Sears and the dishwasher that didn't

This is a customer service horror story that has a happy ending. After twelve years of service, our dishwasher finally gave up and died.
Written by Dan Kusnetzky, Contributor

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?

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