Dealing with needy electronics repair customers

One satisfying thing I’m learning working part-time for a real repair business is it’s not just something about me that causes people to try to chisel down on repair bills and take advantage. In fact I think it’s worse with adults, perhaps with me they see someone of an age associated with paper routes and softball, so maybe people were actually not chiseling me as hard.

Two main categories of annoying customers are:

Needy customers who suck down your time

Sell someone an older $50 salvaged VCR; by now people should understand: IN, OUT, turn TV to channel 3. No, they need to have a 15-minute telephone consultation, stretching the cord to their TV or having their spouse serve as interpreter. Luckily they know I’m far too young to drive over, and they would feel embarrassed to drag my dad out with me to hook it up. Well, not all of them are too embarrassed for that.

These customers are leading me to consider not touching items I can’t sell for $100, with at least $80 of that in profit. To get these economics requires time, I have spent a few years building up sorted junk bins of TVs, stereos, VCRs, computers, etc. Then I can get some junk for free or $5 or shovel their driveway, fix it for $0, sell it for $100 or more.

This is a method I’ve been using for years: geeky self-starting begoggled boy comes to your house and offers to pick up sticks after a storm or the like. During the process I mention I’m really into electronics and wonder if they have anything that needs fixing. Invariably, they have some 1970s stereo tuner/amp, 8 track player, shortwave radio, 1980s TV, etc. that doesn’t quite work right or more simply that they just don’t use. Now, I’m doing them a second favor by taking away their junk. If my dad isn’t available with the truck, I’ve been known to drive over the loader tractor to pick bigger items up.

This trick can be used with needy customers: if they want to drag me over, I can counter with a free electronics pickup. I’ll hookup your VCR if you’ll give me some resalable bit of electronics worth $50 or more. It’s a way to convert SOME losing situations into winners.

Chiseling, perfectionist repair/resale customers

These are the customers for whom you must defend, pulling out my mother’s Kodak Instamatic to take a snapshot or two beforehand. I can’t be bothered with that every time, and sometimes I pay for it later with mystery scratches and flaws that somehow are my fault. I am hopeful with the first digital cameras coming to market, but anything at consumer grade is of sub-VGA resolution, insufficient to capture these mystery scratches existing when I pickup the item. They are good enough for CU-SeeMe, which is fun but not yet ready for more demanding resolution. The thing is, these complaints make you feel bad, so you knock 30% off the repair, but then was it really your fault? Can you make back that 30% in a reasonable way by defending via taking photographs at pickup and bothering around with paying for and developing the film etc.

In both these cases, it’s important to realize that there are customers you can’t afford to have, as you turn away business servicing their excessive needs. When you’re just starting, sometimes you have to swallow these cases, but you should get your business quickly to a point where you can say No with a clear conscience as good business sense.