Sears Canada: measuring the wrong service metrics

by alec on February 9, 2007

Customer loyalty is one of those things that you have to work really hard to preserve.  It takes a long time to build a brand around great service, but it can be easily destroyed by making a few, innocent enough, but cumulatively poor, customer facing decisions.

Take the example of Sears Canada.  In May of last year, the Saunders household sent up a call for help.  Our new-ish washer / driver combo had just come out of the extended warranty, and had a rather catastrophic failure.  Water was pouring all over the floor when the washer filled.  A call to Sears resulted in a $300 repair.  The overall experience was entirely dissatisfying, and we felt we had been badly treated.  In fact, I was so peeved with Sears that I wrote about it here.  That post has since become a bit of a magnet for unhappy Sears customers, attracting four or five new (and usually lengthy) comments per month from people who need a place to air their beefs with Sears.  Most of those posts start with “I’ll never buy another Sears product again.”

Imagine my surprise yesterday when 268 days later a Sears Canada employee named Trevyn Davis dropped by and left comments!  But rather than be contrite, the comments were in fact a defense of Sears Canada’s policies. Some examples:

  • For rural areas, Sears Canada contracts repairs out to third parties.  The third parties are supposed to contact you within 24 hours.  According to Trevyn, “If no contact has been made within 48 hours, it is your responsibility to contact our 800 number so we may then let the service unit know that no contact has been made.” Why is it the customer’s responsibility to hound Sears?  Why wouldn’t the service unit simply follow up with the contractor directly?  Better yet, why doesn’t Sears require that the contractor follow up with them?
  • In defending Sears practice of giving a time window for the tech to arrive, rather than a specific time, Trevyn writes: “Call outs with the estimated time of arrival should come the morning of service. That’s when the print outs of all service calls are reviewed and scheduled and assigned to each technician. We can’t guarantee a time, because we don’t know where that technician will be enroute. We don’t know where they are…they are on the road doing their job. We are not the only company who gives out estimated time of arrival. We do that more so to gurantee service that day. Some company’s will go as far as a 12 hour window with no estimated time of arrival. You just know that you have to wait for service. ”  Well, no, it IS a terrible customer experience. Sears doesn’t call until the day they’re going to come.  Most of us have schedules that book up a week or more in advance.  They can’t give an estimate of when they’ll be there.  And then they justify this policy by saying, in essence, some of our competitors are worse.  Trevyn finishes this little paragraph with this gem, “Four hours really isn’t that bad and if all you’re doing is sitting and thinking about how Sears has screwed you over, then of course…in your mind we do have terrible customer service and it will be a miserable expeirience that you should go and rant off to your friends and anybody else that will listen. Everybody is free to their opinion, as closed minded as it may be.

You can read the rest of it yourself.  There are some gems like “”it’s all in your use and care guide“, and “it’s all in your contract, you just have to read it carefully…after all you did sign it“.  That’s the last thing an irate customer wants to hear.

Sears Canada is making a classic mistake with this approach.  They’re measuring the wrong thing.  Rather than focus on customer satisfaction, they’re measuring costs.  Otherwise they’d be more flexible with the warranty support, and they’d ensure that technicians carry the necessary parts in their trucks.  Rather than think through the experience from a customer perspective, they’re focused on efficiency.  Otherwise they’d offer service times days ahead so that customers could plan their days, and they’d offer specific scheduled times so that customers didn’t have to spend hours waiting.

And never mind the spokesperson who answered complaints 268 days later.  Painting the customer as unreasonable, or stupid is hardly a winning strategy.

When you’re designing the support programs for your company, keep an eye on some of these classic mistakes.  Be empathetic to your customers; bend over backwards to make sure they’re satisfied; recognize before you pick up the phone that the person on the other end is already upset, and make sure the call is a good experience; solve the customers problem; and build processes to support making the customer experience as positive as possible.

Measure satisfaction, not truck rolls and phone call duration.