The peace and tranquility of a suburban household is destroyed by the madcap antics of a parade of inept Sears Canada repairmen who fail to keep appointments, damage circuit boards, and show up with incorrect parts. The central character is Kenny, the Kenmore washer, who accepts it all with good humour. The supporting cast includes the Helpless-Desk ladies in the Philippines, and mysterious strangers with whom the technicians hold sotto voce conversations about what they should charge for the latest injury they have inflicted upon Kenny. The play co-stars the lovely Linda in the Toronto depot, who delivers her lines with heartfelt empathy while delivering only false hope. Highlights include the hilarious vignettes at the coin laundry. This black comedy opened on October 11, and has been here for an extended run, which may explain cast members' lack of motivation in recent performances.
Does it have a happy ending? Find out in the final act.
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Sears used to be the gold standard of customer service, famous for standing behind the products they sold. In this recent case of what should have been a simple Kenmore washer repair, it seemed they couldn't get out of their own way.
It all started on the morning of Sunday, October 11. I was enjoying my coffee and newspaper when cries of desperation were detected coming from the direction of the laundry room.
Initially, I was not unduly distressed, as my wife is known to have "issues" with anything technological. Computers have been known to go into whimpering spasms when they notice her in the vicinity. Usually I can sort out these little problems by Googling the symptoms or calling one of my geek pals.
This was not to be the case on that Sunday, however. Our marvellous, computerized Kenmore washer, with many buttons, dials, and flashing lights refused to enter the spin cycle. My blandishments left it unmoved. It said, "I will wash, but I will not spin. Spinning is not on my agenda. My spinning days are at an end. Be advised that the spinning feature has been withdrawn from the menu. You are henceforth without benefit of spin"
Here then is the ensuing chain of events occasioned by this obstinacy:
Day 1, 10:00 am. Much use of threatening language, twisting of dials, and pushing of buttons, to no avail.
Day 1, 1:00 pm. User manual located after much rummaging around in closets and other likely hiding places.
Day 1, 3:00 pm. In-depth immersion in manual, various suggested solutions noted and tried, to no avail.
Day 2, 9:00 am. Service call placed to Sears toll-free number published in manual, push various phone buttons in response to telephone prompts, sunny female voice asks me how she may help, I ask to arrange a service call for my washer, she asks the usual questions, she says a technician will show up between 12:00 noon and 8:00 pm Tuesday. He will call before coming. I say 'Thanks."
Day 3, 8:00 pm. No technician has arrived. No call from Sears has been received. I have stuck faithfully by the phone for eight hours because my wife has impressed upon me that this is a domestic crisis. I am unhappy, but am willing to cut Sears a bit of slack due to Monday having been Canadian Thanksgiving. There is probably a backlog of service calls, I think, and the technician has probably overindulged on turkey and is in a tryptophan torpor.
Day 4, 8:30 am. I call Sears to find out what happened. The female voice says she has no idea, but will rebook for today, before noon. The technician will call. Very mysterious.
Day 4, 9:46. I'm on Twitter. I tweet, "Waited 8 hrs yesterday for Sears washer repairman no-show. Rescheduled for today with 4 hr time window. Fingers crossed."
Day 4, 12:00 noon. No technician has arrived. No call from Sears has been received. I have been captive in my home for two days. Patience is running thin. I cycle through all five stages of grief. Twitter beckons. I tweet the following: "SECOND Sears washer repair ETA window now expired. Now waiting 12 hrs for no-show, no-call technician."
Day 4, 3:18 pm. I notice that I have received a tweet from something/someone called SearsBlueCrewHA: "Very sorry this happened. We're going to make this right for you asap. Please DM me your phone number. ^PK"
Day 4, 3:21 pm. I tweet my phone number back to the BlueCrew. I think, "Yes! Sears is a 21st century outfit after all, monitoring social media for cases of customer dissatisfaction and reacting instantly with solutions and empathy. Something is bound to happen now."
Day 4, 6:00 pm. I get a phone call following up on the tweet to "take care of your problem." She sounds nice, and desirous of resolving my dilemma but, alas, as soon as I say I am in Canada, it all collapses. She is most apologetic, but the BlueCrew's attentions do not extend to the country above the U.S. Nonetheless, I implore her to make inquiries on my behalf. She replies, regretfully, "No."
Day 4, 9:00 pm. I get a second call from an equally pleasant and sincere young woman, inquiring as to whether I have heard from anyone at Sears, and whether my problem is now resolved. I answer "Yes" and "No." I also tell her right away that I am in Canada, and she tells me right away that she can be of no assistance.
Day 5, 8:30 am. In total frustration, I call Sears and cancel the service call that did not happen. A mistake on my part, as I am about to discover.
Day 5, 9:00 am. I call a local appliance repair business with a substantial ad in the yellow pages. There is no answer and no voice mail. I select another with a smaller ad. This one has voice mail, and I leave my problem description and phone number.
Day 5, 9:30 am. The repairman, Les, calls back. As soon as I mention the name Kenmore, Les starts backpedalling, informing me that Sears does not provide support to independents for Kenmore products, and therefore I should call them to book a service call. I plead with Les to just take a look, pull the front off, see if there seems to be anything amiss. He gives me some things to try on my own and says he'll call back to see how I made out. Those who have read my blog post about Grade 9 Shop know that this will be fruitless.
Day 5, 11:00 am. Les calls. We agree that I will spend $50 to have him take a look. Neither of us are expecting much.
Day 5, 12:00 noon. Les comes, he looks, he gets his 50 bucks, he leaves.
Day 5, 12:30 pm. I call Sears to cancel the cancellation of the service call that did not happen. She says it will be Friday. I say "OK." She asks whether I would mind completing a customer satisfaction survey. I tell her I would be very pleased to do so. She flips me to the survey. I pour out my soul. I hang up.
Day 5, 12:40 pm. I notice that, while I have been on the phone with the call centre, someone has left a voice mail message. It turns out to be a nice woman named Linda, calling to sort out the problem with my washer repair call. She has a Toronto number. I think, "Alright."
Day 5, 12:45 pm. I call Linda. Linda is apologetic and says the original service call was not booked properly and it got added to the end of a technician's trip and the technician never got it and so it didn't happen. I say, "Oh." Linda says the next available time slot is Tuesday afternoon. I ask what about the Friday booking I just got from the call centre. She says she sees nothing about that on her screen, and anyway the next available is Tuesday afternoon. I say, "Book it Linda."
[Note: I have spared you the regular reports I have been making to my wife as this adventure has
Day 5, 2:30 pm. My wife arrives home. I tell her, "Tuesday." She is not pleased, to put it mildly. She threatens to write letters. She says she will never buy another thing from Sears, and certainly no appliances. She says that more than two weeks will have passed without laundry having been laundered. There's more, but you get the idea.
Day 8, 12:30 pm. Wife is fed up. Clean underwear, socks, and other essentials are now at Great Depression levels. She heads off to coin laundry with four loads. While waiting at the laundromat, she calculates that a washer can be purchased for the price of 20 trips to the coin laundry.
Day 10, 3:00 pm. Sears technician calls. He is about 30 minutes away. He wants to know how I will be paying. It seems a strange question at this stage. He also asks what problem we are experiencing with our washer. Clearly, despite my having described the problem to Sears at least twice, this information has not been relayed to him.
Day 10, 4:00 pm. Sears Technician arrives. While still at the curb, he asks whether I have a credit card. He seems very concerned about getting paid. The reasons for this will soon become clear. Entering our home, he immediately demands a credit card, and keys the card number into his handheld terminal. He explains that there is a service call charge of $93 plus taxes. All parts and labour are in addition to this. I say, "OK, let's get it done."
Day 10, 4:30 pm. He deduces that something has gotten into the pump (It turns out to be a zipper pull). He recommends replacing the pump. He has one in his van. That will be $87 plus taxes. There will also be labour charges, plus taxes. I say, "Go ahead." I'm thinking that this doesn't sound too bad.
Day 10, 6:00 pm. I ask how it's going. He says he has replaced the pump, but now we need a new "speed board." Apparently, he has one of these in his van.
Day 10, 6:30 pm. He asks for the location of the main breaker panel. Apparently, something is amiss. We check the breaker panel. No breakers have tripped. He says something happened while he was installing the speed board. He calls the office, and there is a long conversation with someone there, presumably someone more knowledgeable.
Day 10, 7:06 pm. Technician is lying on his back looking into the bottom of the washer.
Day 10, 7:26 pm. Same.
Day 10, 7:28 pm. He calls the office. I overhear, "I don't know what to do next." There is some discussion about what to charge me. I'm beginning to understand why he was so anxious to get my credit card when he arrived. I'm feeling like I'm paying for someone else's party.
Day 10, 7:36 pm. He's off the phone, so I ask him, "What's up." He says he's going to call his service manager, which he does. I overhear that he has made a mistake and "statically charged the board." Sounds like the service manager is saying he shouldn't bill me for the fried board.
Day 10, 7:57 pm. There is a murmured conversation with someone else now. Sounds like they're discussing what I should be charged for.
Day 10, 8:30 pm. Moment of truth. He confesses that he has fried the motor control board, also called the speed board. Someone will come on Friday to replace this board. However, I must call the 1-800 number to try "to get them to do something for me" on the price of the replacement for the board he has damaged. He says they usually will waive the charge if a technician has damaged it. The bill for the work done so far is $252.68, of which only $85.99 is for parts) and still no functioning washer. In effect, most of the bill is for wrecking our washer. Add in the 50 bucks wasted on Les, and we're over $300.
Day 11, 9:20 am. I call the 1-800 number, explain the issue of the board damaged by the technician, and ask that all charges be waived for the replacement of the damaged part. The operator says she will refer this information to technical staff, who will determine whether the charges will be waived. Apparently the technician's comments have not been relayed to the help desk. I say that I expect no trip charges, labour or other charges for this return visit, as it is only necessary due to the technician's mistake. I ask how and when Sears will confirm this for me. She says the technician will tell me when he arrives on Friday. I am not feeling the love.
Day 11, 5:53 pm. I tweet "Sears washer repair fiasco - now 10 days since my initial call. Tech finally came, replaced pump, fried control board. Replace on Friday?"
Day 11, 6:13 pm. I receive tweet from MySears: "Sounds like you've had some trouble with one of our washers. Can our SearsCares team help? Please DM contact info & we'll FU."
Day 11, 8:42 pm. I notice the above tweet. I'm not sure about the "FU," but decide it probably means follow up. I reply, "Already heard from @SearsBlueCrew who couldn't help because I'm in Canada. If you can help, call me at [my number]." No call is received.
Day 12, 11:30 am. I call Linda in Toronto, the only person involved with this who has shown (feigned?) any real concern for me as a customer. I get her voice mail. I leave a message asking her to intervene on my behalf to ensure the trip charge, labour charge, and the price of the replacement board are waived because the Sears technician caused the problem.
Day 12, 5:12 pm. MySears tweets back, "So sorry - they are a different organization."
Day 13, 9:00 am. I have not heard from Linda or the 1-800 number people with regard to today's service call --- if and when it will happen; whether I will be charged. Looks like I will be captive in my home for another day, waiting for a call from the elusive technician. I have visions of the tech refusing to install the replacement board unless I agree to pay. Refusal would mean more hassling with Sears, further delay, an unhappy wife, and a declining supply of socks and underwear. I'm sure the service people at Sears have no idea how disruptive this is, and that it is mostly the result of their lack of concern and unwillingness to communicate with me.
Day 13, 1:00 pm. The second technician, Deo, arrives. Older and appears more experienced. He obviously has no knowledge of the reason for the call because he has been given a pump to install, not a board. He checks in his van and finds a board, which he installs. Unfortunately, it now appears that the board was not the problem at all. The first tech fried something, but not the motor control board. Deo thinks it is probably the main panel. He calls the depot, and is told that they do not have the main panel in stock. They will order one, and will call to arrange a third visit, probably a week from today. No mention of charges. Oh, boy!
Day 15, 10:30 am. My wife heads to the laundromat (what a strange term to still be using in 2009) with another massive load. There is much grumbling, and threats that this will be the last such trip, no matter what.
Day 19, 3:00 pm. Having heard nothing about the third service call that is expected tomorrow (Friday), I call Linda. She tells me the parts are in, and the call is scheduled for Monday. Unfortunately, I will be out of town, and my wife will be working that day, so after some back and forth on dates, we decide on a week from today (Thursday).
Day 25, sometime. I am out of town, but Sears leaves a voice mail message that a technician will call on Thursday between 1:00 and 4:00 pm.
Day 26, 2:00 pm. Deo, the Sears technician from the previous visit, is on the phone. He has been looking "everywhere" for a helper to assist with moving the dryer that is stacked on top of the washer. This is necessary to enable opening the washer's top. He can't find a helper, and can't say when he might find one. I see where this is headed, and suggest that I help him. He says Sears doesn't like to have customers help with this sort of thing. I persist. Eventually he agrees, and says he'll be along soon. He mentions that the first technician has quit. I comment that that was probably a good career decision.
Day 26, 2:30 pm. Deo arrives, We remove the dryer. He takes the washer apart and removes the old circuit board. In installing the new board, he discovers it is slightly different and does not have a pin connector for one pair of wires that run to the machine. He calls the depot to check compatibility. The depot says it is the wrong part, and can not be installed. Deo puts it all back the way it was. He says someone will call in a day or two re: obtaining the correct part. He says the order will be "expedited," which means it will get here extra fast. Looks like we're headed for Week 5. My wife is livid.
Day 27, 9:30 am. I am headed to the coin laundry. I arrive at the coin laundry, and ask the atttendant, "Which are the washers?" He says, "You haven't done this before, have you." He gives me a tutorial, much to the amusement of the regular customers who are standing around. I meet some nice people.
Day 34, 10:30 am. We are now into month two. More than a week has passed without word from Sears about the"expedited" part, so I call Linda at the Toronto number. She says they are still waiting for the part. She says our repair will happen a week from today (Friday). I ask whether I should write that down in pencil or in ink. She says ink.
Day 36, 10:00 am. Wife to coin laundry again. While there she chats with a black gentleman who, she notes, has failed to sort before washing. She tells him he "should not mix the whites with the colours." He replies, with a smile, that this is not news to him.
Day 41, 10:05 am. Apparently that was disappearing ink, because Sears called to say that the tech will not be coming today, as promised. The part has not yet arrived (so much for "expedited"). We should expect someone, sometime, next Wednesday.
Day 43, 10:00 am. My turn for the coin laundry trip.
Day 45, 6:30 pm. My wife receives a call from Sears in Toronto to tell her that the required part is "out of stock" and no technician will be coming. She is given a toll free number to call.
Day 46, 10:00 am. I call the toll-free number. Sounds like the Philippines again. I give the operator the high points of the whole sorry tale, express our frustration, and indicate that I will be contacting both the President of Sears Canada and the news media, and will be posting the complete story on my blog, if the problem is not resolved immediately. She confirms that the part is not in stock and must be manufactured. She says she will reschedule the repair for Dec. 7. I ask whether there is any assurance that the part will be available by then. She says she can give no such assurance. I suggest that Sears should subsidize the purchase of a replacement washer. No response is forthcoming.
Day 46, 11:00 am. I send this report to Toronto Star customer advocate Ellen Roseman, and copy the Sears Canada National Customer Service Centre. I send a letter to Dene Rogers, President and CEO of Sears Canada, asking him to intervene.
Day 47, 8:30 am. I upload the blog post you are reading now.
Day 47, 9:00 am. I tweet: "SPECIAL EDITION of my blog today: 'Sears Canada, A Comedy of Errors' http://bit.ly/7iSPZz #blog #sears"
[NOTE: Now it gets interesting!]
Day 47, 9:45 am. I receive a tweet (Twitter talk for message) from SearsCA: "Hi. Just read your blog post and would like to help (I'm in Canada). If you follow @SearsCA I will DM you my contact info."
Day 47, 10:35 am. I follow SearsCA and DM (Direct Message): "Got your tweet. I'm all ears."
Day 47, 11:49 am. I receive a call from Keith McCarthy of Sears Canada. He has read my story, and regrets that I felt it necessary to contact Ellen Roseman. He also apologizes on behalf of the company for failing to resolve this sooner, and says this case will be used to train service staff (particularly those involved). We both agree that someone at Sears should have taken ownership of the problem and escalated it, but nobody did. The (previously unavailable anywhere) circuit board has (magically) been located, and someone will come tomorrow morning around 9:30 am to get us up and running. Can it be true? I may not sleep tonight. It's like waiting for Santa.
Day 47, 12:33 pm. I tweet: "I heard from Sears Canada! Proof that cage rattling works. Part found. Tech coming."
Day 47, 1:39 pm. SearsCA tweets back: "Sorry for the delay (meetings). Saw your last tweet. Hope all is good. If you need anything else, please let me know..." and [second tweet] "...My name is Will, and I am the online community guy for sears.ca. email@example.com. Thanks."
Day 47, 3:51 pm. I tweet back: "Hi Will. I think good things are finally happening. If any problems, I will DM you. Thanks."
Day 47, 4:16 pm. SearsCA tweets: "Great! So glad to hear we (Sears) are making this right."
Day 47, 6:48 pm. Sears Canada calls to say they will arrive tomorrow between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm.
Day 48, 9:34 am. Sears Canada technician, Jerry, arrives. I update him on the history of this problem. He installs a new main circuit board. In doing so, he recognizes that this is a redesigned board that has eliminated a pin connector that had been on the original board. The second technician had not realized this on Day 26, and thought he had been given an incorrect board. The past 22 days of waiting have been completely unnecessary. He says everything is working OK. I specifically ask,"Is it spinning?" He says "Yes." He asks me to sign off (which I do), suggests I do a test load and he will call me later to check.
Day 48, 10:15 am. As far as I know, we have a functioning washer. I start updating my wife, my tweeps, my Facebook friends, all of whom have been generous with support and suggestions over the past seven weeks.
Day 48, 10:35 am. Keith McCarthy calls to check that the repair has been done, and to confirm that there will be no further charges. He says to call him if there are further problems.
Day 48, 10:47 am. I tweet: "Sears Canada Washer Repair Fiasco is finally over after 48 days. We now have a functioning washing machine. Hallelujah!"
Day 48, 11:23 am. I do a test load of laundry. Waiting to see what happens. Will it spin?
Day 48, 12:20 am. Washer refuses to enter the spin cycle. We are right back to the same problem that started this whole mess. I call Keith McCarthy and leave a message.
Day 48, 1:30 am. I do a second test load, just to make sure. No high speed spin this time, either.
Day 48, 2:32 pm. I tweet on Twitter and update on Facebook: "Jubilation re: resolution of Sears Canada Washer Repair Fiasco premature. Did test load. Washer refuses to spin. #sears"
Day 48, 3:06 pm. Jerry, the technician from this morning, calls to check. I tell him the machine won't enter the high speed spin part of the wash cycle. He says he'll be over in about 20 minutes.
Day 48, 3:20 pm. Jerry arrives. Confirms that there is no high speed spin. Replaces the door switch, which he says is a common problem. It contains a solenoid that can be faulty.
Day 48, 3:27 pm. Two grown men sit watching a washing machine go through its cycle. Normally this would be very boring, but we are both waiting for the elusive high speed spin. At last it arrives.
Day 48, 3:40 pm. Jerry notices the machine is vibrating more than it should, and balances it up. I tell him I think he's a good guy, but I hope not to see him again anytime soon. He checks out.
Day 48, 3:47 pm. I finish up by leaving a message for Keith McCarthy to the effect that Jerry has been back, and I think the problem is finally rectified.
I hope to never repeat this experience. No one really knows what technical gremlins were at work, although I have my own theory. At the end of the day, the problems were mainly human, not technical (or maybe not --- read the postscript).
[For more on the changing relationship between companies and consumers, check my posts on customer service, the ways companies attack their own brands, and the consumer power shift fueled by social media.]
Epilogue: Kenny had never liked the high speed spin thing anyway. He laboured on for eight days, and on the ninth he said, "That's it for me. No more spin."
Looks like we go shopping for a Maytag. I write the obituary:
All those who followed the courageous struggle of Kenny, the Kenmore washer, in his heroic fight to survive a debilitating Sears Canada service infection, will be saddened by the news of his untimely passing. Though initially misdiagnosed, and subsequently subjected to an exhausting course of treatment, his severe high-speed-spin allergy had appeared to be in remission. Sadly, Kenny experienced a relapse and succumbed finally at home on Sunday, December 6, while on the day's 6th load of laundry. Please send donations to the School for Appliance Repairmen in lieu of flowers. Services will be held at the Brampton landfill.But then, miraculously, at the mention of the word "landfill," Kenny decides spinning might be better than rusting away or being cannibalized for parts, and he has an amazing resurrection.
So, he's back, but for how long? Trust has completely evaporated, and we will forever have an ear cocked for the distinctive sound of the high speed spin.