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How to deal with a dissatisfied customer you don't agree with?

Well, it's been a awkward time, and I'd like to have your opinions as pro luthiers. A new customer brought his old 100$ (maybe less) classical guitar with terrible plastic nut and saddle. He asks for a improvement  so he can tune with no headache. I make him a new bone nut and bone saddle without changing strings because he doesn't want to spend much money on it. Here come the troubles.

He tries it and find an annoying noise on the strings, while tuning ability is good now. Well listening carefully and plucking in a particular way, there's a tiny little noise. Not a fret buzz, nor rattling or sitar like sound. A bit like a free winding on a string or something similar. Changing strings does not improve situation, shimming the saddle or double checking my nut slots' shape neither. I spent an hour on it trying a lot of things, checking for loose braces, etc.. with no success.

When he comes back, he tries it, tell me that the guitar is not working at all because of these little noises, and that it did not have this problem when he walked in my shop the first time (unfortunatly I can't confirm this, and it's part of the lesson I guess). So to his eyes I'm not good enough and guilty for these noises.

I told him I spent a lot of time on it, and did all I can, but that I did not find the problem's origin. So I charge him half the price of a new nut and saddle and give him the address of another luthier in town who is only building classical guitars for maybe 30 years (I only do this for 7 years as a full time job).

Customer's not happy but what else could I do? It's the first time I have a dissatisfied customer of this kind, and it really is a pain. What would have you done in my place?

Tags: customer, professional, relation

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I'm curious:  through all this, have the strings ever been changed?
with my situation each tiem I change strings Jeff
As the baird said, all that's left to do is, smile, smile, smile.

When I have a customer who wants me to do a great job on a crappy guitar, I always treat him/her with the utmost respect. I explain how some guitars are better than others, that many times there are hidden problems that appear while doing the work, and such. Most times, when I take the the time to educate them, they get a more grounded approach. Also, I always have in my shop my own instruments for them to try out. When one of these picky customers plays my axes, most are humbled enough to cool down the attitude.

 

And for the unavoidable jerk who comes down in everyone's life at least twice, I treat him like a drunken Hooligan: "Yes sir, you're right, I'm wrong, I'm sorry for not being good enough craftsman, God bless you..." You know the drill.

Alex your very Political correctness Is I believe Miss guided although in one area your right in one area your wrong to say like yes Sir is to be Subordinate. I wouldn't capitulate that way at all for anyone ,I feel Psychology by saying Sir you have showed your hand that maby there Is Doubt in your Mind .So I have another thing that works well Ill bring in a customer and sit down and have the pro /con discussion with them while they are standing and I am sitting below there eye level during the inspection this gives them full opportunity to open up and tell me what is going on in a nonthreatening non-capitulating way .I never show my Hand unless I have been completely wrong which has happened to me in the past.so instead of Sir, I use there first and or last Name basses only this makes it much more personal and so I believe is the way to treat a dissatisfied customer because they already have an opinion of you. When you bow down you have lost all respect and any reasonable reason at this point the heat can and will rise lets just say if I am wrong I admit it and Bit the Bullet but If I feel the customer is just so out there then and becomes a war of words my 1 liner is (sorry I just can not have this conversation right now call back or comeback later) I don't get worked up anymore because it is not Healthy to have A Bad trip .       .
i am on the same page as donald in that i have a work sheet which lists the things that are to be done with the guitar, the final cost and his signature for the work to be performed. detailing the work with the customer and also being straight out about whether his guitar has the potential to be much more than it is. any additional work beyond what is scheduled has to be signed for and additional costs accepted.   as long as they know that the minor fixes of their montana will not make it a martin then when it is finished there isn't going to be any complaints.  i have been fortunate to have customers who appreciate my work and have yet encountered this situation.  i have on a couple of occasions not accepted guitars and instead told the customer to invest in a better instrument rather than pay for a costly repair.  perhaps this saved me from the same situation you encountered or maybe they took my advice.  guess i will never know and i hope it doesn't come my way.
I do take time to educate, to inform and sometimes to tell the guitar's not worth it. But sometimes (as for that particular story), it's not enough....
no way to display an image here, is there?

yes Howard there is a way if you have a jpg then add it by clicking upload image

Howard, 

 You can use the "upload a file" link at the bottom of the "reply to this" page which will embed links at the end of your post. If you use the "image" icon, second from the left at the top of the "reply to this" page, you will insert a picture into the body of your reply. 

 

Ned

i've thought about this for a bit and i guess that 10 repair techs would all have a different answer to your question.  probably the only response would be let your conscience be your guide.  what amount of bad publicity is your reputation willing to risk. good luck to us all.

I confess that I'm not a luthier, but I have experienced difficult customers in my technical support business. There are just going to be people who will never be satisfied, no matter what you do to please them. This is their problem, not ours. Their hobby is sucking other people into arguments.

I preserve my self-respect by acting professionally. It helps to set realistic expectations early and keep them updated as the work progresses. If they can't be pleased, I'll charge them only for material, not labor, say I'm sorry I couldn't help them, and politely get them out of my life. It's worth the monetary loss not to have to deal with them any more. There are very few customers like this, thank goodness. If I spent my time arguing with them I would just end up aggravated and sour. When I don't, they just become a learning experience and an amusing story about an impossible person.

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