Sears’ Service Makes Customer for Life

Discussion
Nov 16, 2010

By George Anderson

Many of the articles on The Consumerist website read
as though they were penned for a fictitious show called "Stupid Retailing
Tricks." That’s
part of what makes a recent story on the site all the more noteworthy.

An auto
mechanic and reader of the site wrote to explain that a 1/8th-inch Craftsman
socket wrench passed down to him from his father broke. He went to the local
Kmart that sold the brand because there was a lifetime guarantee on the tools.

When
the individual went to Kmart he was told he would "have to go to Sears" to
address the issue.

Rather than make the trip to a Sears, he went home that night
and emailed the acting CEO of Sears, W. Bruce Johnson. The next morning, the
customer received a call from Rafeh Masood, VP of store operations for the
retailer, who apologized and did three things:


  1. Provided the customer with his cell phone number.
  2. Arranged for the person to meet with the district manager to take care
    of the exchange for a new tool personally. The manager said that all Kmart
    employees at the location would be trained to handle similar situations properly
    as would all others in the district.
  3. Handed over a gift certificate for $50.

According to The Consumerist, the reader wrote, "This made my opinion
of Sears/Kmart do a full 180 and I really think your readers should know that
they really seem to be putting serious effort into customer satisfaction."

Separately,
Mr. Masood appears in a YouTube video where he discusses Sears’ commitment
to customer service. He offers a toll free help line that he promises will
be answered within a minute and by someone based in the United States. Mr.
Masood goes one step further and provides his own phone for contact if Sears’
customers are unhappy with their experience for any reason.

Discussion Questions: Do you see Sears as changing a culture that has been
labeled as unfriendly to customers to one where service is a priority? How
is it being accomplished?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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25 Comments on "Sears’ Service Makes Customer for Life"


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Paula Rosenblum
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

My personal experience with Sears is that the company really does have great service. I brought in a broken microwave that was still on warranty. I have to use this particular model because of space considerations. They didn’t have my replacement in stock, but actually gave me a loaner and brought it out to my car for me. I was contacted promptly when the new one came in.

I just dearly wish Sears could get itself out of the apparel business. The company does some really good things with appliances, electronics, and lawn and garden (etc). Apparel really drags it down.

It’s nice to say something nice about them for a change!

Max Goldberg
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

Bravo for Sears! This is what customer service is all about. All of us have Sears customer service horror stories. If Sears can ingrain this customer service ethic throughout its stores, it should see sales rise as a result.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

Maybe. The story illustrates a different point to me. Why did Sears introduce the Craftsman program into Kmart without proper training? The old Craftsman line of hand tools had lifetime guarantees and honoring an existing guarantee is hardly the sign of a new dawn. Giving the guy $50 is a direct result of his writing to the CEO. If he hadn’t escalated it that far he would not have gotten the money. I’m sure he would have rather had the problem handled correctly in the first place.

Marge Laney
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

Isn’t this what Sears was known for ‘way back when’? With all the additions Sears has made recently in merchandising and product offering that has put them back in the race, getting back to their roots with great service is just what is needed to catapult them ahead. Customer service in the discount department store arena is non-existent as the customer trades service for cheap prices.

If Sears can deliver great value and helpful service they will not only win back customers they will be able to pay for the effort with less discounting and better margins. They won’t win the discount slugfest with Walmart, but they will get back to the business of building a strong brand that delivers great value and memorable service; a winning combination.

Rick Moss
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

From Paula’s positive experience, my own (atrocious) one buying a dryer last year, and Ryan’s point about integrating the Craftsman program into Kmart, I think what’s obvious is that there are massive organizational inconsistencies. They need to a) get their houses in order and then, b) push a high-profile campaign of extreme customer service. However, I think we all doubt that “a” is feasible.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
10 years 6 months ago
This story is a little surprising. Over the years, my experience with Sears service, particularly with Craftsman products, has always been exemplary. If the tool broke, no matter how old, it was replaced no questions asked. Indeed, the service level in all the Sears hardlines was always terrific. Great service was simply a part of the Sears culture. One that apparently was not grafted successfully onto Kmart, which was/is, a self-service discounter. Going further, the issue with Sears has never been the service. The typical Sears associate is very professional and takes pride in their competency and product knowledge. Nor is it in the hard lines offering. Craftsman and Kenmore are, in my view at least, as good as if not better than any alternative. The issue is that Sears has never been able to figure out the soft side of the business, where the volume potential and margins reside. Nor have they been able to maintain their brand relevance in a rapidly evolving environment. Great service can’t overcome these problems.
Ben Ball
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

Three points came to mind when I read this thread and someone has already hit all of them. They were, in order — 1) this is what Sears used to be, 2) Sears has never been the same since they discovered “their softer side” (i.e. apparel), and 3) this never should have happened in the first place.

It’s a rare morning indeed when I am channeling three people as wise as Marge, Paula and Ryan. I’d better make some new business calls today….

Steve Montgomery
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

My Sears story doesn’t quite match some of the ones above, but I did have the ratchet part of a socket set break after owning it for 35+ years. Took it into my local Sears store and they immediately replaced it (albeit with a reconditioned one). The lifetime guarantee is why I have always purchased Sears Craftsman tools.

I do agree that had he not escalated the issue we would likely not be reading about the story. My mother who retired from Sears always told me that when making a complaint go to the highest person you can find as they are the most likely to handle the issue in the manner you want.

Kevin Graff
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

Wouldn’t this be great news if it wasn’t just a ‘Kodak moment’? Who wouldn’t want Sears to come back strong and be known once again as the place to go to for great service?

The challenge is that department stores in general are somewhat irrelevant to most consumers. They are being ‘out retailed’ by specialty retailers and mass merchants. If there is a place for players like Sears in the marketplace it will have to be on the service front. That’s a big leap for them to make consistently. Here’s hoping they really are in it for the long haul.

David Biernbaum
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

For many years Sears has survived its own reputation for mediocre customer service. It’s always nice when a customer can get in touch with a CEO or top level executive to resolve a problem, however, companies that are customer-service oriented do establish systems and empower employees to resolve issues for customers on the spot. This is what Sears and many other retail chains need to work on, in my opinion. It’s not always so easy to reach the guy running the company!

James Tenser
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

This is more of a good news story for the Craftsman brand than for Sears/Kmart. The lifetime guarantee on Craftsman hand tools has been easy to maintain, since forged steel items so rarely break. The anecdotal store staffer who refused to honor the guarantee needed training and guidance.

Mr. Masood does well by declaring in the video that the buck stops with him. But he’d do even better by empowering, enabling and requiring store staff to honor the policy promptly and cheerfully. I think he misses an opportunity here by speaking too vaguely; and he may unintentionally undermine the company’s positive intent by suggesting that shoppers must deal with headquarters to obtain service satisfaction.

It’s in-store that counts, Rafeh! You’ve clearly got the attitude right. Next, work on better aligning the customer-facing practices.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

This is such a great example of how a retailer can make a situation turn positive for the consumer. What does it truly cost the retailer to make a customer feel great about shopping their stores? All too often, other retailers almost have to “prove a point” that the customer is wrong, and in the mean time, the retailer loses the customer’s lifetime value simply because one transaction out of a hundred or more was a challenge.

There are great examples of other retailers who also take the time to not only train their employees, but through the corporate culture, actually enable their employees to make a situation right for the customer. This costs so little compared to how much a customer spends over the years at that retailer.

Sears has done an exemplary job in keeping that existing customer. It is ALWAYS easier and less costly to keep existing customers, rather than try to acquire new ones.

Bill Hanifin
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

Here’s an exercise that would have benefited Sears, Kmart and their collective customers:

Pull together store operations and management and have a brainstorming session to capture as many possible customer use cases as possible interacting with the two brands. Once catalogued, create a standard response and then translate that to store staffs via training.

The way Sears cured the issue in the story is fantastic, but a little planning in advance (not brain science) would have probably identified this potential situation and prevented it from happening at all.

Michael Tesler
Guest
Michael Tesler
10 years 6 months ago

This is not about individual experiences or a CEO capitalizing on a PR opportunity but an entire body of work which is just not good. The Kmart employees in the original example were clueless about what to do and were trained after the fact…NOT BEFORE, as it should be and as it always is in real customer-oriented environments. Stores that act reactively like Sears/Kmart generally are the “service poor” and those that are proactive and in tune with their customers are “service rich.”

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

The customer in the article obviously knew how to get the problem resolved. He went to the highest person in the Sears food chain. The results were what should have happened without even an email to the CEO. The store should have the authority to make the exchange thus generating good will on the spot. This is what Sears needs to do. They need to stop tripping on their own inconsistencies when it comes to Customer Service.

Looking at the previous comments we see “atta boys” and “uhohs.” I get the sense Sears is working at it. But I don’t think all the people are pulling in the same direction yet. Maybe time will allow them to get their act together. I am pulling for them.

Kelly Ruschman
Guest
Kelly Ruschman
10 years 6 months ago

It’s about time Sears woke up, because due to a horrific customer service experience I had a few years back I swore I would never shop there again. Over the years I had spent thousands of dollars on appliances, electronics and tools, but learned that they really didn’t [care]. I am still doubtful that things have changed, but now I may be willing to take another look.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
10 years 6 months ago

It’s commendable that Sears made good with this customer, and I suppose it does illustrate that Sears cares, but to me this is mostly a story about failure to execute. I’m with those who’ve said this represents a real organizational breakdown on the company’s part. Sears, like many major retailers, still suffers a disconnect between good intentions and effective store-level execution.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

Superficially, this is of course one of those “feel good” stories; but realistically, am I to believe Sears’ CFO–or even one of their (no doubt numerous) VPs–handles complaints on a case-by-case basis? If not, then the this handling is likely to create disappointment down the line when others don’t receive comparable treatment. If so, then we’ve discovered why it seems like no one is running the company…no one actually is.

Robert Heiblim
Guest
Robert Heiblim
10 years 6 months ago
Well, first full disclosure as I have had mostly really terrible customer service interactions with Sears OTHER than with Craftsman tools which were handled well. As well, the story points out the problem – Why would one NEED to get a VP involved in order to get good service? It is NOT good service to force the consumer to elevate the issue through multiple levels of management in order to get a good outcome. First, by the time it happens in general the consumer simply “expects” the $50 gift card or refund or whatever step taken to heal the wound. Next, it is extremely expensive to use senior executives for individual customer service. Another poster put it well, which is what was Sears thinking in NOT having their guarantee executed at Kmart, a sister company on its own brand? That does not show good marketing or good service. Empowerment of employees to solve consumer issues as they arise is the correct path, but too often these employees worry over punitive actions if they solve the… Read more »
Mike Wittenstein
Guest
Mike Wittenstein
10 years 6 months ago

It’s one thing to take a single instance (from presumably thousands nationwide) and make a big deal about it. It’s another to have the systems in place to make such behavior natural. And it’s quite another to have the systems and training to make sure that things get handled right (on brand) the first time.

Craftsman can still count on a strong brand. it’s recent advertising (for tools) is working and helping a new generation of do-it-yourselfers trust the name and the company. The product selection has grown admirably–especially in the ‘I-never-knew-I-needed-one-of-those-tools’ category.

So, the product people are listening and responding to customers. Now, Sears needs to raise its game with its staff. They need to know more, listen more, help more, and learn how to be relevant to their customers.

What’s your experience with Sears like? Agree or not and why?

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 6 months ago
How did this guy get the CEO’s email address? That’s what impresses me in this story. I must not be included in the “All of us” who “have Sears customer service horror stories,” because during “all of” my many service encounters there I have never been anything but pleased. This goes all the way back to ’75 when we purchased our first washer, dryer, and couch, right up to the monster tool chest I bought last year. James Tenser points this discussion in the right direction, I believe. In two supermarket chains where I was in a position to do so, I changed the return/exchange/refund policy from store manager approval to approval by everyone. It took some training, but the happy sounds from customers were terrific. Sure, we got ripped off a little – like returning a picked-clean turkey carcass for a replacement – but overall it worked like a charm. Plus, this change improved morale significantly among the employees who were now empowered to make decisions. As James T. suggests, this tack (or tactic)… Read more »
Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

The story is typical of most retailers who mistakenly think they provide good service. If a customer has to “kick and scream” to get what they want/desire/deserve then they aren’t the recipient of good service. They’re merely a problem the retailer has chosen to resolve.

Do you see the difference and why this is an example of very poor service?

Good service is the result of never having a story like this to be told. It’s what companies like The Four Seasons and The Ritz-Carlton have perfected; the processes, training and intuition necessary to ensure the entire experience with their company is positive.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

It is painful to talk about Sears. As I mentioned before, my father was a Sears employee and therefore I grew up in a Sears/Kenmore/Craftman household.

To see what the company has become hurts! But still, after all these years, reinventions, successes and failures, customers still find something they rely on Sears for. How many people REMEMBER that Sears gave a lifetime guarantee on Craftsman tools? This guy did. And good on Sears for owning up to it.

The strategy for Sears should be: Review your roots, go with the core principles the company started with, and use the Richard Branson technique; create a business that makes available products and services the customer can’t get from any other retailer. Sears had made such an imprint on American retailing, there is still life for Sears/Craftsman/Kenmore, etc. But the company better hurry, those past loyal customers or those that remember Sears quality are passing away. Only a thin strand to hang on to, but it can be done.

Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
10 years 6 months ago

Being quite familiar with what Sears is doing to create loyalty and engagement, I can tell you this is not your father’s Sears.

Mark Price
Guest
Mark Price
10 years 5 months ago

For a retailer to succeed, they must combine breathtaking customer experience with products and services that consumers want, at a price they can afford.

Sears has two of those attributes. Their pricing is perceived as generally fair, and they have pockets of great customer experience. They still need more, but seem to be moving in that direction.

What they lack are contemporary, high-demand products. They have been outflanked by Home Depot on the tools side, Best Buy on the appliance side and many retailers on the clothing side. What they end up with is a little bit of many categories, a hold-over from past days when Sears functioned as the local general store.

Focus, focus, focus. Sacrifice is the essence of positioning and Sears will have to give up some categories to succeed over the long-term in their core.

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