How to Lose a Customer in Four Easy Steps

I’m a DIY’er. For the most part, I’m pretty good at building and fixing things. The project of the moment is our dryer. It’s an old Maytag unit that is somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty years old. If I really knew what I was doing, it would be fixed by now, but part of the fun for me is figuring out the problem.

Last week, it started squealing. I thought, “Belt.” We went to a local appliance shop in Lacey to get a new belt. As usual, I looked it up on the internet before I went, and then consciously decided to support the local business on the theory that it’s good to support local business on principles of local economic health, and in case things go wrong, someone is there to support me. I paid roughly twice the internet price for the belt, but I figured that’s the cost of doing business locally. I understand that local businesses need a margin to stay alive, but in the grand scheme of things, doubling the cost of an item is hard to sustain from the customer side of the equation, so let’s lets call high prices, “Step One.”

Well, the belt didn’t fix the problem. It made the problem worse. Now the dryer didn’t want to start, and when it did, the noise was even worse. In the back of my mind, I knew it was the motor, but I didn’t want to get that deep into the problem, so I looked for other causes. It turns out the two little wheels that support the main drum were incredibly tight and didn’t want to spin. I pulled them off and lubricated them. This turned out to be a very bad idea. Don’t lube them. Soooooo, I was back to the same store to get new support rollers. Again, I paid twice the going rate, and again, I justified it with my shop local ideas. Step 1.5.

Oh, those new rollers spun so nicely. Smooth. I put it all back together again, and guess what? That’s right. Still no worky. I was no longer able to avoid the motor. I took the dryer apart again, and quickly discovered that removing the motor was no big deal. I held up the dirt clotted thing and spun it with my fingers. A horrible squeaking noise issued from somewhere under the greasy dust. Ok, new motor. Sharon called the shop and they didn’t have the motor in stock, even though it turns out to be the same motor that’s in half the dryers on the planet. We were forced to reevaluate this shop local principle. From the internet, we could get the motor the next day. From the local shop, it would take two days. Oddly, the local shop’s price was comparable to the internet this time, so they won on the theory that it’s good to have help nearby in case something goes wrong. Meanwhile, the laundry was piling up, and stringing a clothes line across the house was not doing much to stave off laundropocalypse. That extra day was getting costly. Step two. Don’t be as quick as the competition.

Of course, when the motor arrived, it wasn’t a direct fit. The motor was the same, the same specs. Physically, it fit perfectly. Unfortunately, the wiring harness and connections were entirely different. There were no instructions in the box. I called the shop and explained the problem. The lady’s answer was to come to the shop around five when the technicians would be around. I went. This was my third trip across town for one part. A discussion with the lady at the counter revealed that the motor should have come with instructions and three little electrical connectors to adapt the old wiring harness in the dryer to the new connections on the motor. We could see a tiny photo of the instructions on the supplier’s web site, but naturally there was no way to download them at a readable scale. No one suggested that they try to reorder the part. Her solution was to have the supplier open another box and fax the instructions, which I would need to make a fourth trip to pick up.

“Ok. I guess I’ll wait for the technicians,” I said.

When the tech arrived, he was clueless. He was an older man. I assumed he had seen it all. I guess not. He grabbed an instruction set from the Whirlpool version of the same motor and decided it wouldn’t work. “We’ll need the Maytag instructions, and you need these adapters.” Step three. Don’t know the answers for a very common part. A younger tech came up while this conversation was occurring, casually opened a junk drawer, and tossed some adapters on the counter. I’m sure he assumed the shop would provide me with the missing adapters. I know I did, since the alternatives would be much more hassle for me.

When all was said and done, the tech not only failed to answer any of my questions, he scooped up these little connectors and they disappeared as casually as the younger tech had made them appear. I asked directly if I could have the three adapters, and the older man put on a wily smile and shook his head. I said that I thought it was the least he could do since I had a part that wouldn’t work, I had waited an extra day, and had made an extra trip. By the time I actually got the answers, I would have made two extra trips. He laughed at me like I was asking for him to provide a brand new dryer, rather than connectors that probably cost the shop exactly zero, since they had ended up in that drawer by being extras from other parts and projects. Step Four. Don’t provide penny parts that should have been in the box in the first place.

At that point, I placed my old motor in the instruction free box. New motor in the box. I turned and left. What I should have done was to demand a refund on the spot, but that would cause even more delays while we wait for another motor from a different source, and of course, there’s always the possibility of more mistakes. Instead, I walked out, never to return again.

In the end, here’s the upshot for all local business. If you can’t make it cheaper, and you can’t make it faster, then you had better do everything in your power to make it easier – especially when it costs you nothing to do it. If you don’t, then you have exactly no value to me, the customer, and you deserve to lose out to the internet juggernaut. You’ve not only lost me, a hardcore DIY’er, as a customer, but the next time I have to decide between buying locally and ordering something from the internet, you have also made your contribution to the rapid demise of local, mom-n-pop shops everywhere.

UPDATE:

I don’t know if it was in response to my email, but I just received a “helpful” call from the company in question. The finally got a fax of the instruction, which we all knew would be almost impossible to read. Apparently the supplier had the new motors in the old boxes and none of them contained instructions. But hey, if I wanted a new motor in a new box (with instructions) it was only $50 more. All of this is moot, since I found the instructions in a nice clear pdf on an obscure but helpful appliance repair forum. Rather than use the adapters, I just used standard connectors, stripped the wires, and crimped the new connectors on. After reassembly, the dryer is now working perfectly. Nice and quiet.

6 thoughts on “How to Lose a Customer in Four Easy Steps”

  1. You know where I live. We tried for years to support the local mom & pop stores, but eventually we gave up and now we drive 45 miles with fuel at almost $5 per gallon rather that deal with many of the local stores. We use about a 1/4 ton of feed a month and we can’t get the local feed store to give us a break how much we offer to buy. Lumber is almost twice the price in town and the same guy that owns the store owns the lumber mill in town!?

    Steve

  2. I’m happy to report that in our area, Southwestern Michigan, local small businesses seem to be trying really hard to service their customers.
    My constant complaint is trying to find items to purchase that are manufactured in the USA. I try, but I’m mostly not successful.
    Last year we had a local hardware store that advertised a discount on all items in the store that were made in the USA. I honestly didn’t find anything I wanted. I needed a new sprayer for my garden hose, they had 5 types, all made in China. So then I started randomly checking items, I don’t think I found anything marked USA.
    Well, it was a really safe sale!
    Back to your blog…it was refreshing to read that the young tech wanted to be helpful, wonder what the old guy said to him after you left?

    • Well, that’s the only way that small businesses can survive, I believe. Service is the only weapon in their arsenal, so I’m glad that businesses in your neck of the woods seem to have realized it.

      Made in the USA is a whole other can of worms. My wife and I actually work fairly hard to buy US made goods, and local products as well. I feel your frustration. The failure to make it advantageous to manufacture products in the US is one of the leading failures of our government. Yes, I understand the realities of a so-called free market economy, but I also understand that businesses have been specifically incentivized in the wrong direction. Having run a small business or two, I can definitely say that the unbelievable burden on small business could be reduced to a massive degree. Why shouldn’t we make the best garden sprayer on the planet?

      The thing about my little dryer adventure was that every step of the way, the business in question completely failed to see the problem from the customer’s viewpoint. If I should have gotten expertise, either in the form of instructions or in the form of in house expertise, why wouldn’t they provide it? If they admitted openly that the box should have contained the adapter parts, and the store had those parts in hand, I honestly can’t imagine why they wouldn’t just hand them to me in the hopes that I would see them doing their best and possibly return someday. And the icing on the cake – irrelevant since they had already lost me – was that the best follow up solution they could offer was to say that for a mere $50 bucks more, I could have a box with instructions and adapters. Call me crazy, but if had been my business, I would have eaten whatever the wholesale cost of that $50 had been just to solve the problem with a complete kit. At a minimum, I would have shrieked at the supplier to provide a usable set of instructions via email immediately and popped open another box to provide the adapters if necessary. If I had them piling up in a junk drawer, like the younger tech proved, well… That’s a no-brainer.

      I see it the other way around, with the young tech pointing out to the oblivious old tech that I was definitely pissed when I left, and that he was an idiot for saying no when I asked for the adapters.

      Principles aside, the internet provided (after some digging) the original instructions in a nice clean pdf. Ace provided 3/16 female blade connectors, I had the wire strippers, and the rest of the repair went off without a hitch. In reality, the adapters would have saved me maybe five minutes. By far, the most time in the whole process was in dealing with local business. Their loss. Next time, Amazon can overnight the exact same part for $51 less than I paid.

  3. I’m glad things turned out well for you in the end…but there are so many people now, elderly or just younger people that have none of the “practical homeowner’s skills or just plan old basic manual skills” that probably would be giving up. By now they would either be going without or buying a new dryer.

    You know what? We need a generation of can doers not watchers!!!!
    Repair your own bike, put your own RC car together…don’t buy it assembled, put that Ipod down and go outside and build your own skateboard. Kids need to feel the honor in making something with their own hands.

    You talked about the snow storm this past winter, yeah, we had them too….snow days, no school. What changed? In 1980 the neighborhood kids would have been knocking at my door with a snow shovel, wanting a couple of bucks, but no, all winter I didn’t see any kids outside. No snowmen, no ice skating, no ice fishing, no snowballs or even snow angels.

    Again, thanks for letting me spout. I don’t know everything, and I’m not right about everything…but I do know how I feel about things! American’s have lost the drive in their hearts and the fire in their guts.

    I worry about the young people I love.

    • Agreed. Spout at will!

      I worry about the young, and I worry about the old in a different way. They’re the ones who know how to do everything. I worry that we are losing too many skills and too much know-how to old age and death. Learn how and then do. I suggest that everyone builds a treehouse for a warmup project. 🙂

  4. I agree with your position. But I would talk to the owner of the company. He or she may not be aware of the ineptitude of the employees. That in itself, is his fault, but by letting him know, you give him the chance to clean house.

Leave a Comment