Clients Who Know (Issue 608)

In which we are reminded: We run a risk when we assume that clients correctly understand their problems.

The basement of Robert’s house smells of fine wood.

Down narrow stairs in stocking feet, bend right, then back,  past semi-darkened looming cabinets,  toward the rear of the cellar into a smallish, well lit space.

Workbenches on two opposing walls, large wood working tools to left and right, humidifier on the back wall. Hanging near the humidifier, a flawless early model Les Paul sunburst guitar. Robert repairs guitars. He’s been at it a long time.

He guided me to his bench, whereupon I laid my prized instrument. “What’s the problem?” he asked.

“Well,” I said, “…the high E string is too close to the frets. You can hear (I demonstrated, a ‘pink, pink, pink’ sound)… The guy who owned this before me filed down the nut (a piece of material at the end of the neck) and the high E has always been too low. To this point,  I’ve shimmed up the E-string with other material and now that’s not working. So, we need to shim the nut up so that E-string is higher.”

Robert took quick measurements, checked the neck, and agreed that the high E-string was too low. Saying, “this is a simple job, why don’t you wait,” he popped off the nut, made a shim, reinstalled the nut, and positioned and tightened the strings.

Voila!   He handed the guitar to me for a test drive, and stepped out of the room.

“Pink, pink, pink” went the E-string.  No improvement.

Robert returned. “Let me see that,” he said. He picked at the strings, then put the guitar back on his bench for ten minutes of additional measurements.

“You know,” he said, now looking over his bifocals at me. “I should have checked this before we started, but I just focused on the problem with the nut you described….”

Robert is one of the better luthiers in the area and yet… I had fooled him. I sounded like an experienced player. I was completely committed to the idea that the problem was the nut. And I enrolled Robert in that idea, so he skipped his usual diagnostics and did the “simple job.”

But it wasn’t a simple job, after all. There are multiple problems with my treasure.

We’re all fooled, from time to time, by clients like me who sound like they know.  They come to us saying, “Here’s my problem, I want to buy X” or “I want you to do Y” for me.  And,  “I don’t want to spend a lot of money on a bunch of fancy diagnosis that will tell me what I already know.”

And, it’s hard to tell, really,  who knows and who doesn’t.  In this case, I didn’t.

Robert could have smoked me out with questions like, “When you checked the string heights up the neck, how did the measurements vary?”  and one or two more.

Or, he could have accepted my statements and said, “That’s great! And I’d just like to get to know your instrument” – then performed his usual thorough  assessment …the one that lead us to see the full range of the problems…  rather than wasting an hour  chasing my errant view of the problem to no effect.

Pray we don’t get fooled again!

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