Sears–the retailing powerhouse that broke down paradigms for how consumers purchase hardgoods hasn’t figured out how to maintain their visionary edge. Many would argue that they lost it many years ago. Today they are the poster child of companies that say–no, shout–to their customers: “We’re happy to take your money. After that, we don’t care.”
Here’s the evidence: last August, we purchased a relatively inexpensive refrigerator to replace our failing 15-year-old unit, which had been housed in our garage. We found it on the Sears website and engaged in a conversation to clarify a few questions with Sears customer service before placing the order. At the appointed time, two men in a Sears delivery truck arrived and, delighted that this stop didn’t involve taking the new refrigerator around the back and up 4 flights of stairs, happily placed the new unit in the spot in the garage location formerly occupied by the old one. They thanked me for the order, took our old refrigerator, and drove off less than 15 minutes after they arrived. I paid about $20 for this service, which was fine.
The refrigerator worked well until this winter, when the freezer mysteriously stopped keeping our frozen food frozen. The refrigerator was still under warranty, so I contacted the service number printed on the manual. After over 90 minutes of phone hold “press 1, press 2, press 3” agony, I persevered and spoke to a customer service representative who blandly asked me to open my manual and to read some text embedded on a paragraph on page 12 that indicated my refrigerator was not built for use outside of the temperature confines of a typical American home. Therefore, garage and back porch installers need not apply! I informed him that this information was not shared with me–not by the Sears website (which didn’t state “Not designed to be installed in unheated areas in colder climates), not by the order desk personnel I spoke with before ordering (I told the representative the unit would be installed in my garage), and not by the delivery crew (who PUT it in the garage)–and I also told him that Virginia, in fact, experiences freezing weather in the winter. He further impugned Sears by saying that this issue comes up all the time. “So why doesn’t the website provide the appropriate information?” I asked. “I guess nobody outside of tech support really knows this,” he responded. At this point, I asked him what is the process for resolving this problem resulting from what I felt was an irresponsible omission of key product information–times 3! He said they would have to send a service tech to my home to see if it could be fixed. “FIXED–How? you just told me it won’t work, according to page 12! What is your service tech going to do or tell me that you haven’t done already?” He responded that that is his process and he’s sticking to it.
A few days later, according to Sears Plan, I received a friendly automated recording from Sears informing me that a service tech would arrive at my home the following Saturday–somewhere between 8 am and 5 pm. Not being exactly overjoyed at the prospect of spending the entire day at home further contaminated what little expectation I had of achieving any positive result from this “process.” I called Sears back and firmly committed that I would make no commitments to staying at home all day on a Saturday (did Sears think I had nothing else to do?). In fact, a service tech did show up when I wasn’t at home. Little wonder. A few days later, exactly according to the Sears “process” script, another friendly recording arrived in my voicemail inbox, offering another window of opportunity for a service call–this time during the week between 8 and 12, which I accepted.
On the scheduled day, a friendly, but jaded, service tech arrived and confirmed what I already knew: the compressor on the freezer wasn’t designed to operate in temperatures below 50 degrees. “I’ll write this up in a case and let them know what I found. At this point, there’s nothing I can do.” Who is “them?” I asked. He said the store manager at our local Sears. “But I purchased this online,” I said. No matter, he told me–the local store would have to resolve my issue. “I see this all the time,” he said. “I don’t know why they they sell these and install them in this climate. They should know better. So many people buy these in the summer and they are happy. Then winter hits and they don’t know what happened. I see it all the time.” All this information about how preventable this misfire was didn’t leave me with a warm feeling.
Contributing to the evidence of how pervasive is the ineptitude at Sears is this fact: the refrigerator cost less than $450. Did it even occur to the product planners and buyers at Sears that such a low-price model might be utilized by someone in the United States as an auxiliary appliance, and therefore might be installed in a location other than a kitchen? Clearly, that question was never asked by people who should have asked it. (Although I sardonically envision a lowly Sears intern voicing concern, but quickly dropping the idea after withering in the conference room before the pompous glares of his superiors.) Like most systemic customer support problems, the organizational partitions that managers faithfully create lose their utility when the challenge becomes “how do we demonstrate to our customers that they matter to us?”
After 3 weeks,I haven’t had time to contact Sears to figure out what to do about the appliance they so flagrantly misrepresented. And as for the Sears resolution “process:” No follow up call from Sears, no resolution, no anything. Maybe they’ll give me another automated call–this time with a synthesized voice saying “Hi! This is Sears! We just want to let you know we care. Goodbye.”
It’s still winter in Virginia, and all of my outdoor freezer stuff is in my indoor freezer so it won’t spoil. I can’t wait till the weather turns warm so that my freezer will work again. Then I’ll call Sears to let them know–in the vain hope that someone cares.
Clearly Sears is adept at completing the sales transaction: my credit card payment and delivery order were processed quickly and efficiently. They still haven’t figured out how to make the customer experience satisfactory. It’s the last product I’ll ever buy from them. Oh, and that includes Land’s End, too! I can’t wait to show my friends how well my Sears refrigerator works! Maybe I’ll spoil some sales to go along with my spoiled food!