Sunday, March 06, 2011

I haven’t posted anything of substance on this blog in ages and amazingly enough it gets about the same number of readers whether or not I post new material. Weird huh?

Today I need to finish up with the story of the mess with Sears and my range. It is kind of an amazing story and taught me something about why big business in America is, as a group, on the skids.

After my last post, at which point I had received no satisfaction at all from Sears as far as getting a correctly sized orifice for the largest burner (17,200 BTU). After persistently calling and complaining that the fix done by the gas company was not intended by them to be permanent and that I still needed the part, I ended up in the hands of a woman called Elle Elliott who worked out of some division at Sears Corporate HQ in Chicago. Elle and her colleagues are supposed to take care of messes that have not been successfully handled by people in lower levels of Customer Service and my problem certainly qualified.

Elle seemed like a very nice woman who had every intention of getting my problem solved one way or another. We began a series of frequent back and forth conversations in early December and made little progress. She scheduled a service call but when the service man called 10 minutes before the 4-hour window during which I had been promised he would arrive, he asked what the problem was. He had been given no information whatever about my range or what I needed to have done. When I explained to him that there was a missing part, he said he would call his part supplier and get back in touch with me to confirm that he was on his way over.

It took about 20 minutes for him to conclude that he couldn’t get the part locally and he called back and said that Sears would have to order it. A few days later Elle called and rescheduled my repair and this time included instructions that the repair person was to confirm that he had the part in his possession. Again I waited 4 hours and again he called at the end of the scheduled window only to say that Sears never provides replacement parts to the service person. . .they always are sent to the home where the service is to be done. Another 4 hours had been wasted and another service call cancelled. Meanwhile I was getting about 4 automated calls per day asking me to call Sears to reschedule the service call they claimed I had cancelled.

The third time, After waiting 4 hours and 45 minutes, when the service guy called I told him he needed to come over even though we didn’t have the required part because clearly Sears wasn’t going to do anything until someone at Service told them that the part had to be obtained and replaced.

Meanwhile, through this huge hassle during which I had spent 13 hours waiting at home for service that never happened and hours on the phone with half the employee workforce of Sears, Elle kept promising to make it all right “even if I have to replace the range”. She also offered to send me a check for $70 to refund the cost of the original parts as a gesture of good will. I told her I appreciated that and would let her know when it arrived.

Finally, in late December when she had neither found a source for the part (which is, by the way, in every single one of these ranges which Sears continues to sell) nor felt that she had exhausted every avenue looking for it, she gave me the bad news that she was leaving for a 9 month long maternity leave on the 28th but assured me that my case would be taken over by one of her colleagues who would have the entire file and would follow up to my satisfaction. The check had not arrived, I had nothing in writing from Elle. . .only a string of as yet unfulfilled promises, and at that point still no $70 refund check that had, by then been promised for about three weeks or more.

I then left in early January for a family trip to Belize but had been assured that the new person who was taking over would resolve things when I got back. This didn’t turn out to be the case. When I returned there was a message from someone introducing herself as Angela with a call back number. When I called Angela I very quickly realized that she had no intention of providing much in the way of service. She hadn’t read Elle’s notes but had already decided that all she could do was to call their parts department who would “research” the errant part. Since Elle and everyone before her had already been through this I assured her she would get nowhere, but she insisted that she had to follow this protocol. When she called back about 4 days later, she told me that the part couldn’t be obtained, that they weren’t sending me a $70 check, which had been rejected by Elle’s boss 5 days before my last conversation with her in which she promised that it was on the way, and that they could and would do nothing further to resolve my issue.

I was a little shocked and asked why after a month of working with Elle who had promised to take care of this problem, she felt that she could simply wash her hands of the whole mess. Her reply was that they weren’t responsible for the original part being wrong because I hadn’t scheduled Sears service for the conversion from Propane to Natural Gas and as such, they had no responsibility. When I attempted to explain to her that Sears service arm, A and E Appliance Repair didn’t have a license that allowed them to work on propane fueled appliances, she interrupted me and said it didn’t matter what my excuse was, she had concluded that nothing further would be done on my case.

At that point, infuriated not only at being screwed after all these months, but also at the monumental rudeness of this imperious bitch, I hung up on her and promptly called the office of the Attorney General of the State of North Carolina to commence filing a complaint against Sears.

About two weeks passed, by which time a complaint form had arrived in the mail from the AG’s office. It was complex and sadly didn’t really cover the kind of complaint I had to file but I was exhausted by the process and had decided to wait a few days before attacking it again with another call or letter to the AG.

To my surprise, I got a call from a woman from Sears Corporate who identified herself as Jacquese Calvert. She was very business-like and polite, and indicated that my file had shown up on her desk and she wondered if anything had been done to resolve my issue. I informed her that nothing had happened other than my very distasteful experience with Angela. I also told her that I was in the process of filing a complaint with the State and would probably sue Sears in Small Claims court for the price of a new range since that was what Elle had promised me more than a month before if the part couldn’t be obtained.

Jacquese assured me that she would get to the bottom of things and that if necessary she would get me a new range. Again we had to go through the same process of researching the lack of a part and again it produced the same result. Then, to my amazement, Jacquese said that she would have to get me a new range. Almost in shock, I said that if that was truly the only alternative then that would be an acceptable solution although it struck me as positively insane that they could send me a whole $4,000 range but couldn’t provide the $14 part (that would be in the new $4,000 range) that was missing.

Nonetheless, that was the solution. A range was ordered, I got a call asking when I could be there to take delivery, and Jacquese set up still another (my 5th) service call to have it installed. The range was delivered on a Friday and the following Monday it was installed. Sadly, this wasn’t to be the end of the story. The guy who installed the new range tested all the various settings and we discovered that the fan for the convection bake and roast settings was defective and made a very annoying thumping noise when it was operating, so he had to order a replacement to be sent to me and scheduled still another service call.

On February 21st, the new fan was installed in my new range and the saga that had begun in July of 2010 was over. I cannot imagine what this has cost Sears but it certainly has cost them my business for the remainder of my days. Well not quite. Jacquese did call back after the fan repair was finished to make sure I was satisfied and her final act was to send me $70 in gift cards for Sears (in lieu of the previously promised refund) so I guess I will spend them and then never set foot in the store again.

This experience was very eye-opening. Principally it reaffirms what I have suspected for years. Most large American corporations do not give a shit about satisfying their customers if the corporation screws up. Sears somewhere along its very large food chain of big and little fish has decided to refuse to make good on warranties and promises on the understanding that most people cannot expend the time it takes to follow up on their warranted rights. If I had been working full-time or been unaware of my rights, not to mention how a gas burner works, I would never have gotten satisfaction in this situation. Most people would have to give up and make the best of what they have. I guess in the long run this probably saves them a lot of money but it has forever changed my attitude about them as a company. It is also shocking to me that no one at Sears could have picked up a phone and called the factory in Canada where my range was made, and asked for contact information for whoever is making these little tiny brass orifices. It sure seems like they could have saved an enormous amount of wasted time and money if someone was authorized to think instead of following some protocol that is outlined in an employment manual.

During my final phone conversation with Jacquese Calvert, who at this point I practically consider a friend, she said that she hoped her follow through would convince me to continue to be a Sears customer and I told her that it wouldn’t. I expressed to her my appreciation for everything she did for me that no one else would do, but that ultimately finding one competent caring person in the whole corporate structure of Sears wasn’t enough to outweigh the overwhelming evidence that tells me that Sears is a dishonest disreputable company that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about anything besides its earnings. I told her that if she ever needed an endorsement from a satisfied customer that she would get it from me but that Sears as a company was no longer on the list of firms with which I would do business.

I need to put together another post for this blog in the next couple days filling you all in on what has been going on during the long months of my silence. I hope to get to it in the next few days.