Sunday, August 15, 2010

Customer Service: It's more than just making a sale, it's creating an impression

Yesterday afternoon my husband and I drove to Ann Arbor for a used piano sale. The School of Music, Dance, and Theater at the University of Michigan was selling some of their older pianos and even though we're not in the market for a piano at the present time, I was just curious what a used Steinway would go for. I have coveted a black, shiny baby grand ever since I was old enough to say, "I want to take piano lessons."

When we entered the building that was hosting the sale, we were asked to fill out a form that asked for our name, address, phone #, etc. along with what type of piano we're looking for. Once we had the form filled out, a man came out from the back and escorted us into the showroom. He explained that U of M is one of Steinway's largest customers and that they only purchase Steinway or a subsidiary of it for the pianos in their arts programs.

The man gave us some time to wander the rooms, and as I perused the price tags, all I could think about is, "These prices are for USED pianos?!" The price tags were way higher than I thought they'd be, but at least it gave me a baseline for how much Steinways are worth.

What I wasn't expecting was how quickly the salesman dismissed us when we told him we don't have the money or the room at the present time, but we wanted to get an idea of what the cost would be for the future when we do have the money. I barely got that sentence out of my mouth when he so very brashly said, "OK, well thank you," and made a beeline for the door before we could even say, "Thanks for your 'help'."

I think the reason I was so bothered by this encounter is because now I'm going to associate Steinway with uppity snobbishness when it comes to dealing with its customers. You don't have the money now? Well then, we're just going to disregard you. (And the guy was a representative from Steinway, he wasn't just some random person from the music department who was hired to run the sale).

This was so completely different from the experience my husband and I had at Bösendorfer in Vienna back in 2003. Ever since I knew that Tori Amos played one and talks about her piano like it's a person (referring to it as "she"), I was curious to see what it was like to play one of these pianos. Every single one is handmade and it takes a year to complete the process. These are very expensive instruments, but the cost is justified due to not only the quality of the workmanship, but also the magic of the sound.

So while we were in Vienna, we arranged to visit not only the factory to see how they're made, but also the showroom where people go to pick out the model they want to purchase. When we arrived at the showroom, we were greeted by a very formal Austrian man in a business suit. I still remember his name: Christian Höferl. The reason I remember him is because he gladly showed us around the showroom even though he probably had better things to do with his time as he knew there were no plans in our near future to buy a Bösendorfer.

But he spent probably 15 minutes talking with us, letting me walk around and play different models while my husband took pictures.

I will never forget how generous he was with his time despite knowing he wouldn't make a sale that day. But I'll tell you what, after these drastically different experiences, if I ever have the funds to blow $50,000 on a piano, my first choice would be a Bösendorfer over a Steinway ANY day!

So let me leave you with this: if you work in high-end customer service, don't blow someone off just becasue they don't have the money now. If you're nice and generous with your time, they will remember that and will be more likely to come back if and when they do have the money. To this day I have maintained a venerable impression of the Bösendorfer brand, not only because they are the most magical pianos I have ever played, but because they dealt with me like I was a future customer rather than some random twentysomething out of college with no money and no prospects of ever affording their product. If the man at Bösendorfer had treated me like the Steinway guy, I would have left that building saying, "Nice pianos, but terrible customer service. I don't think I want a Bösendorfer."


  1. Hey Beth! I"m just visiting from Priya's blog. I'm an Ann Arborite, and some salespeople in Ann Arbor are sort of arrogant-ish a lot I realized after a while, and it does get tiring. I'm so sorry you had to deal with one of the arrogant people here. I hope you get your piano in the future (and that you get to work with a salesperson who's not so brash.) :)

  2. I've only just started hanging out in Ann Arbor recently and haven't really noticed this snobbishness, with the exception of my piano debacle. We'll see if I keep noticing it.

  3. The majority of the people here are super nice though. :) Thanks for visiting my blog, by the way Beth!