Michael Froomkin is a law professor, a prolific blogger, and an aspiring treadmill owner. Unfortunately for him, he’s not also a regular Consumerist reader, so he thought that ordering a treadmill from Sears to be delivered to his house was a great idea. Sears seemed like the best choice out of the options available to him. He didn’t know that his future held a smashed treadmill, lots of early-morning robocalls, and a cascade of incompetence.
The Treadmill Saga posts are well-written and excellent, but also much, much longer than posts that generally make our readers’ eyes glaze over, so we’ll give you the highlights. In the first post, Sears comes to visit and brings a treadmill. The treadmill is smashed. Froomkin sends it back rather than accepting delivery and waiting for someone to come repair it. This would seem like a wise decision, but there really is no such thing as a wise decision after you’ve agreed to have something delivered by Sears.
“It turns out that using a treadmill is not the only way to go on and on without getting anywhere,” he wrote.
On September 25, he learned that the model he wanted had been backordered, but also received an e-mail from Sears offering him an extended warranty on the treadmill he had never received. And was robocalled at 8:04 AM.
On September 28, he accepted a somewhat snazzier treadmill for the same price he had paid for the smashed one, but also learned that he would continue to be robocalled every morning, maybe even including weekends, for maybe 30 days. Yay.
On September 29, he learned that the robocaller does work weekends. He mused:
Didn’t Sears’s mother tell it never to call before 9:30am on a weekend? And exactly why does Sears have such a dysfunctional phone system that no one, not even the “executive offices”, can turn it off? Have they never heard of e-mail? Could it be that the harassment factor is seen as a feature rather than a bug, in that when something promised is no longer available it will drive purchasers into cancelling their order rather than trying to get Sears to make good on its promises? I suppose the better bet remains sheer incompetence and heartlessness, but one has to wonder.
If incompetence and heartlessness would put Sears out of business, they would have blinked out of existence sometime last decade.
He also wrote to Sears’ social media team, the same group of very nice people who often reach out to Consumerist readers who have trouble with the company. They got him confused with someone named Ashley, and asked for the phone number he had provided in the e-mail. Helpful.
On September 30, a Sunday, the Sears robocaller rang him up at 8:02 AM instead of 8:04.
At this point, his wife weighed in on her own blog. She summed up many of the problems with customer service that we discuss here on the site. In most customer service transactions, the wrong people are accountable, and the wrong people are punished when something goes wrong.
The people we can manage to speak to are limited by the scripts they are required to follow – they have almost no agency in any of this by design. The only people we may be asked to evaluate in any of this are the people who perform the scripts and not the people who write them. The people without power are made accountable rather than the people with power. But if you only choose to ask customers how they were treated by the script-followers you won’t get real feedback about the consumer experience. The systems may be designed that way on purpose, but if that is so it’s a pretty sad state of affairs.
While this blog post series was going on, behind the scenes, a reporter for a natioanally-known newspaper began sniffing around the treadmill fiasco. Amazingly, someone from actual Sears Corporate (as opposed to the social media customer service peeps) reached out, promised that a nicer treadmill will be at his house within a week, and — here is a sign of true power — made the robocalls stop.
Will the treadmill actually show up on Monday? We don’t know. That’s what makes consumer reporting so exciting.
Sears Feels the Power of the Press [Discourse.net]