit advertising, and business suffers, so they quit raising rates to ensure the phone rings. Many have made this mistake. How you handle this is sell your skills - justify the higher price - tell the customer how much better your service is than the other guy. You may not have decades of experience, but don't let on to the customer.

One more thing, if you don't occasionally get complaints about how high your price is, you are not charging enough.

Have you checked into acquiring this retired tuners business? Don't let his lower rates discourage that, but us that issue to grab the customer list for a steal.



Re: Customer issues
Anne Francis #1757600 09/22/11 05:27 PM
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First of all, keep working on your skills.

The more you charge the more you are respected.

If I may, I can try to help you.

Dampers are not that difficult, just picky and annoying and no tolerance.

A damper wire that is touching a neighbouring piano wire needs to be bent. In either one location, or two.

A good pair of wire bending pliers is a must for any technician. They are used a lot throughout the action.

Most probably, the damper wire in question is not vertical through the damper guide rail bushing.

My usual fix, is that after having removed the action, eyeball the damper and determine where you need to bend. Look at the neighbouring dampers. Are there two bends already? Look closely.

Then proceed with bending. If it works, and the damper is working, great, job done.

Most probably the damper is not working any better. It has sat in that spot for so long, changing the damper head's angle has made it unhappy.

Now remove the damper head from the piano, using a razor blade, remove the felt. Return the assembly to the piano and and eyeball if the damper head is level with the strings.

Reglue the felt while in contact with the strings, especially trichords.

All the best


Jean Poulin

Musician, Tuner and Technician

www.actionpiano.ca
Re: Customer issues
Anne Francis #1757642 09/22/11 06:50 PM
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When setting up a new customer's appointment, I tell him/her on the phone what my tuning fee is, and let them know that any type of repair is extra. This eliminates "sticker shock" when I present them with the bill.


Eric Gloo
Piano Technician
Certified Dampp-Chaser Installer
Richfield Springs, New York
Re: Customer issues
Eric Gloo #1757643 09/22/11 06:51 PM
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Originally Posted by Eric Gloo
When setting up a new customer's appointment, I tell him/her on the phone what my tuning fee is, and let them know that any type of repair is extra. This eliminates "sticker shock" when I present them with the bill.


Yes


Jean Poulin

Musician, Tuner and Technician

www.actionpiano.ca
Re: Customer issues
Eric Gloo #1757668 09/22/11 07:52 PM
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Originally Posted by Eric Gloo
When setting up a new customer's appointment, I tell him/her on the phone what my tuning fee is, and let them know that any type of repair is extra. This eliminates "sticker shock" when I present them with the bill.
Exactly, and avoid discounts like the plague. It tends to give the customer the idea that you are indeed charging too much, and the discount price is the right one. 'Not good!


David L. Jenson
Tuning - Repairs - Refurbishing
Jenson's Piano Service
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Re: Customer issues
Anne Francis #1757675 09/22/11 08:15 PM
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I was wondering if anyone would mention stating fees up front.

I agree with Bob, "if you don't occasionally get complaints about how high your price is, you are not charging enough."

Re: Customer issues
Anne Francis #1757755 09/22/11 10:32 PM
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Hi Anne,

Don't worry about it and its good that you will hone up on damper adjustments. If you got this type of scene every tuning/repair you might need to worry but every now and then we get these awkward situations that are more or less out of your control. Sometimes I get customers that tell me I charged twice as much as their last tech and after I explain that the piano was a tone flat they admit the last tech to tune the piano was 10 years ago...lol...welcome to inflation.


Piano Technician
George Brown College /85
Niagara Region
Re: Customer issues
Anne Francis #1757765 09/22/11 11:05 PM
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I agree with Ryan Sowers' post. And it appears to me that your were taken advantage of by this customer. There are people who make this into an art. When the customer brings something to my attention, that is the start of a different conversation. Always ask questions. When did the 'tingy' noise start? Who is the previous tuner, you may know them? You may know their approach to voicing, and why they voice at every tuning? Check to see if the hammers are well kept and properly filed. An effective gesture is to pull out the service order and start writing down what she is telling you. Add to this list a few things that you noticed, and begin the discussion of the best approach to servicing the piano. The customer will very quickly let you know what they are willing to pay for and how much they are willing to pay. What the customer says they want done and what they are willing to pay for are often very much different. Don't assume that because she stated that she wanted something done that she is willing to pay for it. I never do anything to the piano without talking to the customer about it first. A loose screw or a pencil in the action, I take care of, but anything else, including cleaning, I talk to the customer first.


"Imagine it in all its primatic colorings, its counterpart in our souls - our souls that are great pianos whose strings, of honey and of steel, the divisions of the rainbow set twanging, loosing on the air great novels of adventure!" - William Carlos Williams
Re: Customer issues
Anne Francis #1757864 09/23/11 07:03 AM
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Good advice all around. It is essential that clients know your rates in advance so there are no surprises. If they don't ask me I make sure to let them know and get their approval before we confirm the date.

Discounts are in general a really bad idea - Because I tune for many musicians who know each other it would be a disaster if I favored some and not others. When they ask I simply recite the sentence above, and it works. (And they will ask for discounts, so be ready with your response.)

If you are busy solving a problem and the client asks for something else on a whim that hadn't been planned for - simply book another time to return.

Correctly diagnosing the cause of damper problems will save time and prevent frustration. If there is string/damper wire contact, sometimes strings need to be moved, and not the dampers at all. On pianos without agraffes this issue isn't uncommon. Also, check that the damper guide rail hasn't shifted (in this situation often more than one damper will be problematic), and be sure that the guide rail bushings are ok (sometimes glue soaks through which can create hard sounds). Check that the string leveling and string spacing is OK. If the bushings are old, crusty, and disintegrating, that can also mess with the optimum position of the damper wire in question. Check the back action to be sure the damper underlever flanges are snug.

You absolutely need wire bending pliers and the Hart damper tool Pianotek sells - for grasping the wire directly under the head while making adjustments to the head. Those should be with you at all times, and always have your string repair tools at hand too. I have found the "umbrella" tool for easing guide rail bushings to be very helpful. Spurlock also sells some nice tools for damper work, and everything he has written on the subject is worth reading...The PACE grand regulation book contains a boatload of information.

Funny damper story: Two weeks ago I was tuning a Mason & Hamlin A in a theatrical performance venue. When I tuned the piano 10 months ago everything was fine...This time I opened the lid and thought a rat had moved in - it looked like mutilated, stretched out damper felt everywhere. Then I realized that someone had used duct tape to attach cotton balls to the bottoms of four existing damper felts! Needless to say this repair attempt created permanent sustain on the notes they tried to fix! About an hour later everything was fine, as I carry replacement damper felt for both grands and verticals in all different shapes, along with the tools to measure, cut, and regulate. Being able to solve unanticipated problems like that on the spot is good for your reputation and your wallet! smile


Keyboardist & Composer, Piano Technician
www.jamescarney.net
http://jamescarneypianotuning.wordpress.com/
Re: Customer issues
Anne Francis #1757882 09/23/11 08:20 AM
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"Ma'm, I can't speak for my competitors, I can only speak for myself. I believe my fee is a reasonable one considering the work I've done and the amount of time it took."


DiGiorgi Piano Service
http://www.digiorgipiano.com
Re: Customer issues
Anne Francis #1757910 09/23/11 09:53 AM
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My rate is over what just tuning service requires. If a pitch raise is needed I do it. Light cleaning, sluggish key solving, minor damper regulating issues or other minor problems are addressed without talking to the client. I just do it. On some pianos no of these procedures are required but the cost is the same. I will, however, do a free one time follow-up appointment if a client calls and has issues with something. I have had great success with this and have gotten a good reputation as offering what they know as great service for a good price. In a lot of cases I will get more work because of it like hammer filing/voicing, key bushing replacements, full regulations etc. The less conversation about the cost of this and that with the owner works for me. My higher price spreads out among all my jobs where I'll make more in one case but be able to pay it forward on another. I think I'm the only tech in town that enjoys doing dampers. At the Steinway class for damper training I was told before I attended that the class was usually held on the third floor but they changed it to the first floor because too many tech's were jumping out the windows. Yuk Yuk.


David Chadwick RPT
Newark, Ohio
1931 Mason Hamlin AA
Re: Customer issues
Anne Francis #1757951 09/23/11 11:21 AM
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Good to see you posting again Anne,

Lots of good points of view for remedies here not only for the problematic damper but the problematic client too….

Here is another straight- forward view……

This client used a comparison between you and another technician. As her previous tech retired this comparison/ argument is specious……

When people complain about rates I have one response only;
“If price is your only concern then perhaps you might call another technician. My concern is the proper function of your piano. What the cost may be from others is not within my control.”

Or give them the line underneath my signature here…..

Regarding the damper and a quick remedy for the future two things for the damper wire touching the strings;

One would be a flat blade screw driver between the damper head and wire to move the wire out slightly without interfering with the dampers function.

The other is to take your off- set key easing tool or the back check reg tool and slide it underneath the damper head to adjust the wire off the string.

These would have been a quick patch until you returned if you had to. After all it was only one wire…

Doesn’t seem like the problem is the damper wire anyways.

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