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All (social media) talk, no action

October 8, 2012

When my son informed me the self-propelled featured on our three-month-old Craftsman lawn mower was no longer self-propelling, I thought maybe I could fix it.

I looked under the mower and saw a slack cable. Aha: The culprit. Hoping it had slipped off a pulley and I could easily guide it back to its appropriate place, I pulled on the cable and was surprised to draw out three inches of silver wire with a frayed end. Uh-oh. This is more than a simple fix.

To say I was frustrated would be an understatement. I had bought this mower after much web research and price shopping. Our much-loved Toro had died, and we needed a replacement. I wanted to find something comparable for less money, and the Craftsman name had credibility with me. We ordered online, picked up the mower at the mall and put it to work.

My son – who does most of the mowing around here – hated it immediately, saying it was a poor substitute for the Toro. I argued that he was simply resisting change, that it would be fine once he got used to it. Secretly, I also thought the mower fell short of expectations, but, having picked and paid for the darned thing, I was determined it would prove itself over time.

And then, at the tail end of a summer that, thanks to a record-setting drought, had required far less mowing than usual, the mower offered up this mechanical failure. Aaarrgh.

Well the mower’s under warranty, so no worries, right? I figured I’d take it to Sears, get it fixed and get my son back to cutting in no time. And, OK, I wanted to see if it would be possible to simply return the mower for a refund.

And thus began a lesson in the dangers of social-media brand promises not supported by real-world action. A full timeline of events is offered below, but here’s the quick version:

  • When I called a Sears 800 number, I was informed that the three-month-old mower was beyond the allowable return period. I asked about getting it fixed, and was directed to a local service center.
  • I took the mower in for what should be a quick fix. Was told it would take two weeks … but I should call a few days ahead of the scheduled return time ”in case it comes in early.”
  • Frustrated, I Tweeted complaint.
  • Heard quickly via Twitter from @searscares. Praised Sears on Twitter for quick response.
  • Entered into a period of frustrating Twitter and phone conversations, including calls from “the executive office.” Promises implied on social media are not matched by actual service. In other words, a few Tweets and phone calls, but no change on the repair front.
  • The day the mower is due to return comes and goes with no call from Sears. The day after the scheduled return date, I call the repair center and am told mower has been available for pick up for four days.
  • More venting on Twitter. More @searscares responses. Too little too late.
  • Edward from Sears left voice mail message to make sure repair was satisfactory. Ignore call.
  • Another phone call with a customer service survey. Wife takes automated survey and says we are “highly unlikely” to buy from or recommend Sears again.
  • Bottom line: Companies and organizations must synchronize social media and customer service efforts, or they lose.

The truth is, if Sears’ actual service had lived up to the promises implied by @searscares’ quick response and warm assurances, the company might have reclaimed some of the credibility it lost with us. As it is though, our opinion of Sears went from bad to worse when actions did not match words. Because, let’s face it, no matter how good your marketing and communications team might be, they’re discredited – and your firm is, too – if the actual customer experience is a bad one.

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