Saturday, April 14, 2007

Really, what is marketing? Someone tell Sears.

Wow, what a week. A lot of things happened this week that are much more significant to my life than than what this post is about, however since we talk a lot about marketing here, I cannot ignore the opportunity to point out how no matter how much money you spend on TV, Radio, online or whatever, it just doesn't matter, and ends up being a complete waste of time, money and other resources if you cannot deliver on your commitment and promise as an organization. No one is perfect, certainly not me, however what I experienced this week with Sears, their lackluster product and poor execution on service, I feel like I have to talk about it. A lot of lessons to learn.

Lets examine the comments I tried to send through Sears customer service portion of its web site. I say tried because I submitted them and their web site would not confirm if they went through or not. How convenient. I then sent comments about that through their web site comments/feedback form letting them know that the other submittal form was not working - just like my one year old Kenmore (Sears brand)dishwasher.

The comments I sent:
"My father-in-law purchased a Kenmore Quiet Wash Ultra Guard 4 dishwasher from a Sears store in Indianapolis for my wife and I in January of 2006, and it was installed in January of 2006. Well, as of April 8, 2007 it quit working. We called your service line to find out when we could get a repair man out to look into it.

The clean light on the machine was blinking (which according to my owner's manual indicates that the heater circuit is bad) and after the person on the phone agreed that was potentially the problem, and that was a part of the electronic control board, I mentioned that it would be covered on the two year warranty for the control board. We then got into a debate about a fee he was telling me I would need to pay for having a delivery man show up to make the repair. The owner's manual says that under this two year warranty the repair would be "free of charge." Last time I checked that meant free of charge, not free parts and you pay for the repair man to show up. Which is ridiculous because I know the high hourly rate you charge for the repair man's time more than covers the part to be replaced. HERE IS OPPORTUNITY NUMBER ONE - AS A CUSTOMER SERVICE REP. DO NOT CONTRADICT WHAT A CUSTOMER HAS IN BLACK AND WHITE ON A PIECE OF SEARS LITERATURE. KNOW WHAT YOUR OWN WARRANTIES SAY AND AGREE WITH THEM. A HAPPY CUSTOMER IS A LOYAL CUSTOMER AND WILL WITH FUTURE BUSINESS MORE THAN MAKE UP FOR WHATEVER SMALL AMOUNT OF MONEY YOU LOSE IN THE SHORT TERM BY ACTUALLY HONORING YOUR WARRANTIES.

After that hurdle was eliminated and the guy on the phone (appropriately named Damien) agreed that free of charge meant exactly what it said,(it went from $69 to $55, then to no charge - if it was free of charge why was he bartering like some auctioneer?) he scheduled a repair man to show up between 8 am and 12 pm this past Tuesday.

This past Tuesday morning I got a call from the repair man at approximately 8:10 am letting me know that they were on their fix my water heater. I informed them that my dishwasher was the issue. They said they would call me back. They did telling me they could not get another repair man out to my house until the following Thursday. I said that was unacceptable and they would need to get someone out sooner. They magically got someone scheduled for this past Friday, yesterday between 1 and 5pm. Well, the guy got here and promptly told me that the entire motor was bad on the dishwasher. OPPORTUNITY TWO - EXECUTE ON YOUR COMMITMENT. YOU SAY YOU'LL BE THERE ON TUESDAY, BE THERE ON TUESDAY.

Wait let me get this right - a $450+ dishwasher, just over a year old has a motor that is shot? Yes, that is correct. Lucky me the motor is under a two year warranty too, but the labor cost me $144. I told the man that I really would just prefer to go buy a quality product rather than sink $144 on a motor that by the looks of it will be bad in another year, and this is where it gets interesting. OPPORTUNITY THREE - SELL A QUALITY PRODUCT. DON'T JUST SAY YOU MAKE AND SELL QUALITY STUFF, ACTUALLY DO IT AND WHEN YOUR "QUALITY" PRODUCT DOESN'T PERFORM LIKE A QUALITY PRODUCT, MAKE IT RIGHT BY YOUR CUSTOMERS. TIME AND TIME AGAIN THIS COMMON SENSE APPROACH IS PROVEN TO NOT ONLY KEEP EXISTING CUSTOMERS IT GROWS YOUR CUSTOMER BASE THROUGH WORD OF MOUTH REFERRALS.

He proceeds to tell me that all dishwashers are the same, no matter what I buy. My model wasn't even manufactured by Sears, and I replied that I do not care who built it, it is a Sears brand sold in Sears stores so Sears is responsible to make this right. He continued saying they are all junk and I am better off just fixing it because it really is a nice dishwasher. By his logic, it doesn't matter if I buy a $150 special or the $800+ super model, or if I buy from Sears, Best Buy, HH Gregg or Dan's Discount - they are all going to break in about a year. He highly recommended that on any appliance purchase I make in the future to purchase an extended warranty, because after all, he is a repair man and he buys extended warranties on all of his appliances because they are all junk. OPPORTUNITY FOUR AND FIVE - GET YOUR COMPANY REPS, WHETHER THEY ARE IN SERVICE, SALES OR BOTH IN THIS INSTANCE, COMMUNICATING IN A WAY THAT PUTS THE CUSTOMER AT EASE, BUILDS CONFIDENCE AND CREATES A GOOD EXPERIENCE, NOT THE OPPOSITE. DO NOT PUT PROBLEM SOLVING BACK ON THE SHOULDERS OF THE CUSTOMER. FIX IT FOR THEM - BE THE SOLUTION. IN THIS INSTANCE I AM SUPPOSED TO SOLVE EVERYTHING BY SPENDING MORE MONEY ON AN EXTENDED WARRANTY, WHICH IMPLIES THAT I AM STUPID FOR NOT BUYING IT IN THE FIRST PLACE. RATHER SEARS IS THE PROBLEM FOR NOT SELLING A QUALITY PRODUCT OR FIXING AN UNUSUALLY PROBLEMATIC ONE ON THEIR DIME - THEY JUST SHOVED IT ALL ON THE CUSTOMER - BAD MOVE.

Amazing. Maybe he is honest, maybe he gets commissions on selling extended warranties and this is his "pitch". I do not know, however it is incredibly frustrating to have a "higher end" Kenmore/Sears product where the motor goes out in a year. Then to turn around and have to pay for the repair is an even bigger offense.

Needless to say, I will never purchase another Sears product, no matter if it is clothing, appliances, shoes, tools, whatever, I am done with your company. It is unfortunate that you choose to treat your customers this way. And yes, I have communicated this all to my in-laws and they will not be purchasing anything from you anymore either. I will be communicating this on my blogs and will be sure to inform anyone who I speak with about homes, home care, appliances, etc about my experience with Sears and recommend they stay clear of you, your products and your service.

It is unfortunate that a once successful model in American corporate business has sunk to become such a poor example of how not to operate.

I went to your corporate web site to send this to one of your corporate leaders, but they are not accessible via email, mail or any other means, which may be part of your problem. It would do them good to see this kind of feedback to drive some real change and growth. Unfortunately they seemed to be very insulated and talk a lot about their "numbers" that they were reporting to Wall Street. Which, by the way, will really be the indicator of how poor your products, service and business practices are once all of your disgruntled customers quit buying from you. OPPORTUNITY SIX - AS A CORPORATE LEADER, NO MATTER HOW BIG THE COMPANY IS, MAKE YOURSELF ACCESSIBLE AT SOME LEVEL, TO YOUR CUSTOMERS. INSULATING YOURSELF AND BEING A SUITED UP PROTOTYPE BABBLING ABOUT QUARTER TO QUARTER COMPARISONS OF PROFITABILITY DOES NOT SELL MORE DISHWASHERS OR HELP THOSE THAT HAVE MALFUNCTIONING ONES. HOWEVER SELLING LESS OF THESE MACHINES, OR NOT ADDRESSING THOSE WHO HAVE PROBLEMS WITH THEM WILL ULTIMATELY GIVE YOU LESS TO TALK ABOUT WHEN IT COMES TO QUARTER BY QUARTER COMPARISONS OF PROFITABILITY - HOW IRONIC.

By the way, I did pay for the repair. Why you might ask. I figured you would charge me something to have the repair man out and to pay for listening to this guy and getting nothing in return but a headache seemed wrong on many levels. So I paid for the repair, however once it goes out in another year I will replace this with some other non-Sears brand that has a reputation for quality, in product and how it is backed.

Thank you for your time,
Jacob Leffler


Anonymous said...

I can truely relate having had a siniliar experience on my sears front loading top of the line washing machine. When you put in bleach to the correct levelit simply poured down onto the clothes. I had bought the five year warranty. Six service calls over the course of two years, lots of ruined clothes, a washing machine that still does not work, at least a dozen or more cancelled service calls, backordered parts that took months to get in an on and on. Basically in the end I ws told that products built today are meant to be disposable and replaced regardless of the cost. So basically gone are the Sears days of good, better, best and the Ted Williams Signature series which lasted forever. Moral to the story, buy color fast none bleach and a cheap washing machine. Good lesson I also learned on TV's the day you get them home leave them on for a solid 30 days, preferrably in the summer. They will get as hot as they are going to get and if you get a lemon it is still under the thirty day return policy. This is starting to feel like a Mad Magazine Spy vs. Spy episode.

Anonymous said...

Employees of Sears Service make about $9 an hour to answer phones. Do you know anyone who has the skills to take care of a customer problem involving offering free services without asking a manager that will work for $9? Also did you know Sears is the only major retailer of appliances who has a service department and would have entertained you and your issue? If Home Depot sold you a Frigidaire, for example, and you called with a warranty issue, they would tell you to call Frigidaire customer service.

Sears does not manufacture dishwashers. Sears sells dishwashers. Your Kenmore dishwasher was likely manufacture by the Whirlpool Corporation, and Whirlpool is responsible for the quality of the product. If you don’t know how to fix a dishwasher, maybe you should be buying a warranty. Companies sell warranties because some people want and need them. If there wasn’t any demand, they wouldn’t sell them. People who don’t buy them are those who feel the perceived value is less than the real cost. I am sure you wouldn’t think it is too expensive now that you spent so much time and energy on your dishwasher.

Time spent by a corporate executive on quarter-to-quarter comparisons is more valuable to the corporation as a whole than the time spent satisfying one dishwasher customer. Sears makes the least amount of its money on product sales. Product sales give them a reason to have a building in which customers will have a reason to enter and they can sell you a warranty or get you a credit card. Both of which are more profitable than the dishwasher your father bought you.

Fact: A larger number of potential customers will be positively influenced by Sears advertising and marketing, than will be negatively influenced by your blog.

Opinion: Unless you feel the need to start a special interest group over your dishwasher situation…you are probably wasting your time typing such things…unless it makes you feel better to vent about it.

Short attention span? said...

Well anonymous, I appreciate you taking the time to comment on my post from April. Nothing like a 5 month old post to get your blood pumping. Seriously, thanks for posting, that is what makes blogs fun.

You basically proved my point. No one cares who builds Kenmore dishwashers, I certainly don't. No one cares where Sears makes the bulk of heir money, I certainly don't. No one cares how much Sears customer service people get paid, I really don't. All I, or most consumers care about when a purchase is made, is did I get get a good, reliable product for a fair price. It is that simple.

All marketing is, in this guy's opinion, is helping your audience understand why you are worth dealing with, then helping that same audience participate with you in an easy way. That is it. Sears failed on all accounts. Was I frustrated and did I write about this instance waaaaaayyyy long? Sure. Will I or other customers who have had similar experiences with Sears buy their products again? (and yes if they are branded Kenmore, a Sears brand, it doesn't matter where it is made - it is a Sears brand and if it is put out there as a Sears brand they ought to back it as such. Home Depot directs their customers to the manufacturer because they do not try to pass it off as their own. Maybe you have just uncovered an opportunity for Sears to update their business model.) No. That is what really matters. If enough of that happens then Sears will go away.

Really this is a great post, because I believe you are uncovering a much larger problem with some of our favorite American brands - Ford, GM, etc. I love Ford and GM but the day they quit making excuses and simply make better cars and innovate they will reclaim their throne - if Sears would do the same they would too.

Unfortunately some of our favorite brands are too busy getting caught up in things that create pain for their customers, which causes customers to buy a new fridge at Home Depot, or even go buy a Toyota.

Lastly, if you have no expectations you do not get upset about calling the manufacturer direct regarding issues. Home Depot does not try to put themselves out there as the customer service second coming - they advertise selection, inventory and price. Sears puts a lot more on the table as it relates to service, and that is okay as long as they deliver on that promise.

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