Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest  |  03/31/2009

The Customer Service Game

Or, when telling the truth isn’t enough.

This, I swear, is a true story... mostly.

We own a washer and dryer combo unit made by a large home appliance manufacturer--let’s call them “Maytag.” The washer and dryer are in the company’s Neptune series. We’ve had them for about seven years and they’ve worked flawlessly, until recently.

About four months ago the washer started making an awful squealing noise when it went into the spin cycle. No problem, I thought. We have an extended warranty. I’ll just call the friendly Maytag repairman.

Instead of Gordon Jump, I got a customer service representative whose sole job, apparently, is to make sure that Maytag does not send out a repairperson. After I described the problem, she told me flat-out that they don’t make service calls based on a noise.

“But it’s a really loud noise,” I explained. “When this thing starts to squeal the dogs start howling, the cats hide, and even the fire department called to complain that no one could hear their sirens. It’s really loud.”

“I’m sorry sir,” she repeated. “It’s not our policy to send a repairperson out based on just a noise.”

“Sooo… what? I have to wait for smoke, flames, water on the floor, the drum to come spinning out onto the floor like some crazy oversize dreidel?”

“Well… I don’t know if it’s possible for the drum to actually exit the machine,” she said cheerily. “But if you see smoke and flames you give us a call and we will definitely send someone out.”

“And how long from the time I call to the time a repairperson comes to my house?”

“Well, usually two to three working days… but it could be longer.”

In a four-person household with the washer being used every day, we needed to get it fixed before it broke down, but caught between a rock and a hard place we didn’t do anything.

Months pass. The dogs run away and the cats are reduced to neurotic, quivering puffs of fur. Since it’s obvious that no flames are forthcoming, my mother-in-law, God bless her, gives it a shot and somehow ends up talking to a different department in Maytag. She explains the conversation that she had with the customer service department.

“Well there’s your problem,” he said. “Never use the word ‘noise.’ Call back and try saying something like ‘The washer isn’t going into the spin cycle.’”

Sure enough, Shirley calls back and in nothing flat a repairperson is dispatched. Three days later, the repairman walked in carrying a book the size of Webster’s Dictionary, unabridged. I asked him about the tome.

“Oh this? It’s my repair history notes on the Neptune series,” he said gleefully. “Boy, you better be happy you have a service warranty on this baby, because by the time I’m done it’s gonna be a new machine.”

Whistling “Ode to Joy,” he then proceeded to remove and replace everything but the drum which, in the end, did not roll across the floor.

So what’s the moral? Sometimes you have to learn to game the system. Sometimes, the fact that a product is failing simply isn’t enough to get a company to give you service. The other moral? There is always someone in the company who understands what customer service is about; unfortunately they often aren’t the ones who set policy.


About The Author

Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest’s picture

Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest

Dirk Dusharme is Quality Digest’s editor in chief.