Dear CEO of Best Buy:

You must be so proud.

To which you might well say: why, yes! But have you a specific reason in mind? I do. Two years ago I bought an Electrolux Icon dishwasher from your big flagship store, the one a few blocks away from the corporate mothership. It wasn’t the cheapest on the floor, but it matched the new fridge, and I was assured of its top-notch quality. Slam that door, feel the solidity! Whisper quiet. You could run it during a performance of John Cage’s 4’ 33” and no one would hear it.

I’ll admit that I didn’t love it the way I loved the fridge, because it didn’t have Theater Lighting. You’ve heard the term? You open the door of the fridge, the lights come on . . . gradually. They rise to the occasion, as though every meal is opening night. I’ve gotten used to it, of course – isn’t that just how things go? The most extraordinary things become commonplace – but guests are still impressed. They wonder if they should get an Electrolux Icon appliance, and I have to tell them to be careful.

The fridge broke the first day we had it, after all.

Well, no. That’s not true. Something can’t break if if doesn’t work in the first place. The complex electronics that governed the ice and water dispensers were DOA, so the installers had to send away for a replacement. I wasn’t particularly happy about this, but it did take my mind off the other faults of the installation, the way the plastic sheeting was ripped off with such carelessness it left knotted wads on the hinges that had to be removed with a small scissors, or the fact that the doors didn’t quite line up, and the handles of the fridge had to be tightened – by me – so they were flush with the door. I might have gotten allll bent out of shape about that; you know how ridiculously fussy “consumers” can be when everything isn’t perfect. Are you rolling your eyes in amused sympathy? Me too! People. They expect so much.

Anyhoo, sir, the dishwasher worked for a while, and that was just great. After a year, it seemed unhappy with its lot in life – you had to press the “START” button repeatedly to get it to work, but hey, I hate Mondays too. Then it quit working. All the buttons went dead. If you know the Icon series – and I’m sure you do; you sell it – the buttons are located on the inside of the door, and it seems that the clever engineers at Electrolux didn’t quite take into account the presence of “water” in a dishwasher. A little googlin’ around told me this wasn’t an unusual complaint, but you know people on the internet. Bitch, bitch, bitch.

Still, it did seem odd that a dishwasher should stop working because it was confounded by moisture.

But it looks great! And it’s so quiet. Even more so when it’s not working.

We washed the dishes for a week, by hand, waiting for the technician. He showed up, took a look, and said the problem was the control panel. It’s always nice to have your suspicions confirmed by a professional, eh? He ordered the part and went away and we washed dishes by hand for a week and then he returned, put in a new control panel, and went away. Nice fellow. Had breath that would melt the paint on a battleship, but nice guy.

That was two months ago. Saturday the control panel stopped working again.

So I went to the store, the flagship store of which the company seems so proud, and asked to speak to a manager. I forget her name, but if you ask who’s the most emotionally remote and unfriendly manager in the store, I’m sure you could get an ID. I explained my situation. I said the product was unacceptable. I said I was willing to exchange it for a dishwasher from a brand I trusted, even though the unit was $300 less than I’d paid. (LG, if you’re curious. I have 4 LG appliances, and they’ve performed like champs for years.)

She said it wasn’t Best Buy’s problem. After 30 days it was out of their hands. I would have to take it up with the manufacturer.

I want you to consider how one might feel in such a situation, because “the manufacturer” is located God knows where, and seems quite unlikely that “the manufacturer” would say oh hell yeah, here’s your money, buy something else, sorry bro. She said the unit would have to fail four times before it was Best Buy’s problem.

Well. I went home, called the Geek Squad. Asked to speak to a manager. This would be Saturday, Oct. 03. I got “Tanya.” I began the conversation by telling Tanya she had an opportunity to keep me as a customer, and -

What? Do think I was yelling? Being abusive? Sarcastic? Listen to the tapes. After all, I was informed that the conversation might be recorded for quality assurance. You’ll hear me speak with a certain . . . conviction, but I was civil. I explained my frustrations.

As it happens, I was on a cordless, and I was outside, so I was literally facing a brick wall while I was talking to one. Tanya explained that the unit had to fail four times before anything could be done. That was the alpha and omega of the situation. It would have been nice if Tanya had expressed sympathy or tendered an apology at that point, but it’s not her job, I guess.

It’s Tanya’s job to tell me what the customer isn’t going to get. If that’s what the rules say.

Now. I don’t run a big company, and I have no inside know-how on the vagaries of handling customer complaints – Gosh, I bet you get a lot! But I would suggest, with all due respect, that the customer profile database be tweaked somehow so you can see, for your own benefit, that a customer who bought two top-of-the-line appliances has had failures with each one, and tie this information into a repair / failure database. Surely some program could tell you that the cost of satisfying the customer NOW is less than the cost of making four trips to repair the SAME. STUPID. POORLY. DESIGNED. PART, and said customer might buy another appliance, or speak favorably of the experience to others, or refrain from issuing twitter updates to 10,000 people.

Heard of Twitter? Yes? Okay, then.

Since she couldn’t do anything for me, she set up an appointment to repair the unit. We had to choose a date on a Saturday, because I work. I suggested they order the defective control panel now so it can be installed on Saturday, but she said the technicians don’t get their assignments until the day they go out. So next Saturday’s visit is just a formality, I guess. It will take a week to get the part, and I hope they can show up on the next Saturday, because otherwise I will be washing dishes for three weeks.

There was a problem with the computer while Tanya was setting up the appointment, by the way. Long periods of silence. I had to keep saying “hello” to make sure we were still connected.

I’ll give Tanya this: she did apologize for the delay in setting up the repair. It was the only moment of apology I got, but at least there was that.

I mentioned that you should be proud. When I was at the store – you know, the flagship store, where over the years I’ve bought the fridge, the dishwasher, three coffeemakers, a microwave, a vacuum, an electric guitar, two TVs, four hard drives, and innumerable other items – I asked the manager what she would say if the CEO of Best Buy came to her and said he’d bought an expensive dishwasher that failed once, and failed again two months after a repair.

She said she would tell him it had to fail four times.

There you go! Little person, big cheese – the same laws apply to all. If the appliances you have in your home fail, and you have to go through the same things I’ve been through, I’ve no doubt you’ll take time off from work to wait for the repairman; can’t possibly imagine you picking up a phone and telling someone to swap out that piece of crap for something that works. Rules are rules. Why, the manager may have thought I WAS the CEO, and was testing her.

She went by the book. I’m sure there have been many seminars and team meetings and internal memos about the absolute importance of going by the book. They worked! Mission accomplished! Customer lost, but procedure observed.

As I said: you must be so proud.


James Lileks
Reward Zone member


105 Responses to Monday, Oct. 05

  1. Dave S. says:

    My first reaction to reading this was, “Best Buy? Why didn’t he go to Warners Stellian?” Everybody’s experience is different, but we have had nothing but positive experiences there.

    I won’t go to Best Buy anymore. Bought a TV from them and had the geek squad install it. They sold me over $100 of needless cables that I found on the floor while trying to get the TV to work after the “geeks” left. When I returned the cables, they would not refund my money. They finally gave me a gift card with a partial credit. I still haven’t used it because I cannot bear to go into their store.

    I do think James would have better retail experiences if he stayed away from the big box guys and patronized his local merchants a little more often.

  2. BJM says:

    @Seattle Dave

    Crocs is having the same problem with their eponymous mules/sandals, not enough replacement turnover.

  3. bubba says:

    I’ve had good luck dealing directly with manufacturers. Both Vizio and GE have bought back defective items. In the case of Vizio, it was well after the warranty expired. Viewsonic took good care of me.

    The merchants are just middle men.

  4. Buba says:

    The big box stores put the mom and pop stores out of business. Mom and pop lived in the community, their kids wen to school with your kids, and you saw them at the firehouse barbeque. Of course they stood behid thier product, they could not afford the public hummilation! Of couse, everyone really only buyus based on price. SO if the LG is cheaper that the Whirlpool, they buy it, assuming the excess price is pure profit big wig. Did you ever think better parts may cost more money? O maybe a higher price is used to cover a decent repair/coverage policy? Best Buy buys many thousands of dishwashers, so the get a volume discount. Of course to offer the cheaper product, the product has to be outsourced overseas, and purchase through buying groups, distribution cartels, and a million other middlemen. So Bust buy cant call their Whirpool sales rep and say fix Mr. Jones appliance, there is no salesman, just a corporate contracts team. Face it, it the hunt for CHEAP, we dug our own grave!

  5. Robert says:

    This seems to be common since Best Buy is the only store of its kind left.

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