When Is The Supply Too Demanding?

Just before leaving on vacation, I ran into an interesting situation that has ramifications for tutoring seniors in computer literacy. The issue is why should seniors trust a tutor? Why should they trust anyone? How does a senior untrained in a discipline know if the fee is fair?

A neighbor woman who lives by herself had a flood in her kitchen due to a faulty connector from the hot water to her dishwasher. She shut off the water under the sink and called an unnamed plumbing service. Shortly she had the problem fixed. I got involved when she asked me to help her fix the stains on her baseboard along the cabinet front and under the sink. I had to move the dishwasher to get to the baseboard and redo the veneer. When I removed the panels at the bottom, she pointed to the connector that had been replaced.

Time passed, and I finished my part of the job. Before leaving, I asked what the plumber charged this single senior woman. The bill listed $75 for parts and $75 for labor. The part he replaced, I think, is identical to the one I can buy at Home Depot for less than $5.00. I estimate that changing out the connector takes someone who is familiar with the process about 20 minutes including removing the front panels, seeing the problem, walking out to the truck to get a standard part, walk back and swap the parts, and replace the panels.

Was that a fair price? Was she well served? One could argue that she had a problem that she had no way of solving by herself, and the plumber solved it for her in a timely fashion. Therefore is was fair.

How does that relate to computer tutoring and/or repair? I don’t know about the other tutors or computer repair people, but I would like to get $150 for removing a faulty blank DVD from a senior’s PC and then rebooting. Actually, I wouldn’t like it at all. In such a case I would decline (and have declined) any fee for such a simple service. The people I serve will call me back. That’s good, but in addition, I feel good about what I do.

Why are my services not considered by my clients, by me (!), or by plumbers to be at least as valuable as a plumber’s? One could argue that what I sell is not as important as what a plumber sells and therefore not as valuable. My clients can easily survive and lead a good life without a working computer or a working knowledge of how to use it. They would not want to live very long without water or with puddles on the floor.

The bottom line here is that I think the plumber charged way too much, but have no way to determine what a fair price is for various services. If the issue stopped there, I would not have a column to write. But the fact is that the woman obviously feels that she was gouged because she is a single woman who doesn’t know the first thing about fixing the problem herself. She just sort of sighs and shrugs her shoulders. She had probably been through the same thing with car mechanics and repair people of all ilks. For that reason, she seemed doubly grateful for my services.

Much of my tutoring is pure volunteering. Some of it is for a fee. Minor software and hardware maintenance are part of the package. I would like to write a piece about the ways other people tutor seniors. Let me know how you do it and what your tradeoffs are and I will try to assemble a composite picture.

This column is being posted while I’m on vacation in a riverboat going down the Danube. Responding to email is not high on my priority list until I am home again.

In response to the interest my original tutorial generated, I have completely rewritten and expanded it. Check out the tutorial availability through Lockergnome. The new version is over 100 pages long with chapters that alternate between discussion of the theoretical aspects and puzzles just for the fun of it. Puzzle lovers will be glad to know that I included an answers section that includes discussions as to why the answer is correct and how it was obtained. Most of the material has appeared in these columns, but some is new. Most of the discussions are expanded compared to what they were in the original column format.

[tags]price gouge, plumber, tutor, senior learning, senior computing, computer education, fair price, mechanic[/tags]