As I have reminded you many times
when posting these articles from vintage electronics magazine like the 1938 Radio
News, in-home service calls were commonplace for just about everything serviceable
in the house. That included humans - particularly children - who were tended to
in domus by their family doctors. Successful servicemen learned the lesson related
in this story: "I work on the set owner in the house, and save the set work for
the shop." That of course holds true for situations where the radio, television,
record player, etc., needed to go back to the shop for repair. When repairs could
be effected in situ, a combination of customer relations and technical skills was
required. In addition to the aforementioned, another skill that needed to be honed
was getting the customer to pay his bill. There were no credit cards in the day,
so cash or an in-store line of credit was required for payment. In most cases the
customer did not already have that credit line. If a piece of equipment is in the
shop, then it can at least be sold in lieu of payment, but walking out of someone's
house with a radio for non-payment was a bold and risky proposition.
"Hey, you guys! Cut it out. I can't hear the fight!"
By Lee Sheldon
"Customer analysis" is not restricted to the large stores and sales organizations
alone, any serviceman can use it to his advantage.
The owner of the
32 looked at me steadily, and I felt the repair job slipping.
"I'll think it over," he finally said, "and call you later."
Very disappointedly, I picked up my three hundred dollars' worth of test equipment,
and returned to the store. You know how it feels, losing work out of the bag.
To excuse myself, I muttered the customary comment for such cases, designating
the customer for a descending journey; but I knew the fault was mine. Too many jobs
had been fumbled; and although the reason was not obvious, it was evident I lacked
There I was, carrying the latest equipment; brimming over with sixteen years'
experience; entering a home where work and payment had been awaiting me; then, muffing
the thing. I had turned the set on, listened to its choky quality, took one confirming
socket reading, and quoted $7.50 for replacement of a bias resistor. The time, less
than fifteen minutes, and I had promised delivery the following day. It was a perfect
call, except for not getting the job. The operation was a success, but the patient
died. Nothing so discouraging happened when I started in business.
In those days, the prime prerequisites to set servicing were a screwdriver, three
technical phrases, and the ability to sprint on short notice. Thus qualified, I
visited the home of a real estate operator on one of my first calls. He was encumbered
with a pair of Murdock 'phones, six A, B, and C batteries, and a table set three
feet long. The cabinet, laying on two tables, sported fifteen knobs and dials from
one to four inches in diameter. Its heavy Florentine carving made excelsior as simple
as a straight line drawing.
"Doesn't it play?" I asked.
"Too well," he said, handing the cans to me. "Listen."
Three locals came in, bringing with them: a time tick, a piano duo playing Kaloa,
and a man named Jerry, singing "Double-you cue jay, Chicago, U. S. A."
I assumed my professional worried countenance and let fly with a technical phrase:
"It sounds like radio frequency."
"It sounds like hell," he corrected. "Fix it!"
No dial adjustment affected the three programs. I reached for my screwdriver,
intending to remove the back cover. When I saw the screws were covered with a manufacturer's
wax stamp, I turned to him.
"Mister, you had better send it back to the factory. If these seals are broken,
the guarantee is no good."
"The guarantee is no good, anyway." He was smiling. "Open it."
The inside was astonishing. There was one tube, and each dial shaft was connected
only to a spring, washer, and cotter pin. The dials were useless except for roulette.
"How interesting!" he remarked. "Are all sets hollow, like this one?" I could
not understand why he chuckled.
"No. The better models have rheostats, potentiometers, tuning condensers, and
variocouplers. These parts put station selection into the hands of the purchaser,
instead of to chance. Your particular set gets three simultaneous programs because
there's nothing in it to stop two of them. How much was it?"
"Four hundred dollars." He laughed loudly.
"This," I reminded him, "is no laughing matter. You have been well taken. Some
dealer has come west from Gyp Row."
"Cortlandt Street must be Melody Lane if this beautiful set came from there.
How much will you charge to build a radio into the box?" He was still laughing,
and had me giggling by induction.
"Build you a three-tuber for one hundred dollars. What's so funny?"
"Man I bought it from took $500 in Florida real estate from me. Gave me this
set and $100 in cash." He held his appendix, and brushed the tears from his eyes.
"How soon can you make delivery?"
"Four days. Isn't the real estate worth anything ?"
"It is to the alligators," he answered.
"Here, grab the other end of this casket - I'll help you carry it out."
Since then, after years of study and experience, I couldn't handle a resistor
replacement! What good were training and equipment if they didn't help in getting
work? I locked up early that night.
Russ stopped in the next morning. Although he serviced my neighborhood from his
car; he wasn't exactly a competitor because he turned all his work over to me. I
looked down on him, professionally, as being inexperienced. He managed nicely, though;
his only expenses were those for his auto and for a frequent meter replacement in
his home-made tester. (He had wired the instrument himself, but did not understand
it. The border of binding posts was too complicated for him, and the single meter
was always getting in series with something which burned more current than the meter
coil was wont to handle.) In spite of his incompetence, he picked up as many chassis
as I, but I didn't care - he brought them to me.
"Hold the door open," he said. "I got a big set coming in."
I recognized the tube stickers.
The set was the 32 I lost the day before. He laid it on the bench, and said:
"Give it the works. I'll pick it up for delivery in about a week."
"Wait a minute," I called. "Do you know what's wrong with it?"
"No. What difference does it make? You find it."
"I already have found it," I told him, as acidly as possible, "and it will cost
you exactly $7.50, plus tubes, of which there are eight, in case you haven't seen
the 24A's under the shields."
"So what? Make it perk!"
"So you had better get more than that from your customer," I answered angrily.
"How much are you getting?"
"Twenty-two fifty. Very busy. See you later."
I wondered what formalities were required for going on relief. Then, with rising
spirit bred in me by a conviction I was better than average, but misunderstood,
I went through my files, picking out each record of call failure during the previous
year. The pile was annoyingly high.
There was a factor common to them all : like the Colonial 32, they were simple
jobs on familiar models; those requiring the least time in the customers' homes.
Then the light appeared. I was neglecting the customer.
That explained why Russ, poking meaningless test prods into sets he did not understand,
was more successful than I. He impressed the customer with his display of effort,
reconciling him to shop work on a major repair. He analyzed the customer, not the
set! If I answered the same call, the customer mistook my quicker, more efficient
socket tests for gyppery.
I was reminded of Fredericks, who had the fault of efficiency in a greater degree.
He was trained in theory to the point of being a technical, knockout, and was equally
adept with slide rule and soldering iron. His customers paid resentfully, admitting
his proficiency, but he left a trail of ill-will among set owners which poisoned
them against repeat calls.
One day he telephoned to the store a day after he left on a fifteen dollar Bosch
filter block replacement.
"Don't tell me you need more than a day on that job," I said. "Did you have lunch
from a bottle? Is the Bosch okay?"
"The set is working," he answered, "but I'm not. I'm speaking from a hospital."
I'm no fool. From now on, I might appear slow, but not presumptuous, to my customers.
I work on the set owner in the house, and save the set work for the shop. I find
he is usually interested; if not in his set, in my efforts to recondition his most
important, except one, household fixture.
Posted January 18, 2022