I am a former Sears / A&E Tech Manager and I understand everyone’s pain dealing with repairs with Sears and A&E Factory Service, which many of you know, are in fact one in the same company. And that’s why you receive the same service, or lack of service, whether you purchased your product at Sears or some other appliance dealer.
Many of us have trusted Sears and their products for many years. One thing we must remember about Sears is that “SEARS MAKES NOTHING” Sears sources their products from other manufacturers and places the Kenmore or Craftsman brand name on them. Consumers trusted the products they purchased from Sears, mainly because in years past, the products were quality products and although Sears didn’t manufacturer them, Sears stood behind the product, the service and most of all, were dedicated to ‘Customer Satisfaction’.
But companies in order to make shareholder’s money have cut costs on product components. Parts are manufactured overseas and that increases availability time and cost. Now, I have nothing against overseas manufacturing, many quality goods are manufactured overseas and it certainly enables the US consumer to live the American Dream, but we are not seeing the quality and longevity of products that we are accustomed to having in the past. Let’s face it, I don’t expect my DVD player to last as long as my refrigerator, but I do expect my refrigerator to last many years, or at least longer than my DVD player.
During my experience as a tech manager, I have seen many brand new $1,500 - $1,800 refrigerators stop cooling within a week after being delivered at the customer’s home. Most of the time it’s the ‘Compressor’, the heart of the cooling system, which has stopped working. Now the consumer can complain to the retail store until they are blue in the face, but Sears will not replace the unit, they will send out a technician, who most likely will not have this particular compressor in his truck stock. The technician will have to order the compressor and come back in about 7 – 8 days to evacuate the sealed Freon system, braze in a new compressor, test for leaks and replace with new Freon. Nor Sears or any other retail store wants this refrigerator back, why?? Because they can’t resell it as new.
In part, the lack of quality on major appliances is due to the consumer. Consumers want stylish appliances with 20 wash cycles or an in-door water and ice dispenser that enable us to have either ice cubes or crushed ice, water or juice, a clock and a cute illuminated night light. Very convenient, but we want all this convenience for a very affordable price. Manufacturers don’t want your refrigerator to last 20 years, as it did years ago. Sears just monopolizes on poor manufacturing. By the way, that electronic control board is about $500.00, + Labor. And if you’re fortunate, you’ll be within the warranty period or have paid for a Sears Protection Agreement.
As I said, I am a former Sears / A&E Tech Manager; I have heard many customers complain about the products and the service. So, possibly I can enlighten the consumer on the Sears / A&E In-Home Product Repair business.
Let’s start from the beginning. Mrs. Consumer has a problem with her appliance and calls
1-800-4-MY-HOME. This call is connected to a Call Center in Round Rock, Texas, where you will be greeted by a representative. If you are a first time caller, the Rep will need to create a new account for you. If you are a repeat caller, your account will be on their computer system. Your account will have the usual customer name, address, telephone number(s) and a list of all your appliances with purchase dates, model/serial numbers and whether you have a Protection Agreement on that appliance.
You cannot ask any technical questions to the Rep, because they only make appointments. You cannot be transferred to anyone for Technical Assistance. Your only option is to set up a service call on a mutually agreed date, either an AM or PM appointment. The Rep does one other very important part of their job description; they will “push the sale of a Protection Agreement (PA)”.
Protection Agreements are the life blood of Sears. Protection Agreement pricing structures vary greatly from product to product. They are historically and statistically priced by the cost and frequency of component failures. One important fact to remember when being solicited to purchase a Protection Agreement; once you purchase it… you are locked into Sears / A&E as your repair company. And once your locked in, you, as the consumer are locked in to missed appointments, late running technicians, waiting at least a 7 – 10 days for a part and the ultimate frustration, after waiting a week or so for the part, either the part arrives broken or once the part is installed, the appliance still does not work and another part needs to be ordered. And YES!! This happens daily in the life of as Sears / A&E technician.
Getting back to your service appointment date. Your service date is directly connected to ‘CAPACITY’. Capacity relates to the number of Technicians (that work on your appliance) and the geographic area in which you live. Capacity is fed into a computer by the Regional Routing Center. Daily capacity is built by the number of technicians scheduled to work in any given day by location and industry. Capacity is built like airline companies sell seats………… they overbook!!
Sears has the ability and does overbook technicians, why?? Because they know there is always the possibility that on the day of the scheduled appointment, either the customer has forgotten about the appointment and went out, or the customer has cancelled because of any number of reasons. But a customer, who has waited a week for a scheduled appointment for a refrigerator that is not cooling, will not forget about the appointment. Also, there is a process in place, which automatically telephones the customer the night before the scheduled appointment to remind them of the service call. The District Management also has the authority to force overtime capacity into the technician’s schedule, which they have done.
Everyone in the Sears Product Repair business is rated on PRODUCTIVITY. From the District Service General Manager, the District Technical Manager, the Technical Managers and the Technicians. Productivity within Sears / A&E is rated on the number of jobs (Service Calls) per day. When a customer is ‘not home’ or ‘cancels’ their scheduled appointment that reduces the number of service calls the technician has on his route that day. Sears will do everything in their power to insure a technician does not complete his route early.
There are many reasons why a Technician is late for their scheduled AM or PM appointment. I have already touched on the practice of overbooking. When a technician has a full route and there are no cancellations or not at home’s, most likely, the technician will run late on his/her AM appointments, which has a domino affect on their remaining route. Worst case scenario, the technician may not complete his/her route that day and service calls will need to be rescheduled.
Another reason why technicians run late is because frankly, the appliance refuses to cooperate and it takes longer than normal to complete the diagnosis and/or repair. One of the biggest complaints technicians have is that there in not enough time allotted for the repairs. Each repair is allotted a certain amount of time which equates to the number of parts to be replaced. I have seen the auto-routing software schedule 5 AM appointments for a technician, with considerable drive time to each customer.
Additionally, Tech Managers have been known to add emergency service calls to technician’s daily routes. Emergency service calls are added because of irate customers, who may have been rescheduled the day before, or a multi-attempt repair that has stopped working, once again.
Another big frustration by customers are Reschedules. Reschedules at Sears are a way of life. Customers *** from work, wait all day for the technician to arrive and they never show. Why?? Well, overbooking can play a role in reschedules, adding an emergency service call to a technician’s route can also contribute to a reschedule. Some common reasons are sickness and truck breakdowns. When a technician calls out sick in the morning, there may be 10 -12 service calls on their route that day. Now, given the fact that technicians’ routes are overbooked by design, doesn’t provide an avenue to redistribute 10 – 12 service calls to other technicians. Also, technicians do get sick during the day and elect to go home prior to completing their route. And of course truck breakdowns, their mechanical and are subject to breakdowns. This also contributes to reschedules.
The last reschedule problem I want to touch on are two man, helper calls. Many service calls require a HELPER to assist in moving appliances or completing the repair. I have seen the Sears automated scheduling system schedule the primary technician as his first call of the day and schedule the helper as his 3rd or 4th call of the day. This frustrates the technicians and at times both the primary and helper never get together and the service call is rescheduled. It is the responsibility of the primary technician to contact the Regional Routing Center to find out who his helper is, than he must call the helper to see when they will be available to meet. Helper calls can be ugly to both technicians and customers.
Now, customers may or may not get a telephone call notifying them their scheduled appointment, the one they have been waiting for all day, will need to be rescheduled. Technicians will not make that dreaded phone call to the customer and frankly, it’s not their responsibility. The responsibility to notify the customer that the technician is running late or their service call must be rescheduled, falls on the ‘Router’ at the Regional Routing Center. And frankly these Routers get beat up by angry customers, who Sears once again disappointed.
Each Regional Routing Center has a Router, this person is assigned a group of technicians and monitors their route throughout the day. Technicians can contact their Router when they need to notify them of potential problems with their route, if they get sick and are going home or when their truck breakdowns. The Router also contacts the Tech Manager with technician issues and problems. Technicians will also contact their Tech Manager directly throughout the day with problems and issues.
Another problem that frustrates customers are product replacements. As I stated earlier, even a brand new appliance in the customer’s home will not be replaced, if it can be repaired. Sears and A&E are in the ‘Repair’ business, not the replacement business.
I have spoken to angry customers who have a Protection Agreement on their appliance who will argue to have the appliance replaced, because the price of the repair is more than the replacement cost. Customers must remember, Sears is in this business to make money. Technicians are paid by the hour and installed parts cost about half of what a customer is charged for the parts.
An In-Warranty replacement of a product is charged back to the manufacturer, a product replacement under a Protection Agreement is charged back to the District. Each District maintains a monthly product replacement budget, but will do everything in their power to repair the product and not replace the product. For this reason I have seen customers wait many weeks for a part that was on back-order to arrive, rather than replace the product. The only sure way to obtain a product replacement is, if it needs a part which is ‘NLA’ – No Longer Available.
It is the responsibility of the Tech Manager to forward all replacements for approval. Replacement approvals are generally reviewed by the District’s Operations Manager. The operations manager has responsibility for the districts budget as it relates to product replacements, technician’s tools, supplies, safety equipment etc. Once the operations manager approves the replacement, the retail store is sent a replacement authorization, generally by e-mail and the customer is notified to come to the store.
Another complaint customers have are that the technician wasn’t familiar or knowledgeable with the product they were supposed to diagnose and repair. I have already touched on the fact that some technicians cross train in another industry and do not possess the same product knowledge or experience as the technician who work on these products exclusively.
Years ago, manufacturers had technical representatives who would visit regional training centers and train technicians on new products. Manufacturers have stopped this practice of providing field training. Sears now has employed the practice of providing Computer Based Training (CBT’S) disks. Technicians don’t like the CBT’s as it doesn’t provide the same level of training by hands-on instructor training. Also, the time a Tech Manager can allot to training is minimal, at best.
Tech Managers generally have “Ready Meetings” with their techs. Ready Meetings are designed to give the Tech Manager the opportunity to get his/her technicians together to disseminate information, procedures, handouts, or update their SST’s. Many Ready meetings can only be scheduled for 1 hour, because remember, everything revolves around ‘Productivity’ and a technician cannot be productive if he’s attending a meeting.
Many Ready Meetings are held for mandatory procedural education by Sears. Procedural education has absolutely nothing to do with product troubleshooting and repair. I can safely say many of the technicians get their training while under fire at the customer’s home. Many new appliances technicians are sent to repair, they have never even seen before. I have been told by technicians they were embarrassed in front of customers, because they didn’t even know how to open up an appliance. At the very best, possibly the technician was given a training CD, but he was never given the adequate time to view it.
HAVC technicians at Sears are specialized. They had to go through formal training and have a certification in Freon handling. Again, Sears does try to hire experienced technicians, but experienced HVAC Techs are very hard to find. Sears will hire an HVAC tech right out of Technical School. Some technical schools are very good, some just teach enough to pass the certification test. Many HVAC technicians do not possess the troubleshooting skills to adequately diagnose and repair a problem the first time or the second or third time. That’s why there are so many repeat service calls for the same problem. And this is not just HAVC, this practice runs all industries. Sears will send a new technician out on the road with an experienced tech for maybe, 2 - 4 weeks of training.
This training focuses mainly on how to operate as a Sears tech on a daily basis, learning how troubleshoot and repair are weak at best. The tech must learn how to operate his SST (Sears Smart Toolbox), this is the metal laptop that each technician uses to order parts, reschedule follow up service calls and oh yes, to determine your service bill if this was a collect service call. The SST also has product diagrams which show the technician a schematic of product components, which the tech uses constantly.
The technician also has another alternative HELP Hotline, ‘STACK’. STACK (Sears Technical Assistance Center). Also located in Round Rock, Texas is a technical call center, providing additional technical assistance. They have diagrams and microfiche
diagrams to assist technicians in the field. But STACK is only as good as the technician is able to clearly communicate the problem. I have myself spoken to STACK and some of the complaints were that the technician wasn’t able to clearly articulate the problem.
Parts, lets talk a little about parts. I have been told by technicians and angry customers that when they called the 1-800-4-My-Home, they were told by the call center agent that the technician would have the part on their truck. In fact, there are many parts, hundreds of parts on each service vehicle. But the vehicle cannot carry every part for every model and manufacturer, it’s just impossible. Now there are two possibilities the customer was told the technician would bring the part, either the agent was new and shouldn’t have committed that the technician would have the part on the truck or the customer was angry and demanded the technician bring the part with him and the agent agreed, just to end the call. Yes I have heard about both scenarios.
You may wonder why the technician schedules his return service call 10 days out in the future. This is done because of the US Postal Service. Sears knows it takes at least this long to process the order and ship it out. Yes, the part will most likely arrive days prior to your scheduled service date, but to be sure the part does arrive, Sears uses a 10 day lead time, to insure the part arrives. Sears does not want to cancel a scheduled service call because the part did not arrive. (It’s a PRODUCTIVITY ISSUE). And yes, parts can be Emergency ordered, but technicians generally need to obtain permission from their tech manager before emergency ordering a part, why?? Because it is very expensive to emergency ship replacement parts. So who suffers ??. The consumer suffers.
Why does it take so long to get someone out to look at my appliance? Well, if it’s your refrigerator that’s not cooling during June thru the end of August, good luck getting a service technician to diagnose your problem. These are the peak periods for ‘No Cooling’ and the technicians are normally swamped with calls. I have seen some customers wait for two weeks for a service call. And on the day of the service call, the tech called out sick and the customer had to be rescheduled.
The period of time, when you call for service and when you can obtain a service date is known by Sears as “State of Service”. State of service can be all over the calendar. If you call for service and you are not happy with your appointment, call the retail store and complain. The retail stores have a relationship with the District Service & Repair managers. Often the relationship is strained due to poor service, unhappy and often angry customers. But the retail store’s Brand Central or Operations managers can place some pressure on the district to satisfy the customer.
I think you can now understand, why at times, technicians have such a hard time diagnosing and fixing your appliance the first time and why it takes so long to receive replacement parts. Sears sends inexperienced technicians out in the field and they leave the local Customer Service departments and Tech Managers to do ‘Damage Control’, when they don’t or can’t fix the product. Believe me, there are way too many ’Better Business Bureau’ and ‘Attorney General’ complaints reaching Hoffman Estates, then funneling down the respective District Offices.
Let’s talk about Technician Productivity a little. Technician Productivity is rated on the number of ‘COMPLETES PER DAY’, not ‘CALLS HANDLED’. There is a distinct difference between the two categories. Completes per day simply means the technician diagnosed and fixed the problem on the same day of the appointment. Calls handled means the technician diagnosed the problem and a part needed to be ordered and a future follow up date needed to be scheduled.
Industry is a term used by Sears to designate the type of work performed by a technician. Sears service multiple industries; IE ‘Laundry’ for Washers and Dryers, ‘HVAC’ for gas and oil boilers and furnaces, Central Air & Window air conditioners, Dehumidifiers, Water Softeners, Reverse Osmosis water filtering systems, Hot Water Heaters, ‘Home Electronics’ for tabletop and wall mounted TV’s, ‘Lawn & Garden’ garden tractors, snow throwers, power washers etc and
‘Refrigeration’ for Refrigerators and Freezers and ‘Cooking’ for stoves, ranges, microwaves, dishwashers.
It is worthy to note, many Sears Technicians cross industries, as many industries are seasonal. A Technician could face a layoff if he didn’t expand his skills and cross train in another industry. This is one reason why some technicians aren’t as comfortable diagnosing and repairing appliances because they don’t repair these appliances on a regular basis.
Sears brags about being certified as an ISO 9001 company. For a manufacturing company, being ISO certified means constantly reviewing the manufacturing process, to cut down on waste and defects. Manufacturing companies strive for ZERO defects. And, if a manufacturing company consistently uses quality materials and processes, that they themselves set forth as the standard, hypothetically, a quality product will be manufactured the same way; day and day and week after week.
But Sears does not have ISO standards for troubleshooting and diagnosing problems, technicians don’t have ISO standards for fixing the appliance, right, the first time. Sears does have an ISO Standard which states: the Technician will be in his/her service vehicle and punch in on their SST at 7:25AM each and every day they are scheduled to work.
Sears does have a standard that states the technician leaves from his driveway at 7:25AM and drives to his first call of the day, period!!. The standard goes on to say that the technician cannot stop on the way to his first call to get a cup of coffee, he can’t stop for gas. The technician is not even allowed to call his first call of the day to be sure the customer is home.
Plenty of technicians have arrived at their first call to find an empty house. The same standard applies to the technician’s last call of the day. The technician can only drive from his last call back to his/her driveway, no stops, not even for gas.
Sears Tech Manager’s are just as overworked as the Technicians they manage. The Sears Tech Manager who manages his team is part ‘Manager’ and a big part ‘Detective’ and ‘Enforcer’.
Sears mandates compliancy from its Technicians and the Tech Manager is the instrument of Enforcement. Sears places more rules and regulations on its technicians than our current day military. Under the umbrella of being “ISO Compliant”, Sears mandates their technicians to follow many, many, rules and frankly, the technician does not have a ‘Rule Book’ to refer to, all the rules must be set in his /her memory. Tech managers spend too many hours trying to smooth over angry customers and trying to catch technicians doing something they shouldn’t be doing.
Many Technicians strive to get away with doing less. If a Tech wants to reach his Tech Manager and can’t reach them, he will contact another tech manager to forward a message. But if a technician doesn’t want to be contacted, he will not answer his cell phone. Then the tech manager has no alternative, but to call him at the customer’s home telephone number. Some Tech’s will do anything and everything to get out of work and they know how to do it while in the field. Especially at the end of the day, when you need to add an extra call to their route. They will not do it.
One last note, there are many knowledgeable and friendly Sears Technicians and many that are not. Think twice about your past experiences with Sears before you purchase another Sears Protection Agreement.
I hope I have been able to bring to you some consumer education about the Sears / A&E repair business. And provide you some insight into making an educated decision with your purchasing power.
Product or Service Mentioned: Sears Manager.