Battling Sears in the era of social media

Well, readers. I feel a bit like Jeff Jarvis or Heather Armstrong today.

Both of them are high-profile bloggers, who had customer-service nightmares that they took to the blogosphere and won. Jarvis, is a City University of New York journalism professor who blogs at BuzzMachine and had a heck of a time with a Dell computer. He got some media attention for his plight.

Armstrong is probably the most popular mommy blogger on the planet. She bought a pricey Maytag; it failed. She blogged about it on Dooce and encouraged her tweeps to boycott. She got media coverage of her rants.

In the end, the companies listened. (After lots of aggravation, of course.)

Now I’m no Jarvis or Armstrong. They are celebrities. I’m just me, a former journalist now student who loves social media and hates getting ripped off.

But I think my experience illustrates the power of social media. My saga began the week before Christmas when my 11-year-old dryer failed. I headed to Sears, bought a new one, a nicer model than I’d had before but still a relatively cheap one.

Aborted delivery attempts

Delivery was scheduled for the next day. Delivery guys never showed. Mid-day, I called and was told delivery had been canceled because of some snafu that I didn’t really get. No biggie. They were coming the next day.

The next day (Christmas Eve) they arrive, but the dryer was stolen off the truck at an earlier delivery that day.  They don’t realize this until they’ve yanked out my old dryer. Again, I don’t sweat it. It happens. It’s not the guys’ fault (although I’d suggest locking the truck next time during an install.)

Because of the holiday, the delivery isn’t scheduled again until Dec. 29.  That’s fine. My family is getting used wearing the clothes in the back of the closet that they don’t really like. Some people have real problems, I tell my friends. This isn’t a big deal.

Dryer arrives

Dec. 29: The guys deliver the dryer, set it up and test it. Seems fine, they say. I’m tired, so I don’t bother to do laundry until the next day. Then I put in a load; it comes out still wet. I re-read the owner’s manual to make sure I’m doing everything right. I’m fairly intelligent. My, God, I’m getting my Ph.D. I should be able to read a dryer instruction manual.

It appears this dryer has a sensor that is supposed to sense when the clothes are dry. It appears not to be working. I run the dryer through several cycles, and finally get some things dry. But the sweats, jeans are still damp.

I’m annoyed but am trying to keep my Zen-like calm. So I wait until Dec. 31 to try it again. I put a load in on high moisture, which is supposed to be the highest setting — for thick towels and such. The dryer spins for more than two hours before I open the door to see what’s up. The clothes are still wet, and cold. I’m guessing it spins but no heat.

The end

I’m done. After the two aborted delivery attempts and now this, I just don’t want this dryer anymore. I don’t want a new dryer that needs to be fixed. I don’t want a dryer that breaks before I even get to use it.

10:30 a.m. Dec. 31:  I call customer service. After about 40 minutes on hold, I reach a person, who tells me she can send a truck to pick up the dryer, but she can’t handle the refund. I need to call the store, but she doesn’t have a number. I ask to speak to a manager. I’m transferred to a non-working number that disconnects me.

I get a number for the store off the Web. I reach a nice woman, who is very apologetic and says she’ll transfer me to someone who can help. I end up at the same customer service number where I started, and again reach a person who says she cannot issue a refund. I must call the store.

I call the store, get bounced back to customer service. Finally, I get a person who says I’ll be refunded after workers pick up the old dryer. That’s fine with me. What about the delivery costs? The original Sears pitch was free delivery, but you had to send in a rebate to get the delivery refunded. Now that I don’t want the dryer, it seems ridiculous to spend $65 or whatever for delivery of a product that doesn’t work, that I don’t want, and that has caused me more than my fair share of aggravation.

I’m told that the delivery costs are nonrefundable. I ask to speak to a manager. I’m told I can’t. I explain that there is always a way to please the customer, and I’d like to speak to someone empowered to do that. No luck. The person transfers me to an answering machine.

This scenario repeats for the good portion of the day. Sometimes, I’m told I can’t get a refund. I’m always told the delivery costs are nonrefundable. In the meantime, I’m tweeting about it vigorously, and posting many of the tweets on Facebook.

There is some consistency. By and large, the customer service rep at the 800 number says to call the store; I call the store, who transfers me back to the customer service at the 800 number. Then I try another 800 number of the Web or in the phone book. The same scenario repeats, with me waiting on hold at least 30 minutes each time. I don’t know what to do.

I swear I end up talking to the same person several different times, and she gives me different answers, getting indignant. Now, I’ll admit, I started out calm, but I lost my Zen-like calm as time went on. I think anyone but Gandhi would have.

Finally, thanks to Twitter. I get some relief. Some tweeps of mine started retweeting my Sears story with the #Sears hashtags. This gets Sears’ attention, and a higher-up customer service representative direct messaged me, asking if he could help. I DM my home phone; he calls and is very helpful. He has Sears Customer Care call me. The woman there, agrees — finally — to refund my delivery costs and give me all my money back.

Phew. It only took about four hours on the phone or on hold, talking to about nine people from Sears and a whole lot of what my dad call agita. I’m glad I’ll get a refund, but I can’t imagine anything that would compel me to shop at Sears again.

I’m heartened that social media gave me at the very least a place to express my frustration in a supportive community. The worst part of these customer-service nightmares is the sense of powerlessness you feel. I’m just one stupid person that this company couldn’t care less about. On Twitter, I was still just one person, but it did get Sears to pay attention. Finally.

Social media has given power to the people. Yes, celebrities like Jarvis and Armstrong, but also little people like me. That’s a good thing. In the old days, I would have told my girlfriends about my experience over a glass wine. Today, I can tell thousands of people with a touch of a button.

The lessons

So dear companies (especially, you, Sears) here are things to keep in mind about customer service in this new media climate.

1. Be clear: You should have clear information about where to call for customer service on your Web site. As a customer, I shouldn’t have to know your internal companies policies to know which of your customer service numbers is right for me. I shouldn’t have to get stuck in a loop of automated answers, none of which apply to my problem. And, if, God forbid, I call the wrong customer service number, I should reach someone who cheerfully gives me the correct number, not who tells me they have no idea where I should call.

2. Be human: OK, we know it saves you money to use automated answering machines. But please, please always offer an option for me to opt out and reach a person. It is insanely frustrating to sit on a phone, listening again and again to a list of options that don’t apply to you.

3. Be helpful: I hope this won’t sound racist. I don’t mean it to be. I know you farm out customer service overseas to save money. But those overseas reps MUST have a list of alternative phone numbers where a customer can reach someone else. It adds to the tension of a frustration situation when you can’t understand what the customer service rep is saying, and all he or she does is keep repeating a prepared script that isn’t relevant. It’s maddening.

4. Be accountable: Always and I mean always let a customer reach a manager. Don’t transfer them to a nonworking number. Don’t transfer them to an answering machine. Angry customers who want a manager should be able to reach one. Don’t tel the customer: “Well, he’s just going to say what I said.” There’s always a way to solve a problem. There’s always a way to make an exception for an unsatisfied customer. At least, there should be.

5. Be responsive: Kudos for responding to social media, but it really shouldn’t have to get public for you to listen. As I told the last Sears person I spoke with — the one who actually helped:  Sears could have kept me as a customer if I could have reached a manager who could help me at 11 a.m. on my first or even second call. The fact that I had to sit on hold for hours, go through rep after rep who didn’t help, and tweet my heart about the issue … well, that cost you a customer. I think most people can understand that companies make mistakes. But when mistake start piling up like snow in Syracuse, sorry, you’ve lost me.

6. Listen: The biggest problem I had was customer service reps who would repeat company policy robotlike and not listen to what I was saying. Yes, I realize you have policies. But if you have no ability to see the problem through my eyes, you’ve lost me. I can buy a dryer anywhere, really. And I’ve been on this Earth long enough to know that if I was someone important in your eyes, you’d make me happy. So the fact that you don’t care if I’m satisified, that just reinforces what I already know: You don’t value me as a customer.

7. Be reasonable: I can understand telling me no if I was asking for something preposterous or out of whack with the damage. Hey, you delivered a dryer that didn’t work, so I want a new dryer for free and a better one than I bought. I can see you saying no to that. But all I asked for was my money back for a product that was used once and doesn’t work. That seems reasonable.

Gina

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17 thoughts on “Battling Sears in the era of social media

  1. This was quite a story . . . and a great lesson for companies that seem to take their customers for granted. Thanks for hanging in there until you had a satisfactory resolution of your problem so we could find out what happened. But you still need a new dryer!

  2. I was a part of your Twitter campaign, and it was irritating for me to read the problems you were having at the time. I haven’t been to Sears all that often since I had an issue with their automotive customer years ago. Still, in the end you found one person who gave you just what you needed, whereas I never got satisfaction.

    And, you got to see first hand the real power of Twitter; that had to be worth a lot! lol

  3. @Mitch

    I really think if it weren’t for Twitter, I’d still be sitting on hold at Sears. Really. They didn’t care about me until people (like you — bless you) started retweeting my story. Then, they cared because word was spreading.

    The customer rep. who was helpful told me they consider a tweet to have the same power as a letter to the CEO. So why don’t you consider my call to customer service to have that weight. If you did, I’d still be your customer.

    – Gina

  4. Hey everyone,
    First I’d like to say to Gina:

    I’m very sorry you had this much trouble getting your issue resolved through traditional Customer Care channels.

    We at Sears hear your concerns and will definitely pass all of your feedback on to the appropriate people. I’m sorry to hear that you’re no longer going to be a Sears customer, is there’s anything I can do to change that, please let me know.

    Again, I am sorry,

    Scott

    Scott Murphy | Social Engagement Manager | Sears Holdings Corp.

  5. Hello my name is sonny and yesterday i went to sears automotive for an oil change, before going i had called the store and asked the manager that the bolt head for the oil pan was stripped could they be able to open it? she said yeah sure bring it down, an hour later she said they tried taking it off with a wrench but no luck so they used a socket and a air hammer to get it off but in the process they created a leak. were sorry, she said give us a day and well put in a new one but we have to split the cost, now im real pissed her mechanic damaged my car and i have to pay for it? I told her if they couldnt do the job they should have just said so not sitting there damaging it even more then making me pick up the tab. i told her i wanted the job done for free beacuse it was not my fault. I gave her exapmles, like if she had hired me to come to her house to cut down trees and one fell on her house, whos fault is that she agreed that would be my fault, i screwed up so i should be responsible for all damages, soo why should i pay for a new oil pan??
    Please i have been trying to call all over sears and keep getting the run around i ask the store mannager for her supervisers number and she keeps telling me there is no one higher then her.
    Someone help.

    Thank you,
    Sonny
    203-808-4747

  6. Hello my name is sonny and yesterday i went to sears automotive for an oil change, before going i had called the store and asked the manager that the bolt head for the oil pan was stripped could they be able to open it? she said yeah sure bring it down, an hour later she said they tried taking it off with a wrench but no luck so they used a socket and a air hammer to get it off but in the process they created a leak. were sorry, she said give us a day and well put in a new one but we have to split the cost, now im real pissed her mechanic damaged my car and i have to pay for it? I told her if they couldnt do the job they should have just said so not sitting there damaging it even more then making me pick up the tab. i told her i wanted the job done for free beacuse it was not my fault. I gave her exapmles, like if she had hired me to come to her house to cut down trees and one fell on her house, whos fault is that she agreed that would be my fault, i screwed up so i should be responsible for all damages, soo why should i pay for a new oil pan??
    Please i have been trying to call all over sears and keep getting the run around i ask the store mannager for her supervisers number and she keeps telling me there is no one higher then her.
    Someone help.

    Thank you,
    Sonny
    203-808-4747

  7. This was quite a story . . . and a great lesson for companies that seem to take their customers for granted. Thanks for hanging in there until you had a satisfactory resolution of your problem so we could find out what happened. But you still need a new dryer!ReplyQuote

  8. All good ideas. Just wanted to add my 2 cents from the Print viewpoint. To be clear, I’m neither a journalist nor involved in a newspaper. I’m a semi-retired blogger who spent 30 years running a Print business and then a stint teaching in design school.

  9. @Scott Murphy at Sears – I am starting a long process at the moment concerning misrepresentation of a product sold on the sears website, and have been talked to like a child by the customer service and they have decided that I cannot talk to anyone higher than them, as they, and i quote ” are all supervisors”. I will be at this until my problem is recognized, understood, and solved. I have bought almost everything at sears and generally I have had decent customer service responses. But this is not over some silly toy or piece of clothing, so I will trudge on….

  10. Hi Gina, I’m currently dealing with a Sears dryer problem too. I purchased a stackable Kenmore washer & dryer last year. The dryer worked for 10 months then nevermore. Service techs were scheduled and rescheduled, parts were ordered and delivered (too late)… Finally got a decent person at the store to help. The dryer was replaced. One month later the new replacement dryer stopped drying. The tech came out said it was a defect in the manufacturing of the venting inside the dryer. I spent close to 2 hours today with 5 Sears representatives in the Protection Agreement and Customer Solutions departments. Placed on hold, transferred, asked what I wanted to replace it with only to end up with Jeremy (250807) in customer solutions. I asked for his manager several times (apparently he must own Sears since he represents himself as the top of the service ladder!) He said that the tech’s notes stated that the problem was the venting and that we were going to fix it (right). Sears sold us the venting kit and installed it…tech is scheduled for this Monday to correct the venting. I’ll make sure to have a pile of freshly washed clothes ready for him to test his “corrected venting” theory. In the mean time Jeremy gave me the address of Sears Executive Customer Relations, I’ll write them a letter and post it and my issues with the Kenmore dryer on Facebook. After paying $719.99+ for a dryer, I expect a machine that dries my laundry……

  11. What a bummer. Seems like expecting a dryer to dry is not asking too much. Good luck.

  12. I don’t know if you are still monitoring comments on this post, but thought I’d give it a shot. I came across this site when I Googled “sears customer service issues” – I am currently experiencing AWFUL customer service from Sears and, like you, am getting nothing but a run-around. Reaching an employee at my local store is impossible and getting a return call is even more difficult than that.

    I’m too tired to get into the details of my ordeal and wanted to ask you a quick question: At any time during your experience, did you think to go to your local store in person and attempt to get your issue resolved that way? I’m not saying you SHOULD have gone in – I agree that your problem should have been resolved to your satisfaction with one or 2 phone calls – but oftentimes a face-to-face conversation accomplishes a lot more than a phone call. Phone reps can easily put you on hold or transfer you to oblivion (as you found out) or even “accidentally” disconnect you. That can’t/won’t happen if you conduct business in person. And if you are in their store discussing an issue, the thought of a customer making a scene will scare the bejesus out of them!

    I am headed to Sears tomorrow to discuss the problems I’ve experienced. I also called Sears Holdings in Illinois. The receptionist told me right away to send any correspondence regarding a complaint to their CEO – she gave me their full address and even spelled the CEO’s name for me without being asked! He will be hearing from me, that’s for sure.

    Thanks so much for responding to my question if you get a chance. And I hope everything eventually worked out for you.

  13. @Margaret – I did not go to the store and talk to someone face to face, and I agree that may have helped. But if I company only treats me well face to face, they aren’t much good in my book.

    Good luck with you situation.

    – Gina

  14. I have an ongoing Sears nightmare that is costing me sleep in a couple of ways. To describe it in detail would take some time, but I’ll just hit the high (or more appropriately described as the low) points.

    We bought a very expensive mattress and box spring set as a matched unit from the Sears store in the Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax, Virginia. It carried a 20-year non-prorated warranty.

    After only a couple of months it began to sag badly in the middle. Thinking it was just a defective unit, we exercised our warranty to obtain a replacement. This was handled satisfactorily.

    Then the replacement began to sag similarly and very rapidly, despite the fact that we turned it frequently and everything. This is where the fun starts.

    The model had been discontinued by the manufacturer (for reasons that to me seem obvious — it had in previous years been a reputable manufacturer). Upon calling the appropriate department at Sears we were required to take a number of photographs of the bed to demonstrate its defective nature, and the photos had to be taken at numerous points during disassembly and include indicator markers like strings stretched across its width and length, with benchmark rulers and whatnot, and including pictures of the many tags (none of which had been removed).

    This was a bit of work but we completely complied (although just one single picture of the fully assembled bed clearly demonstrated the sagging). They rejected it initially, stating that a photo of a tag was not the tag they demanded. I replied that I had sent them pictures of ALL the tags that were there, front and back, and that we had never removed any, and that they contained all the information that they could possibly want, including the mattress type, model number, serial number, place and date of manufacture, materials used, and everything that might possibly be relevant. After some repeated and frustrating back-and-forth they then relented and accepted our submission only after mentioning the word “lawyer.”

    They then told me they would give us approximately 2/3rds of the purchase price against the purchase of a new mattress from Sears Online. Although we had bought the mattress as a matched set, at a unified price as advertised in the store, they would make us keep the box springs despite the fact that the model had been discontinued and would no longer result in a matched set. Furthermore, we wanted to go with something more unquestionably durable, a considerably more expensive TempurPedic, and using the existing box springs would void the manufacturer’s warranty.

    They would not budge. I contacted their corporate offices (if you think identifying a director of customer service at Sears is easy, try it some time!) and was eventually put in touch with some “five-star customer service” who gave lip service to agreeing with my point of view, but who then backed up the initial inadequate “settlement.” I just wanted my money back for a defective product under warranty, and they refused to return it to me even as credit on a more expensive purchase from them!

    I was at the end of my resourcefulness and so I tried to apply their inadequate credit they had offered to a purchase from Sears Online, as they had directed. Because of an intervening, expensive hospitalization I no longer could augment their credit with sufficient funds to buy the TempurPedic mattress I desired, so I went with a much cheaper “Sleep Therapy” memory-foam bed and box spring set they “Feature” advertised prominently on their website, still a couple hundred dollars above their “settlement.”

    AND THEY REFUSED TO SELL IT TO ME, saying NOW that I have to go and pick one out from the store. They rationalized that Sears Online is “like a mall” and that this product is not actually sold by Sears. Their website, however, has a screening selection “button” where you choose between Sears and other vendors, and this is in fact listed as a Sears product.

    The customer service representative with whom I was speaking, one “Wendy” this time; on other calls (I have made maybe 20 now) it has been “Emerald,” “Noal,” and others, was rude and condescending, lecturing me on how to try out a mattress in a store and whatnot, and interrupting and talking without pauses over whatever I tried to say to her. I believed that they are actually trained to engage in phone manners designed deliberately to provoke raised voices and anger in order to provide an excuse to hang up on customers.

    My wife and I will now drive out to their brick-and-mortar store where we made our initial purchase and try to speak in person to their general manager to see if he or she might be able to intervene in some way, but I am not hopeful that this will end in our favor.

    I am already making preparations to file in small claims court for the full original purchase price plus all court costs and any costs involved in subsequent collection efforts, this last of which I anticipate may prove to be substantial given their really weird stonewalling behavior so far.

    And then, assuming that I prevail, I will be able to purchase a mattress somewhere else. I will not purchase anything whatsoever at Sears again for as long as I live.

    Warning to all: Once a true leader in customer service, Sears no longer stands behind the products they sell, and will deal with you in a particularly rude and offensive manner if you try to get them to. If you can purchase something elsewhere at a comparable price you should seriously consider doing so, because even the customer service at Walmart is now superior to that you will obtain from Sears.

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