Retail Insights

Sears Customer Service: An Oxymoron

RR sears customer serviceI hate to pile onto the criticisms that my good friend and CEO of The Robin Report has already heaped on Sears and Eddie “the customer is always right” Lampert. While Robin gets caught up in all that strategic mumbo jumbo of his, and how “fast buck” Eddie is just squeezing more and more cash out of the business for himself … yada, yada, yada. I’m here to tell you like it is for the poor blokes who are on the butt end of Eddie’s squeezing machine: the customer. This is what’s really happening in the trenches and why “abracadabra” Eddie and his whole kit and kaboodle are going to be toast – and soon. Toast or not, Eddie will have piled billions more dollars on top of his already huge pile of billions. Insult to injury for the rest of us.

Here’s the Saga

Three months ago, my wife Dorothy and I purchased a brand new refrigerator for our second home, our refuge-away-from-the-intensity of New York City. Our place is a simple two-story affair, built in 1988 when Ronald Reagan was President and a first class stamp cost 22 cents. We still have – horrors! – the original kitchen. Our trusty 26-year-old Magic Chef is like our own Liza Minnelli; still working! Unlike Liza, the front door is rusting (the equivalent of another Liza farewell tour). In all these years, our Magic Chef asked for nothing except to talk just once to Nancy Reagan’s astrologer.

After assiduous research, Dorothy chose Kenmore by Sears. Without a whimper, we unplugged old Liza and had her unceremoniously wheeled out and replaced by the shiny new stainless steel Kenmore. A beauty! It feels good to buy American, even though we drive a Honda. Plugged that baby in, filled it up with food. And voila, perfection!

But beware of perfect moments, my friend.

Case in point, in the movie “A River Runs Through It,” Brad Pitt, is effortlessly fly casting waist deep in a swift moving river bathed in soft golden light, as serene and resplendent as a human could possibly be. In tantalizing slo-mo, he snares the most beautiful fish you ever saw, a moment of rare perfection. Right then you know Brad is outta here because nobody gets away with that kind of perfection with impunity except Al Gore discovering Wi-Fi. In the next scene, Brad is shot dead because, although he’s good at fishing, he’s not so good at gambling, drinking and Indian women, a fatal combination for a white kid in Montana back in the day.

So, following the metaphor, we arrive at our home the day after Thanksgiving. I see that perfect Kenmore in the kitchen and I get a warm rush of love.

But wait — cue the music — she is whirring strangely. I think, “ Naaaah…” I am knee deep in my own River of Denial. The next morning, I open the freezer for ice for my fruit shake and all the ice has melted and everything in the freezer defrosted, although still cool to the touch.  Our handyman and lifeline, JT, arrives and calls Sears customer service.

The sticker inside the fridge proclaims, “Made in Mexico.”  Abandonment issues from childhood begin thrumming in my gut. I like Mexico, best customer service of any country besides Ulan Bator, but a brand-new anything from anywhere should last longer than three months. Panicking, I wonder if it’s too late to bring back Liza the Magic Chef.

We call Sears customer service and representative Francisco determines the compressor capitulated because the ambient house temperature had been under 55 degrees. What??? When we leave the house, we always turn the thermostat to 53F. So let’s keep the house above 55F in order to keep the Kenmore thinking, “OK, cool, it’s cool enough to shut down.” But wait. The house had been set at 72F overnight. Why didn’t the Kenmore automatically turn back on? Francisco says, “no se…”

I throw defrosted lamb chops into a pan with olive oil, salt, pepper. JT asks Francisco for a different customer service person. While JT pores over the product specs brochure, I’m piling salmon filets, turkey legs/breasts, chicken sausage and squirrel into bags for JT to take home later. This is all taking longer than I expected. I dig into the lamb chops.  Delicious. But I am angry enough not to bother to chew.

Customer service rep #2 says the same about the room temperature deal.  JT asks about a food loss reimbursement.  CS#2 guy says no plus says the service call is $89.  Nice!  Customer pays for a service call while the Mexican fridge is still under full warranty.  I stab my fork through lamb chop and plate.  We make a service appointment for Wednesday, between 8:00 and 5:00.  Can you narrow it down a little? No?  Ok, we’ll just have frozen tree bark for lunch.  JT notices in the specs that there is a $250 food loss allowance. I’m grinding lamb chop bones with my molars.

Service Day

Today’s the day.  Yesterday I got a robo call from a disemboweled female voice, maybe Siri’s pregnant cousin Sasha, reminding me about the service call for the following day. Not to worry, Sears customer service people, I am resourceful and have easily survived too many days without a fridge.

An hour before service vigil commenced, I was out in the wild with my big boy yellow lab Ray, harvesting a pail of tree bark for lunch — a crunchy mix of beech and black pine.  At 10:50 AM, I get a call from Heath from Sears who says he’s 15 minutes away.  Great!  But I’m thinking I’m going with the tree bark mix for lunch nonetheless.

Exceeding expectations, Heath rolls up the driveway in fewer than 10 minutes in a colorfully logoed Econoline.  Ray is wagging his tail like crazy somehow knowing that this is the guy who’s here to fix the freezer where his marrow bones live. I say to Heath, “You gonna be a hero or a zero today?”

“I hope a hero,” he says.
“Excellent,” I answer.  “Hey, want some bark?”
“I’m good, had a big breakfast.”

Ray and I lead Heath to the stainless steel Kenmore. “It shouldn’t sound like that,” opines Heath while swinging open the French doors revealing a fetid odor that has already claimed it’s territory in there like Russians in The Crimea.

“Sounds like the compressor is kaput.”
“Got one on the truck?”
“Not sure, have to check.”
“What’s up with the, ‘Made in Mexico?’”

Heath says, “Kenmore is made by LG.  LG is made in Korea. Kenmore used to be made by Whirlpool, but now LG makes that stuff in Korea. And Mexico.  Kenmore never made anything.”

Wow! To me, that’s like a Ford being made by Chevy. I’m so Old School.

“What about the room temperature problem?”
“Urban myth. It’s the compressor.”
“You mean Sears Customer Service myth.”

Heath checks the truck but returns empty.  “Sorry.  Have to come back.  Let me check and see when they say I can come back.”  He has a little laptop and he taps away.

“Sure you don’t want a little hit of bark, Heath?”
“I’m good, thanks.”

I like that now when someone offers you jellied cricket heads in tomato aspic you don’t have to wretch and say, “That’s disgusting. No!!!”  Now you can be cool and say, “Thanks, I’m good. “Isn’t there a $250 food allowance? The customer service guys said no.”

“Yes, that’s automatic. Make a list of everything in there.”  He taps away at the      little computer. ”Ok, next Thursday.”
“Eight days from today.  That’s the best we can do here, Heath?
“Unfortunately.
“Wow,” I say, “That seems like a long time to go with out a fridge. So, what do I owe  you?  I was told the service call is $89.”
“Nope.” Heath says.  “You are under warranty, no charge.  Who told you that? Those 1-800 guys?  They must get their training from same people who train the New York Jets.”

Three Days Later

Fridgeless in America. We have adapted to the situation. I’ve trained Ray to catch critters and varmints, as there is an abundance of both in the immediate area.  Whoever said an old dog can’t learn new tricks also thought Democracy would win the day in Iraq.

Of course, we don’t really have a happy ending yet. Remains to be seen that a new compressor can be imported that quickly from Ulan Bator where they are manufactured and shipped by YakGround.  But I am an optimist and have unfounded faith in Sears/Kenmore/LG/Whirlpool/GE/Samsung/Sony/Panasonic/Kia/Fiat/Philadephia Cream Cheese/ or whoever the heck it is that will make our beautiful but now silent and stinky stainless steel French door bottom freezer non-American made refrigerator whole.

Sears After Action Report

The new compressor is now in the Kenmore, and she is cool and purring once more. Now comes the mopping up, as in attempting to procure the $250 food reimbursement as stated in the product brochure, contract and the service man who did the fix. Sounds easy, yeah, but remember who we are dealing with. A once great American company that has sadly lost its way.

Get an email from Sears customer service six days after the compressor replacement asking me “how did we do”? Well, I say to myself, we’re not done quite yet. I call the 800-number and talk to Vincent.

Well, Vincent says, after locating my case number, “let’s get the food loss team on the line” (I’ve always wanted to be on a food loss team). “Hold on a minute, here’s Maura. Maura reads the file. Did we purchase a customer protection policy? She says we’re not eligible for any food loss. My pilot light of rage flicks on. Not good.

I carefully summarize the situation for Vincent and Maura. They are glad I am not there in person. Vincent offers up a solution. Since we paid $1,400 for the Mexican Kenmore, Sears can send us a check for 10% of that.

“What is your wife’s Visa credit card number”?
“I thought you were sending me a check”?
“No, sir, the law states we have to credit your credit card.”

Good to know Sears is law abiding but I have no idea what law he is referring to. Mexican law?

“What is your wife’s Visa credit card number?
“I don’t know, Vincent, do you know the numbers of your wife’s credit cards”?
“You will have to call back, Mr. Alpert.”

Dorothy sends me the CC number. I call the 1-800 number. Jessica takes my info, puts me on hold for 18 minutes, then disconnects. I call back. Mary Pat. Mary Pat takes all the information, never puts me on hold after I beg her not to, and gets it done. Dorothy’s Visa will be credited $140 in two to three business days.

Just another day at the office for Sears, folks. Game over. Do I have to concede defeat or success to you, Eddie ‘the customer’s always right” Lampert?

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