Sunday, March 30, 2014

Marketing and More: A tale of two Sears letters

Cruises - dinners - hotel accommodations - theater tickets - gift cards - amusement park tickets - merchandise... it's a long list of what I've received over the years from companies apologizing when their product or service failed to match their marketing promise. The list is even longer when you include letters I've written for family and friends.

I also write letters of compliment when I am extremely satisfied with a product or service or when an employee has gone above and beyond expectations. If warranted, I'll post a positive online review.

Washing Machine - RIP

A recent experience with my sears credit card Kenmore washing machine highlights what happens when customer service and marketing promises collide.

Our washing machine finally died on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013. After a respectable mourning period - about five minutes - I drove to the Sears store in the Buena Park Mall to purchase a new unit. The saleswoman said the first available delivery day was Sunday, Dec. 29 - four weeks later!

Although I've been a rather loyal Sears Kenmore customer for many years, I should have canceled the order rather than wait four weeks for delivery.

Pay now, receive merchandise later

Finally, the washing machine was delivered and installed. Receiving what I thought was the first statement, I was dumbfounded that Sears had charged me a $25 late charge along with $8.42 in interest charges.

Annoyed about the late fee and finance charge, I wrote two letters:

  • Letter #1 - to the customer service department using the address listed on the credit card statement.
  • Letter #2 - to Edward Lampert, chief executive officer of Sears Roebuck & Co.

Sears responds

A few weeks later, the Sears Cardmember Services department sent me a form letter stating there was nothing they could do about the $25 late charge or $8.42 interest charge.

A few days later, "BR," Sears Blue Ribbon Service Case Manager, wrote to me on behalf of CEO Lampert:

Post office box versus CEO office

Let's review the situation. Unhappy that Sears began its billing cycle the day I placed the order although the item could not be delivered until four weeks later, I wrote to the Sears Customer Service department via their post office box and the Sears CEO.

Results of my letter to the Sears Cardmember customer service department:

      Received a callous form letter stating that they couldn't do anything about the $25 late fee or $8.42 charge.

Results of my letter to CEO Lampert:

  • Received a heartfelt email message with an apology stating I am valued as a Sears customer.
  • Received a Sears $25 gift card.
  • Received removal of the $25 late charge from my credit card statement.
  • Received removal of the $8.42 interest charge from my credit card statement.
  • Received assurance that the late charge was not reported to any credit agencies.

Is my experience unique?

In "A Day at Sears Reveals Pitfalls of Retail Tech Implementation," author Michael Hickins discusses Sears' effort to improve its customer service with technology. His article begins with -

How YOU can get results

Viewers of the popular CBS program "Undercover Boss" know that disguised CEOs are often shocked to discover that their view from the board room isn't the same as the view from the stock room.

If you have an issue with a product or service, here are my suggestions to improving your chances for a positive conclusion:

  • Write to the address listed on the credit card statement so the system notes that that you sent a response. At the same time, write to the chief executive officer.
  • Be respectful to customer service representatives since they are often limited in what they can do. Keep notes as to when you called and who you spoke with.
  • Stick to the facts and include metrics; keep emotions to a bare minimum.
  • Do not say/write that you are going to take your future business elsewhere. Instead reiterate your loyalty. After all, if you are no longer going to be a customer, why should the company care about resolving your issue?
  • Ask for the response in writing (email or letter). This way, you have documentation.

If you ever find yourself disappointed, don't just post, tweet and tell family and friends. Contact the company's CEO and you might be pleasantly surprised to find that they truly want their product or service to parallel their company's marketing promises. At the same time, when satisfied with a product or service, write and post a letter of compliment.

For more information on current conditions in retail, read KPMB's Retail Outlook Survey for 2013 (pdf).

Editor's note: we recently had to replace a dead dryer, and I went to the very same Sears store. According to the sales clerk, washers and dryers labeled Whirlpool, Maytag, or Kenmore are manufactured by the same company! I am happy to report that our new dryer was delivered the very next day - the difference, I suspect, being that we weren't buying during the holiday shopping season.

About the Author

Robin Marlena Itzler has worked in some facet of marketing, communications or training throughout her career. Recognized for her marketing expertise, Robin is theMarketing Maven for the "Orange County Breeze," where her columns intertwine marketing and politics. She also authors the Pet Tails feature in the monthly "Breeze" print edition and Market My Words in Pet Sitters International's "World" magazine. As a training coordinator and public speaker, Robin is involved with a variety of projects - facilitating public speaking, writing and generational differences workshops. She and her husband own Royal Care Pet Sitting, which has been serving pet owners since 1998. Their love for animals began as humane shelter volunteers where for nearly 20 years they walked and bathed rescued dogs. A former NASD licen sed securities representative, Robin once served as president of the Animal Assistance League of Orange County In 2011, she founded Motivate Your Something. Along with her autobiography, Life Is an Open Seating, Robin promotes her belief that everyone has at least one challenge in life that makes getting to the starting line harder. What is Robin's something? She is legally deaf.

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