Sears and the dishwasher that didn't

Sears and the dishwasher that didn't

Summary: This is a customer service horror story that has a happy ending. After twelve years of service, our dishwasher finally gave up and died.


This is a customer service horror story that has a happy ending. After twelve years of service, our dishwasher finally gave up and died. We looked all over town to find the best dishwasher that would fit in the space currently occupied by the old one and, of course, at the best price. We searched high and low and were surprised the discover that the local Sears store was offering the same units that other stores offered but, at a much lower price.

The Sears sales person told us that the company had purchased a large inventory of appliances to satisfy the demand they projected from the many builders in the area. They hadn't taken into account the fact that the real estate bubble was about to burst and home sales were going to plunge to historic low levels. At this moment, there are 4 years of typical sales inventory on the market.

In the end, Sears had warehouses full of appliances and needed to get rid of them. The Sears sales person also pointed out that Sears and its well known service department would stand behind these products. If there was a problem, they would send a representative over right away to repair or replace the machine for 90 days. If we wanted a longer service contract they were, of course, available for a fee. So, we ordered a new dishwasher. It was installed about a week later. We waved goodbye to the old machine as the Sears folks took it away.

Almost immediately we noticed that the machine wasn't really cleaning the dishes. There were spots, food particles and some sort of film on everything. We even had to soak the coffee mugs with a bleach/water mixture to get rid of the coffee stains. We never had this problem with the old machine even at the end of its life.

After rewashing many loads of dishes we called Sears repair service and asked them to come fix the machine. We were given a date two weeks away where a repair person could come out "some time between 8 AM and 5 PM" or a date three weeks away where the service rep could come out between "8 AM and Noon." We took the sooner appointment even though it was going to be very inconvienient to wait around the whole day for a repair person to show up. In the mean time, we re-washed quite a few loads of dishes and arranged for friends to take my wife to her Doctors appointments scheduled for that day.

On the apppointed day, the repair person called around noon and said he was in the area. I told him to come over, that the dishwasher and I would be waiting.

The rep looked over the machine, started it up, stopped it mid-cycle and checked both the water volume and temperature, and told us that the machine appeared to be working just fine. He also went on to say that all of the owners of this band/model of machine were complaining that there dishes weren't clean at the end of a cycle. He recommended cleaning out the machine using a specific product and for us to start using a different dish detergent. He wasn't sure that would solve the problem but, it would certainly help.

I told him that I wasn't happy with that answer and that I would call the sales person to take him up on Sears product replacement policy.

The sales person was appologetic and said come right in to look at other models. We selected a model and started the paperwork to do the exchange. He told me that he wasn't sure of the procedure using the newly installed computer system at the store and that he would call a corporate office to discover the correct procedure.

A few moments later he put me on the line with a rather curt person that wanted to inform me that since there was nothing actually wrong with the machine that there would be a restocking fee. I told her that the machine wasn't doing its job, that is to clean dishes. She came back with the repair person's report that the machine was functioning properly and that she was offering to live up to the repair or replace policy. It would just require a restocking fee. I told here that the machine wasn't cleaning the dishes and that, regardless of the repair person's opinion, this is simply not acceptable for a brand new machine.

Furthermore, I told her that there was no mention of a restocking fee during the "repair or replace free for 90 days" speech. During this conversation, the local sales person looked more and more concerned even though he was only hearing my side of the conversation. When I demanded to speak with her supervisor, he started waving to get my attention.

I was shocked to find that the corporate contact would not put me through to anyone else. She told me that she had full managerial authority and no one else needed to review the case with me. I told her that she had me over a barrel and that I would take her up on her offer but, I was going to executives of Sears to get her decision overturned. She told me that was certainly something I had a right to do. I already had a rather public campaign in mind to get Sears to change its corporate minde about this and was about to take the first steps to execute that program.

Before I could take any action, the local sales person finally got my attention and said that while I was having the heated discussion with the corporate representative, he had spoken with the store manager and the local store was going to make things right even though corporate wouldn't.

I guess they didn't want a very public, noisy campaign going on when they were simply trying to get by in a market downturn.

Here are some of the lessons I got from that exchange:

  1. Consumer statisfaction teams must always pass someone on to a manager if the person asks. Being told "no I won't do that because Mommy won't let me" is just not a way to win friends or influence consumers.
  2. Product developers ought to really engage product repair people on a regular basis to hear stories being told about their products. Having a repair person saying that "everyone who owns this model is having trouble with it" could easily lead to class action level litigation at the worst and poor sales at the best.
  3. Sears corporate customer support has no idea how to deal with customers. They can take a mild problem and turn it into a firestorm of anger in just a few minutes.
  4. Be sure to be good to your local sales people. In the end, they are the ones that will deliever good customer service.

Have you ever had an experience like this?

Topic: Enterprise Software


Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. In his spare time, he's also the managing partner of Lux Sonus LLC, an investment firm.

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  • Why do we care about this?

    A self-promoting story about sparring with Customer Service? About a [i]dishwasher[/i]? Who [i]hasn't[/i] had an experience like this? Let's try to keep our ZDNet blogs on subjects that have at least some tenuous connection with technology!
    • Entertainment

      The post is clearly marked "off topic" and "service issues." So, one could expect it to be both off topic and about a service-related issue. It was meant to entertain and inform those who are interested.

      It is clear that you are not a member of that group.

      So, if in the future, you see a post marked "off topic", you are free to ignore it and to presume that Dan has gone off of the beam once again.

      Dan K
      • I figured it out right away....

        I saw "Sears" and "Dishwasher" and pretty much figured out that it had nothing to do with virtualization. I also figured out that it's Dan's blog and that he can write about whatever the hell he wants to write about. Some people just need to build a bridge and get over themselves.
        • What happened

          was that he thought he got a bargain. He got a lemon, and
          he wanted Sears to give him a better model for the same

          Notice that he never complained the manufacturer for
          making a defective product.
          • You mis-read the situation

            We didn't ask for an upgrade. We asked for a replacement from another manufacturer and the local store was willing to make that change.

            I am following through with the manufacturer as well.

            Dan K
          • One thing you mis-read Dan....

            Some people aren't happy unless they're criticizing others. You're seeing a load of it in this thread.
      • F3 says it isn't

        "The post is clearly marked "off topic" and "service issues." So, one could expect it to be both off topic and about a service-related issue."

        Like it says in the subject line.

        I really hate it when people say rubbish like this.

        Keith Mallen
        • I do apologise

          When I hit F3 I asked for a search on 'What Has a Hazulnut in Every Bite' with the real expectation that in this new WEB2.0 generated world the advertising sub-engine would pick up on my request and find the word Topic as well as giving me a redirect to the appropriate place to buy one.

          Mind you, that's probably why Marathon is called Snickers these days.

          Keith Mallen
    • Of course you're right...

      Having spoken with the customer support people for a number of technology companies I can assure you, customer support has absolutely no relevance to IT. Half the time you're talking to someone over in India who think's you're an idiot anyway because all they know is what's on their script.
  • RE: Sears and the dishwasher that didn't

    Sears is not alone in this. It is becoming more clear by the day that Corp America has forgotten the meaning of customer service. After similar experiences with a refrigerator and a lawnmower, there are now two major retailers and two major manufacturers that I will simply not buy from again. In my opinion, I was a customer of both, and both let me down, hard. I will not place myself in that position again.
    • IMHO...

      Consumer protection laws are VERY weak in the US. That doesn't really suprise me considering we have a very anti-consumer pro-corporate group in power right now.
      • Right because we all know

        that all consumer protection laws on the book were written in
        the last 8 years.

        Give me a freaking break.
      • On the contrary

        If you were to go back to an electronic or appliance store in Asia and asked for a replacement, they would simply laugh you out the door. In Asia at least, the merchant's responsibility ends after something is sold. Because of that, you also only buy what is in the store after it has been demonstrated to work properly.
  • RE: Sears and the dishwasher that didn't

    I love dishwashers and find them most interesting. Technically they are brilliant and I am now 40 years of age and still have no requirement for a wife, my machine serves me just as well!
    • Me, too....

      In 1998, I bought a used "drag around" Whirlpool dishwasher at a place called the Used Furniture Outlet (UFO) for $75. It still works great and all I've ever done for maintenance is patch one leaky hose. The mfr date on the tag says 1973.
  • RE: Sears and the dishwasher that didn't

    I totally agree with what Dan Kusnetzky experienced with Sears and their "satisfaction" policy. I also experienced long waits to get repairs, special parts that took 6 months to get and --- a customer services rep's reply--- that I should rent a replacement while waiting. (how many places rent built in dish washers?) End of the story is that they lost out on the new replacement and service contract.

    Sears is not what it use to be so --- I am not buying anymore of thier "stuff".
  • I won't deal with Sears

    We bought a new top-of-the-line washer and dryer from Sears. We signed up for a Sears card, which meant we didn't have to pay for them for 6 months, interest free.

    I wanted to go online and pay it off at the right time. I had to sign up, pay a fraction of the balance, wait 3 weeks for that to clear, at which point I could pay more. This would have put me past the end of the 6 month period, and all the interest and charges would have been outrageous.

    I drove to Sears and tried to pay the balance off with my debit card. Sears wouldn't accept a debit card to pay off the credit card balance. I had to make yet another trip and return with a paper check for them to accept payment. Never mind that the paper check was drawn from the same account as my debit card.

    My conclusion from this exercise was that they were deliberately trying to make it difficult to pay off the credit card balance in order for me to incur the 25% interest rate on the balance.

    We have other Sears appliances, as well. I have also encountered the "call today, service maybe in two weeks" situation. Never mind that when they serviced my built-in microwave that they didn't have the repair parts and had to order those. When the parts came in, they were wrong.

    I have a local service company that when the microwave went out again, I called and they fixed it that afternoon. I won't call Sears again.

    And you wonder why Sears is in such poor shape?
  • RE: Sears couldn't deliver undamaged goods in 3 attempts

    I had purchased a high-end clothes washer from Sears. The first two washers died before completing their first wash cycles. I stopped the deliverymen from unloading the third when I saw that a forklift blade had been run through its middle. They explained because management allowed so little time for loading trucks that appliances were literally being thrown across the warehouse into them. The crew also had a similarly damaged refrigerator on the truck that they were delivering to another customer. After three lost vacation days, Sears only response was for me to keep doing this until they got it right or I had exhausted my available days off, whichever came first. Naturally, I canceled the purchase and went to a local store, which amazingly was able to deliver a working appliance on the first attempt.

    When we were remodeling our kitchen and replacing our furnace, I decided to see if Sears had improved. The prices were higher than others and the sales tactics were so sleazy that I went elsewhere. Conclusion--three major purchases where I received better prices and service from local stores than I did with Sears. Now I don't even bother with them.
  • Here's a better lesson

    There's a reason the product is dirt cheap.

    Never buy the cheapest of anything.
    • Is that always true?

      How would you respond when a middle to top of the line product is available at lower prices because the retailer over bought?

      Dan K