Clustomer Service

There is a colloquial term that defines as: “Military term for an operation in which multiple things have gone wrong.” For those with any military service experience, I am talking about a “Charlie Foxtrot.”

Since this a blog for all ages, I will not state the actual term, but let’s just say it rhymes with “Bluster Truck.” CLICK HERE to see more.

Last week I had a customer service “experience” that can only be described using the term noted above. Buckle-up because it is going to be a bumpy ride.


A week ago Thursday, I returned home from work, walked through the door and was immediately informed (in a way that only a teenager can state things) “the microwave is busted!” I am skeptical of most blanket statements like this, so I did what any rational adult would do, I filled a coffee mug with cold water, placed it in the microwave and punched-in three minutes.

I fully expected to remove a hot cup of water from the device thus proving the previously moaned statement untrue. Alas I was wrong. It turns out the reporting teen was correct and we did in fact have a first world problem on our hands.

The microwave was actually busted.

Regular readers of mine are likely now expecting a tale of clever investigation followed by an inexplicably brilliant MacGyver-like repair. Oh how I wish that were the case. I did in fact watch two YouTube videos about troubleshooting a non-heating GE microwave. I did crack it open, and after measuring a couple of voltages with my multimeter, determined that the Magnetron was shot.

The part that had "gone south" on me. Service

The part that had “gone south” on me.

  • I looked up the cost of the replacement part – $151.15.
  • I looked up the cost of a replacement microwave – $229.99

This particular microwave was installed in 2009, so I figured investing a buck-fifty in a six-year-old appliance was throwing good money after bad. The dead unit was a GE, over-the-stove model in “graphite gray.” So, after determining the replacement (the color is now called “slate”) was the same price at Home Depot, Lowes, Sears and Best Buy, I chose Sears since they could get it to me the soonest. I placed the order online and selected delivery to the Sears Hometown store, a mere 2.5 miles away. They promised my microwave would be delivered on Tuesday November 17th.

Six days after placing my order, I popped into the appointed store at 6:00pm to pick up the microwave. The man at the counter looked on his list, checked my ID and then summoned the guy in the back to bring out my box. They handed me my receipt, and I lugged the 56-pound box out to my car.

I brought the box in from the car, but I didn’t open it until after my family had finished dinner. As I peeled off the clear strip of packing tape, I could feel a wave of relief come over my household. Living without a microwave is certainly not a hardship, but you don’t realize how much you rely on a specific piece of technology until it isn’t there.

I opened the box and lifted the upper Styrofoam tray away from the front of the unit. Where I had chosen the open the box wasn’t well lit, so I dragged the box into better light… and it was then that I saw it. A perfectly lovely, all black, microwave oven. The unit was otherwise exactly what I had ordered, but it was not “slate” and as such would not match the other GE appliances in my kitchen.

By this time the Sears Hometown store was closed. They close at 7:00pm, which I think is a dumb-ass time to close, but that’s their deal. So I called Sears Customer Service. I talked to a fairly dim fellow named Tom who told me I had to take the unit back to the store to sort things out… he could do nothing for me.

The next day I was scheduled to be out of town, so it was after 5:00pm before I could return to the store. While I was driving there, my son Oliver called me to let me know that Sears had called and they have my microwave. The color problem was simply a mix-up between two orders.

This was good news.

I hauled the 56-pound box out of my car and back into the store where the two guys were very apologetic. They received the barely opened black unit from me and brought out the wayward slate unit, which appeared to have been manhandled a bit, but looked okay.

As I walked out, one of the guys tossed a t-shirt and a hat on top of the box to “make up for my trouble.”

I got home and, as the routine had developed, I put down the box and had diner first. At 6:20 I unpacked the already opened box, but quickly I realized something was very wrong. At first it looked like the door was getting caught on something and was not closing properly. As I looked closer, I noticed four large scratch/dents on the bottom of the unit, the side that faces the stove. This microwave had been dropped or otherwise mistreated to the point where I could not accept it.

Back into the box it went, and back to the store I went.

I arrived at 6:50, as they were closing up shop. As soon as they saw me, the two guys knew I wasn’t happy, though I did managed to remain calm and polite the entire time.

I explained my issue and although they did not argue the point, they informed me that they could not accept the unit back. Why you might ask? That would be an excellent question, and here is the answer.

It turns out; despite the fact that this bricks and mortar storefront has a huge-assed sign on the front reading SEARS, it is in fact not a Sears store.

Fair warning – a Sears Hometown Store is a privately owned franchise, not an actual Sears store.

I know it says SEARS - don't fall for it. Service

I know it says Sears – don’t fall for it.

Because of this, the t-shirt tossing guy explained, “since you bought your microwave via, I have no way to accept the return, you need to call the 800 number.”

I stood quietly for a moment and then calmly replied, “You mean the same 800 number I called last night who directed me back to you because they had no way of helping me? That 800 number?” The two guys, in their matching blue polo shirts (with the SEARS logo embroidered on the front) shrugged their shoulders in unison while giving each other the same feckless look.

I lifted up the box once again, and as I navigated the door with my awkward burden, one of the guys (I shit you not) tossed me another t-shirt saying “sorry dude.” As I walked away, I heard the loud click of the door locking behind me – a metaphorical knife stabbing me in my customer backside.

I returned home once again.

I called the 800 number and was connected once again with a hapless individual, who after looking up my order, and listening to my tale of woe, kept saying “I don’t understand why the store can’t take it back.” I only wasted fifteen minutes with this guy concluding our conversation with a forceful, yet still polite, “Your lack of understanding is not helping, no matter how many times you say it.” It was 8:00pm. I loaded the box back into my car, and headed for an actual Sears store in the mall.

I opted to leave the box in the car and head in, armed with only my paperwork and my rapidly deteriorating faith in humanity.

It was there in the appliance department of a real Sears store in the Eastview Mall, that I met Fred. I watched patiently as Fred completed a fairly complex transaction for another customer. He clearly knew how to get things done and (for lack of a better term) “work the system.”

I explained the saga thus far, during which he shook his head in empathy. When I got to the present moment in the story he inhaled sharply and exclaimed, “Ugh, Hometown Stores! We hate those guys.”

Fred took my paperwork and we began a journey that took us through three locations in the store, and four different computer systems. When he finally got a computer to accept the return, one of the screens asked him to select a reason. None of the six choices was even close to why I had returned the damaged microwave. He looked at me and asked, “How does ‘makes funny noise’ sound to you?” I replied, “Well I made a funny ‘swearing’ noise when I discovered the unit was damaged.”

Fred punched in the selection and chuckled, “Good enough for me.”

Despite the fact that I had applied a few online coupons, I was refunded the full $229.99 plus tax back to my credit card. We emerged from the back office where we had found the magic computer; I popped out to my car and grabbed the box. He didn’t even look at it, and we headed back to the appliance department. Fred was pleasant and professional the entire time.

We placed a new order for a replacement unit and he pulled a few strings to get the final price down to $214 including tax. Total net savings = about $40 (plus 2 t-shirts & a hat), which on a $229.99 item is the better part of 20% – not too shabby but I can’t calculate the hourly rate for my trouble since I don’t yet have the new microwave.

I get to pick up my new, “slate” microwave on Tuesday the 23rd – at the real Sears store at the mall. I am not leaving before inspecting it fully.

I could go on about all the failure points in the Sears retail ecosystem, but I’m sure you can connect the dots. To be honest, the most disturbing part of the experience was the erroneous data Fred had no choice but to enter about the nature of my return. Somewhere in Chicago, an analyst sits in a windowless cubicle making business decisions based on that data… and it is all-wrong.

As we head into this holiday season of high purchase volume, keep your cool maintain a polite demeanor, but make sure you get what you bargained for. As you are presented with your delivery options, avoid the “Bluster Truck” option – never a good choice.

This is by far my favorite Customer Service scene of all time, and since Thanksgiving is this Thursday, it is a perfect end to my little rant today. Gobble gobble!

Copyright © 2015 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.

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