Where It Begins ... And Goes On And On ...

by , Aug 20, 2007, 5:00 AM
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I finally had to laugh. After 15 days of frustration and a couple of high-blood pressure moments, it actually turned funny. Maybe I had indeed gone off the deep end.

When the tenants of a condo unit I own two miles away needed a new air conditioner in early August, I looked around to see who sold wall-through units and found, to my delight, that I could order one at sears.com. (I can hear you groan already.)

Yes, the adventure was a long and painful one, involving untold hours on hold, disconnected lines, transfers and the unbearable conclusion that Sears has no concern in the least about one consumer--me.

I grew up on Sears. My mother shopped there for back-to-school clothes; I shopped there myself when my kids were younger and didn't care about brand names. I've bought many, many appliances through the years at Sears, the most recent a refrigerator not two years ago.

I thought Sears and I were on good terms. Not!

What is a marketer thinking when it turns consumers so permanently against it? During this fortnight of craziness, I googled "I hate Sears" in frustration and up popped too-many-to-count files and blogs in which consumers rant, rave and inveigh ruin upon Sears. Some of the stories are searingly told, in minute detail; it's a wonder the victims had the energy left to post them.

During my last go-round with someone at Sears named Batisia, I really blew my stack. She was calling on Aug. 14 to see if the installers had made contact with me. I asked for her last name in case it was needed, and she said Sears' policy precluded her from revealing it. (Yet, so often marketers insist consumers keep track of who they spoke with.) I then asked Batisia why this transaction was taking so long. She informed me that I'd only placed my order on Aug. 10. This was one of those aforementioned blood pressure moments. Steam ... flames! rose from my head. I insisted I had placed my order on Aug. 2 and volunteered to send her the e-mailed confirmation I had received from Sears, which included verification of the tenants' address.

"We can't accept e-mail."

I had read in a 2004 Brandweek article that when Sears CMO Janine Bousquette came on board in 2002, she brought a "penchant for technology-aided marketing solutions." I thought perhaps she could tell me why her company's representative--Batisia in this case--couldn't accept my e-mail. So I placed a call to Larry Costello, the director of media relations, and asked him to put me in touch with her. Neither she or Larry ever called.

So, on Aug. 16 I get a call from the subcontracted installers, saying they cannot reach my tenant. They have tried "both numbers." I had given Sears one. So I asked, "What's the other number you have?" When they told me, I just had to laugh. It was a work number I had not had since 1999. Maybe that's what Janine means by "technology-aided marketing solutions"? Hanging on to old phone numbers?

Or could she mean the e-mail I received (and am likely destined to receive ad infinitum) from Sears on Aug. 15 inviting me to check out "Cool accessories" for my tenant's air conditioner. Do air conditioners need handbags? Earrings? What could a consumer possibly need to "keep your new AC blasting high performance with accessories from Sears"?

In any case, I was delighted to read in The New York Times last week an article about how successfully Netflix is fighting off Blockbuster with real people, in the United States, who 1) answer the phone and 2) go out of their way to make the consumer happy.

There is hope.

P.S. As I was finishing this column, a van pulled up "to install your air conditioner. This is the address they gave us." Hahahahahahahahahaha ......

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