...the first time you meet a new client.
By Hannah Beckett, RPT
Piano technology introduces an interesting social atmosphere that is unique to our trade. Unlike most in-home services, we are not working on appliances that merely operate as a function in the home. Pianos are elevated in status far beyond most items and represent significant sentimental and monetary value. Inviting a stranger into a home to work on a highly-valued item can be intimidating, stressful, and suspenseful for our clients. A good technician can help alleviate some of the strain almost instantly with a few good social gestures. Planning ahead and taking the time to learn what not to do can make the difference between a one-time client, and a client for life.
What not to do:
1. Do not dress down because you are "just" a piano technician. Dress professionally and appropriately for work on an expensive instrument. Your attire is the first thing a client will notice about you, and it should communicate professionalism in every way possible.
2. Do not park behind cars in the driveway. Don't assume that your client has nothing better to do than stay at home and watch you tune unisons. As a general rule, one of the first things I say after a pleasant hello is, "I parked on the right side of the driveway. Is that going to be okay or should I move somewhere more convenient?" Before I've even stepped in the door, I've confirmed that I'm a guest in the home and am respectful of my client's space. If street parking is available and convenient, I usually opt for that as a first choice, but that isn't always the case.
3. Do not walk more than a few feet into the entryway after you've been invited into the home. Pause once you are in, and wait for the client to lead the way to the piano. Also make note of the shoe situation when you enter. You may be asked to remove your shoes, but if you see piles of shoes in the entryway and plush carpet ahead, you should offer to remove your shoes before being asked. Rushing an entrance communicates stress, and barging into someone's home can make them feel uncomfortable. If you cause discomfort with your entry into the home, you'll likely be viewed more suspiciously while working at the piano.
4. Once at the piano, do not move in a way that indicates ownership of the piano. As much as technicians know best, it's not your piano. Chat for a bit near the piano before laying hands on it. Asking questions about the instrument puts the ownership back in your clients' hands and will help boost their confidence in the decision they made to hire you. I usually look for something to compliment about the instrument and then ask a question about the history of the piano. "Oh, it's an RX model Kawai! Those are some of my favorites. Have you had it for long?"
5. Do not start removing objects from the piano. Politely mention that you'll need access to the inside of the piano. They will start removing objects and apologizing for not doing it before you came. It is usually safe to remove music books, and miscellaneous pencils, metronomes etc, but leave the framed photos, crystal statues, and lamps to the client. Once it is clear of random items, it is now time for you to move confidently as you open the piano. Always confirm that placing cabinet parts on the floor is acceptable, especially if there is a clumsy dog who may scratch the parts.
6. Do not make comments on the home unless it is something you are genuinely interested in. Shallow complimenting quickly appears inauthentic. For example, "I love the color of this room," doesn't usually go anywhere towards establishing a relationship. "What a beautiful orchid! How often do you re-pot it to get such healthy blooms?" This one works for me because I'm a plant person and genuinely want to know how to keep orchids alive. Now I'm chatting easily with my client while removing parts off their piano.
7. Do not take over the entire room with your tools (unless of course you're going doing a large job or all-day regulation). Try to keep your work station neat by placing your tools right back where they belong each time you use them. Don't put your tools on the piano lid or bench, or anywhere that could potentially be scratched. See Greg's tool tray
8. Do not spend lots of time on your phone. Silence the phone, give 100% of your attention to the task at hand, and return calls from your car when you finish.
9. Do not call the client back in when you finish until after you replace any heavy/awkward case parts. I have looked like an idiot more times than I like to admit because I had to fumble my way through a sticky grand fall board or cumbersome kick board with my client staring over my shoulder. When I finish tuning, I always play arpeggios and a few short sections of songs to test my tunings. I learned to replace the parts before doing this because inevitably, my client would hear the song and assume this was their call for payment.
10. Do not sit on any other furniture besides the piano bench while waiting for payment. Stick to your area in the home, and be respectful of the furnishings.
In general, you should assume that most homes have video surveillance installed. Assume you are being watched, and act accordingly. It may sound excessive, and ultimately you can relax some of these things once you have a relationship with your client, but until then, you have everything to prove to a new client regardless of your level of work.
Over time, first encounters become a more fluid part of your day-to-day operations. A friendly greeting can disarm the most distrusting clients, and positive eye contact and poise will always convey confidence even if you suffer from insecurity and self-doubt. Many of my clients have become dear friends, and I now consider the social aspect of being a field-technician one of the most rewarding perks of piano service.