How to use social media to get better service

December 4 2012 by Ellen Roseman

Kavitha Nadarajah got a $7,000 energy-efficient KitchenAid refrigerator built into her kitchen in April 2007. It lasted just five years before it needed to be replaced.

Alas, the control board for her model wasn’t available any more. A factory in Japan had closed, leaving the appliance maker without parts.

KitchenAid customer service said it couldn’t do anything because the refrigerator was not under warranty. Later, it offered to deliver a similar model for $5,000 and then $4,000. The same model costs around $7,000 at Sears Canada.

“We are a family of four with two small kids and have been without a refrigerator for more than three weeks now. As you can imagine it is a frustrating experience,” she said.

“Besides, when we bought the energy efficient but expensive refrigerator, we expected it to last at least 10 years. It makes no sense, neither financially nor environmentally, to be forced to buy another refrigerator so soon.”

I sent the information to my Whirlpool contact in Michigan. But I can’t say for sure whose efforts made the difference, since Kavitha tried her own tactics.

She wrote about her appliance woes on her blog. She also posted her story at the Kitchenaid Facebook page.

Then, she got an offer to replace her broken fridge for $3,000. She’d been without one for more than a month.

In another blog update, she talked about spending $20,000 on KitchenAid appliances in five years and getting nothing but heartache.

That led to a better offer, which she accepted, to pay $500 for a model that wasn’t built in. (Its market value was around $3,000.)

“We asked for a similar deal from the beginning. They refused until I started to use social media to get their attention,” she told me.

There’s a final blog update here, talking about the lessons she learned. Don’t give up. Trust the power of social media.

“Even people without one million followers can use social media to spread their concerns,” she says, linking to a successful Twitter campaign about a failed Maytag dishwasher by moomy blogger Heather Armstrong in 2009. (She runs the very popular Dooce website.)

Since it took more than two months to resolve the issue, Kavitha has vowed never to buy any appliance brands owned by Whirlpool again. She won the social media battle, but lost her fight to get a new refrigerator just like the one that died prematurely.

Based on the complaints I get, I’d say most new appliances don’t last as long as they did before. They have more computer circuitry. They are subject to frequent changes. And the parts seem to be perennially out of stock.

I’ve written about this at my blog, here and here. And I’ve been hanging on to my old washing machine and dryer (now 20 years old and going strong), fearing their replacements may not be as durable.

I also had my own social media success in getting GE to pay for a glass oven door that shattered after only three years.

So, while I’m a fan of using Twitter to resolve consumer complaints, I’m concerned about the fragility of household appliances. Most people find it easier to throw them out than to fight for a low-cost repair or replacement from the manufacturer.

8 comments

  1. MrDisco

    Dec 5 2012

    I’m completely convinced that planned obsolescence is a part of the product design criteria.

    I have a friend who has a fridge from the ’80s that only last week gave up the ghost. That’s 40 (!) years of continued service.

    Granted it may not be as energy efficient, but it shows that products of today are not built with the same lasting standards.

    Sadly, when the entire market is controlled by only 2 or 3 manufacturers, there really is no incentive to offer long-lasting products.

  2. Canadian Budget Binder

    Dec 5 2012

    I agree appliances are not made to last like they used to and the costs to replace them are outrageous.

    I don’t blame her for shouting to the highest mountain until someone listened. It should never be this way.

    Social media has taken on a whole new level of “customer service” for retailers and businesses all over the world.

    Word of mouth has never spread as fast as the internet can and if that’s what it takes people will use that outlet.

    We have older appliances and although we wanted to buy new, someone warned us that you will never get the same quality, and I believe that. Nothing is made to last any more.

  3. Kathy

    Dec 23 2012

    It’s standard practice now to make things so they DON’T last long. Along the way, someone figured out that if something last long enough for you to be happy with it (say 5 years), then when it finally breaks down in that time, you’ll be more than happy to go buy from the same company. It means more continuous profits.

    If something a company makes lasts 20-40 years, the profit margin tends to be lower.

    The other problem is, especially with the fragile parts inside these machines, there really isn’t a proper way of delivering them.

    Consider they get moved from the factory they’re made in to a warehouse, to a sales floor to your home – and in that process, get jostled about like a pinball, regardless of the word “FRAGILE” stamped on their packaging.

    While the product may be promised to last 15 years. if you’re lucky, after all that, it may last only 7 years.

  4. Daniel

    Jan 21 2013

    Social media is the wave of the future. Social media is not becoming a part of customer service, but all our social communications.

    Will there be a time when people no longer talk on the phone?

  1. Weekend Reading - RRSPs for trips, Peter Hodson podcast and great blogs
  2. Weekend Reading - Using RRSPs for trips, Peter Hodson podcast and great blogs
  3. Mr.CBB’s Blog Post Picks December 7, 2012-Almost Christmas « Canadian Budget Binder
  4. Dec 17: Best from the blogosphere « Save with SPP

Leave a comment