Monday, March 7, 2016

How Quality Feedback Really Works

A while back, I was arguing with one of my MNSCU instructors about why he needed to get over his fear of lead-free solder and move his instruction program into this century. During this “discussion,” mentioned that the electrical assembly portion of almost every electric guitar I’ve ever disassembled has been an embarrassment. From the major factories to the boutique builders, the soldering, component placement and security, and wiring have been . . . sad. Likewise, many of the guitars (and other audio products) I’ve repaired in my career have failed because of soldering defects. His response was, “Don’t you think one of my long term customers would have complained if my soldering failed?”

My short answer was, “No.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about this discussion, but it keeps coming back to haunt me. There is an old 5/5/5 restaurant rule that says something like “It takes $5 in advertising to get a new customer to try a business, 5 seconds of poor service to drive them away, and $5,000 in advertising to get them back again.” It’s a fact. I may be the Geezer with A Grudge, but I’m not the only person on the planet with a long memory or who would rather just move along than wrestle with convincing a company that I’d experienced poor service or had an unsatisfactory experience with their products.
A couple of days after our discussion, I remembered my last relationship with a luthier, back in the late 1970’s in Lincoln, Nebraska. For almost a decade, I’d fallen into the habit of buying guitars and, if I planned on keeping the instrument for any time, I hauled it to Lincoln and had my luthier setup the guitar at $150-250 per instrument. That seems like a lot for the time, but I was buying guitars idiotically cheaply from stoners and starving artists and had the margin to spare with most of my purchases.

Sometime in the early 80’s I brought in an old Gibson Explorer that clearly needed fretwork and a trussrod adjustment. The luthier had a couple of new employees, but I assumed that since I was an old customer my instrument would be serviced by the owner. I was wrong and the setup was awful. I lived about 75 miles from Lincoln and, while my studio was in Lincoln and I was in town for 2-3 days every weekend, I bought a book and made the corrections to the setup myself. Not only did I not complain to the store owner, I never brought in another instrument again and when my own customers asked where I’d have guitar work done I sent them to a shop in Omaha. I didn’t really know the shop in Omaha all that well, but I felt like I knew the Lincoln shop too well.

So, again my answer is “no.” I do not think the average customer, long-term or not, will bother to complain about lousy service. They’ll just move on unless you have set up some really clever system to almost require them to let you know how they felt about your product or service.

In my dotage, I’m taking a “guitar repair and construction” course at my local community college; mostly for access to the school’s incredible wood shop tools. After a couple of semesters, I began to wonder why none of the classes ended with the usual student course/instructor evaluations. Since the dropout rate in my class has been extraordinary, you’d think someone might care about student retention. After a little inquiry into the school’s policies I received the following response from administration, “According to policies set forth by both the State of Minnesota and MnSCU the tenured faculty are only required to assess their class once per year - and they can do so in whatever format they choose. Probationary instructors need to assess much more frequently. I should mention that we are in full compliance with the policies, so I'm not sure what you're looking to do with this.”

All I can say to that response is "Wow!" No wonder my experience with MNSCU's programs (from the UofM to Inver Hills to Southeast Tech) has been so marginal. It sounds like a system totally driven by teacher union contracts and management disregard with no system for maintaining quality-of-program or delivery performance considerations. There is no such thing as a feedback-free system that provides any sort of quality control.

Now I really feel like I'm officially in the Midwest, the home of the most mediocre educational experiences I suffered in my 30+ years as a student. It does explain the proliferation of for-profit schools here, though. Apparently, the solution is for the student senate to recommend and give up on the school administration doing any sort of job.

No comments:

Wirebender Audio Rants

Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.