The Repairman Always Rings Twice18. February 2013 by Joachim Goldberg
Wretched dishwasher: it stopped running just minutes before the end of the program, leaving the plates in a damp, cold mist. It is always a grim moment when one realises that a call to the repairman is unavoidable. While Siemens’ 24-hour hotline is a nice feature in cases like these, I couldn’t help but wonder what good it was when all it could offer was a repair appointment one week later. Not only would the repair bill probably surpass 200 euros, I thought to myself, I would also have to wash the plates by hand for the next seven days.
One week later the doorbell rang, promptly at 8am. What a sight for sore eyes: the Siemens guy was there. Perhaps this is why they make people wait for seven days – a cooling off period of sorts. On the day the machine breaks down, customers are frustrated and angry at the manufacturer. Of course, their reference point is a fully-functioning machine, so the breakdown thrusts them firmly into the domain of losses. One week later, though, the anger has subsided. The new reference point is no-dishwasher and the repair guy is there to lift them into the domain of gains.
He quickly opened up the machine and, through a downturned mouth, explained that there were blockages in the water evacuation system. I peered at the machine’s innards and also had to testify to the grim revelation of its transparent pipes: an accumulation of food waste, residues, and heaven-knows-what of the past few years. Just as I agreed with his diagnosis, he dropped the bomb: the repair would cost 320 euros! This was 50 percent more than I had reckoned and right on the threshold beyond which I would have had to consider the purchase of a new machine (I guess he knew that too). The shock certainly registered on my face. “That price,” he quickly added, “covers my call-out fee, parts, labour, VAT and guarantee”. His effort at soothing my obvious pain was remarkably effective. By encouraging me to segregate all of the advantages of his intervention into several separate mental accounts he was able to counterbalance the impact of the single large loss. This guy was not just a dab hand at appliance repair; he was also an expert in behavioural economics.
In retrospect, I think he had me in the palm of his hands from the beginning on. I would probably never have chased him out of the house, the machine unrepaired, after I had already waited a week for him to get there. The wait, the unavoidable call-out fee, and the prospect of an additional search and wait for a new dishwasher, meant that I had already incurred significant sunk-costs by the time the doorbell rang. So I opted for the costly repair. Then the clever repairman sold me three overpriced machine-cleaning products (that apparently one can only get direct from Siemens) for the price of two. In fact the only one of his clever tricks I was able to dodge was the offer of repair insurance for all of my household appliances, Siemens or not, for just 16 euros per month. Incredible, he wanted to squeeze the next 320 euros out of me over the next 20 months without even showing up! I stopped him in his tracks, before I grew hooves and a tail and started braying. Next time, I swore, I will be better prepared when the repairman rings.