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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Once again, I gotta be the jerk

Posted on April 19, 2011 at 12:48 PM

Several weeks ago, we received a phone call from someone needing a service call. Not too unusual; we get calls for, “Please! Help me! I’m begging you! The (insert emotionally charged TV event here, ie: finale of American Idol, alma mater or just wanna-be college football game, Presidential State of the Union, re-run of Robot Chicken Blue Harvest episode, etc.) is coming on and I HAVE to watch it! PLEEEEEEZE!” And these kinds of service calls are the trickle, top-off fuel that keeps our business engines running until the next big job turns up. Or until the Internet swallows us whole and then vomits us all into the unemployment line. You know, whichever. However even more importantly than the bits of service call moneys, these “Help me, Obi-John Sciacca! You are my only hope!” calls are a great way to slide in and save the day and make a win out of a fail and turn an angry other-person’s-customer into a happy-our-customer.


So, it turns out that this guy had hired some fly-by-night company to install his new surround system. The system was modest at best, but still represented about a $5,000 investment for the client, and, well, he figured that sense he went to the effort of paying for it and hiring a “professional” (oh, if ever there was a time when a simple piece of punctuation was just woefully inadequate at conveying the full measure and spectrum of sarcasm and derision encompassing a single word!) it should at least, you know, work. But, the system never worked right. He called them but couldn’t get them to come back, they finally went out of business so, fed up, he looked around until he found us and called in the cavalry to come in and save the day.


Now, this guy was outside of our normal wheelhouse of customer servicing; he lives in Darlington, South Carolina about 70 miles and nearly two hours away from our store. Yes, the Darlington where they have a NASCAR race. Yes the NASCAR where people in cut off jeans and non-ironic T-shirts get together to sit baking in the southern sun atop RVs, hooting-and-hollering while they guzzle three days worth of beer and Cheez Whiz and watch what is doubtless the most horrific waste of fossil fuels ever contemplated by a modern, developed society. So, that Darlington. So I tell Andrew, our salesman that was handling this, that he was going to have to pay a travel charge for us to go there and Andrew conveyed that to the customer. The Ford E-250 Econoline van is not so “econo” on the gasoline-o as its name might lead you to believe-o.


So we dispatch two installers to go and take a look and it turns out that – big surprise – it’s a mess. Things are wired wrong, the receiver isn’t setup/configured correctly and the projector is horribly mis-installed. It isn’t centered horizontally on the screen, and is instead twisted on the ceiling mount to try and point back to the screen. That’s a giant red flag! Unless you’re Sam Runco and you are having a projector specially designed for you that says “Runco” on it, and you’ve had a team design a projector that is meant to be set way off to the side of the screen because, dammit, that’s the way you want it to be! (pretty much a true story on how the VX-3 came to be...), chances are your installer is just a tool bag that doesn’t know what he is doing. In all but the rarest of rare cases, the lens should pretty much be centered horizontally on the screen. (Some projectors offer a physical horizontal lens shift, but this is not that common. Like my $15,000 Marantz projector doesn’t have it. So, pretty much his $1199 Optoma didn’t either.) Also, it was located SO far above the screen and then tilted downward and employing the maximum amount of keystone correction (ie: a monster that crushes and destroys resolution the way that Pennywise the Clown is an eater of worlds and children – oh, PLEASE tell me someone got that!) to create some semblance of proper geometry on the screen. (Damn! I didn’t want to do it, but I feel a lesson on projection mechanics coming on here. DAMN! OK. Quickly then…a projection screen is a parallelogram shape; a rectangle in 16 x 9 aspect ratio or far less frequently 4 x 3. And the projector broadcasts an image that is the same shape. They marry up to completely fill each other, yin-and-yang style. It’s beautiful. Except when an installer doesn’t figure it out correctly and they eff it up. (This is a perfect time to read about Mathmagic Land where I address this very issue...) Now when you put the projector is too far above (or below) the screen and you have to tilt it and angle it DOWN to fill the screen, the image goes all Isosceles Trapezoid; the top gets shorter than the bottom and the sides start angling. In professional terms, this is called “keystoning.” In less than professional terms it is called, “You done went and Effed up!” And either way it’s just not good. You *should* fix it by relocating the projector physically or raising the screen. But the lazier way is to try and fix it digitally with something called “keystone correction” but it crushes resolution. It’s a cheap fix. It’s bogus, and it should be avoided unless there is some absolute must-have reason for it. Like the customer says, “My dead father’s will stipulated that his preserved corpse had to be suspended from my ceiling in the exact location where the projector needs to go. I realize that you’ll have to compromise the install, but I’m willing to do that in exchange for keeping my $100 million inheritance. Now...get to installing!")

So, a piss-poor install that my guys did their best to rectify, even offering to relocate the projector for the guy. But what they couldn’t rectify was that the projector continually lost sync or lock on the video signal. As the customer would change channels, or the signal would go from 480p to 1080i to 720p to whatever, the projector would lose the image and the screen would go blue. And as serene as a full screen of video blue may seem, it was making my man see red. Sometimes it would come back, sometimes it wouldn’t. Tomayto, tomahto. My guys tried a variety of troubleshooting steps—new cables, different inputs, bypassing the Bose video-thingy and going straight to the projector – but ultimately determined that it was the projector at fault; a low-end Optoma model. So, they packed up and returned to the store.


A few weeks later the customer calls back and says the projector is still acting up. He wants us to come back and further troubleshoot. I tell Andy that this is pointless. The projector is clearly at fault. There is no need to go back and troubleshoot it further. The projector needs to go in for repair or – preferably – be replaced. The guy doesn’t care. He wants us to come. I tell Andy to express that this will be another service call AND will carry another set of travel charges and that we feel that we will be unable to fix the problem. Customer doesn’t care. Wants us to come. So we go back out and RE-troubleshoot, and RE-confirm that yes, it is DEFINITELY your projector.

“Well, what can you do? You need to fix this.”

So we agree to pull the projector off the ceiling, return it to our store, get an RA for Optoma – a company that we don’t even deal with – package the unit up and send it off for repair. When we pull it down it becomes apparent that the company that installed it PAINTED the projector mount while the projector was IN PLACE. On the ceiling! The projector was caked and covered in paint. The serial number is totally unreadable and we practically have to cut the mounting plate off the unit. Again, generally something that is totally frowned on in the projector installering world.


So we bring the projector back to the store, pack it up, get a return authorization, send it off to Optoma, pay the repair, and then when it comes back -- Optoma put a new case on it and re-serial numbered it – we hook it up here at our store and run it for a bit and it works. So we arrange ANOTHER service call to deliver and rehang the projector and I’m now thinking done-and-done. So I work up all of the service calls into an invoice and send the customer his bill for all of this service, which comes to about $850.


Today he calls the store looking for Andy. Except Andy isn't here so he gets me. His projector still isn’t working. He wants us to come BACK out to look at it AGAIN. With another two hour drive. Each way. And gas pricing unrest in the Middle East. I explain that at this point we have really done all that we can do. I’m thinking that when life gives you an Optoma you make lemonade, but I can’t think of a way to work that into the conversation. I gently remind him that first and foremost, we didn’t sell him the projector. Second and foremost we didn’t install the projector. We don’t support the projector. It’s an Optoma. It’s not a Runco that we sell. It’s not a Sharp that we sell. It’s not a Sony that we sell. It’s not a JVC that we sell. It’s an Optoma. That we DON’T sell. We sent the projector – that we didn’t sell – back to the manufacturer for repair. We just responded to his request for service and that we have done our best to get his system working.

He says he doesn’t care about any of that, that it still isn’t working, that it has never worked since he bought it, and that he just wants it to work. And that now he thinks that Optoma owes him a new projector. To him, that’s the only priority here.


I remind him, gently as I can – and I’m going to say, that calling me with some kind of potentially combustible issue like this shortly after 10 AM when I’ve just walked into the store is probably not the best time if you want to receive the most diplomatic Sciacca response. Look, I’m just coming into the store, I’m probably still opening up tabs in Firefox and checking e-mails and daily blog stats and what not. This is a time when I’m just getting settled in for the day and any kind of conflict is going to be responded to with heightened agita and tension and could very well result in your love in the time of cholera. So, just remember that when you’re thinking about calling me with something intense at 10:17 AM and think if it can hold until noon when my morning double-latte has had a better chance to seep into the bloodstream. – that we did all of this work at his request and that even though its a red-headed bummer that it isn't working, we are fully expecting to be paid for it. And, I’m sorry that the projector isn’t working, but given that we didn’t recommend it or sell it to him, we can’t be held responsible for it and whether or not (most likely NOT) Optoma decides to give him a newb.

He says he doesn’t care about any of this. His concern is getting the projector to work. The other stuff isn’t important to him. None of that is the principal issue, he says. I have to interrupt and interject that that OTHER stuff is of principal and primary importance to me. I’m sorry it isn’t working, but, well, we’ve made three trips out to his house and invested a significant amount of time and money in trying to help him and that I’m sorry that the projector he bought from someone else isn’t working, but that isn’t really my fault. I need to know that he understands that my $850 bill isn’t hinging on him getting that projector RE-repaired or – way less likely – replaced by Optoma. Basically, you work it out with Optoma, and here’s their toll-free number, but I’m gonna need that pretzel money.

He says he just wants it to be working. I agree. It *should* be working. But since I didn’t sell it, I can’t be held liable over a bad product I didn’t sell. When we made the service calls, it didn’t come with any ironclad guarantee that we were going to be able to fix an issue we didn’t cause.  Especially when that issue is a physically broken component. And if returning it to the manufacturer that made the damn thing doesn’t do the trick, then I’m pretty much out of ideas, except for a full-on teardown and redo with new CTA supplied gear. What I’m not out of is my bill. I’ve got that. And it’s sitting right here. And $850.

He keeps talking about how that isn’t his priority right now. About how his priority is fixing this problem. Which I get. But unfortunately, I can’t be held hostage to that priority. It’s not fair to me or Custom Theater. Our priorities are like two ships that are sailing in the night. They aren’t passing each other; they’re just sailing along silently doing their own things. Except I think his ship is headed for an iceberg, right ahead! And I don’t want to be aboard it. I want to grab my $850 and head on up to the lido deck and grab a colada. He says he wants to call back and talk to Andrew who has a rapport with. I say fine. I hang-up, pretty sure that I won't be seeing any friend requests from him any time soon and I put a note on his file. It’s not a smiley face.

Categories: April 2011, CTA, Electronics

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Reply DW
9:37 AM on April 20, 2011 
It makes me sad to continually read how you mistreat your customers. It's a wonder that you stay in business at all. The only thing I can figure out is that the entire population of Myrtle Beach (and surrounding environs) must consist of self-flagellating masochistic ne'er-do-wells that have more money than brains. With any sense these deluded people would forego your little extract-the-customer's-wealth money-making machine and head to their local Best Buy where they could use one of the computers on display to order their gear from some anonymous web site that cares more for them than you do with your bogus service calls, endless admonitions that they bought the wrong equipment, and obviously inconvenient store hours. (Open at 10 AM? Really? If you cared, you'd offer 24/7 showroom hours and installers constantly roving around town in their vans - like B-52s waiting to drop the big one on Moscow as soon as the President or a renegade Joint Chiefs of Staff gives the "Damn this red phone! There's always static on the line!" order to "git 'er done!" - with another van carrying 100 5-gallon gas cans in the back so you can do mid-2-lane highway refueling.) One more insensitive blog like this and I'm going back to reading my old copy of the SkyMall catalog I still have from a flight I took back in 1998 when the economy was going good, Bill Clinton was still President, and S&V magazine still had credibility.
Reply John Sciacca
10:40 AM on April 20, 2011 
Only Darryl knows the sudden-onset panic-diarrhea rush that this message caused... It's a *funny* me a drink some time and I'll share it with you....

Between my blog and an old copy of SkyMall, I really would be torn on what to suggest. It's tough to argue against the Mall. However you could get the best of BOTH by reading my blogs ABOUT SkyMall!

I'll be sure and pass along your 24/7 service package to my installers along with your home and cell numbers. I'm sure they'll all love to go over it with you thoroughly.
Reply Seth Gatewood
9:19 AM on April 22, 2011 
I'm thinking Farhad Manjoo recommended the gear and then 'professionally' attempted to install it for this very understanding gentleman? Maybe? I can hear him now.... "with all the functionality available on my new cell phone, I'm shocked by the inconvenience of a high-end $1600 Optima projector, not having the ability to shift its lens horizontally by 3 feet. The AV industry is such a failure."
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