Many folks know that I’m probably one of the biggest supporters of Sears – it’s the store I grew up with, and the store I continue to shop at today. I’m proud to live in a Kenmore and Craftsman household. However, at the same time, I’m also one of their biggest critics. It’s because our household is such a loyal Sears customer that I have such harsh criticism of them at times. After all, I remember the heydays of Sears, and my partner Keith worked for Sears for 15 years. We both want to see Sears survive and thrive, but it’s obvious that something isn’t right. It’s not the cash starved stores that irk me the most, it’s the customer service – or rather, the lack thereof.
Sears has always stood for customer service. I remember as a kid growing up in the 80s and early 90s that Sears was “the” place for my parents to shop. Everything from my school clothes to the washing machine came from Sears – and when something went wrong, Sears was always there to take care of things. Didn’t have the right size? They’d get it. Needed advice on what to buy? They knew their stuff. Something broke? They’d knock themselves over to fix it. They were the hallmark of customer service and if you ask many folks, especially older folks, they will tell you that Sears stood 110% behind the motto, “Satisfaction Guaranteed or Your Money Back.”
Today, a quick search around the ‘net and you’ll see that the biggest gripe with many folks about Sears is their lack of customer service. Phone calls that never get returned; orders that disappear into the ether; items that break that take month to get fixed; folks in the stores who just don’t understand what they are selling. It’s frustrating for them, and as anyone in marketing can tell you, once you get a customer unhappy with you it’s almost impossible to turn them back into a loyal, satisfied customer.
I myself have recently went through this with two orders I placed on the Sears.com website. Both orders ran into problems – and while I understand that issues come up, what really got me was that nobody really knew (or seemed to care) how to resolve the problem. Endless phone calls that never produced a successful resolution. Even when the person at the other end of the phone wanted to help, tried in desperation to help, they often hit a roadblock. One lady I was talking to tried in vain for over 15 minutes to get the store to answer the phone.
No amount of money can fix bad customer service. Sure, some of the stores could use some TLC, but you can have the fanciest, most modern store in the world and it doesn’t matter if your customer experience is lacking. Customers will leave in droves never to return again no matter how shiny the tile is or how fresh the paint smells.
Of course there are stores that try, and some that succeed, in still delivering the customer service that Sears was once known for. One store that does this amazingly well is the Sears mall store located in Columbia, Missouri. In my travels throughout the US I have visited Sears stores in over 12 different states. I can say that hands down, this store far surpasses any other store I’ve been to in the customer relationship department. It’s not the fanciest or biggest store Sears has (it’s classified as a “B” store), but the people there are truly amazing.
Take for instance a gentleman named Miles. Miles has been with this store since – well, as long as I can remember. He’s an appliance salesman, but he’s more than just someone who wants to sell you something. He listens to the customers, he asks them about what their needs are – and then he recommends a product to fit their needs. I would drive halfway across the state to buy something from Miles. I remember a time when I was having a tough time tracking down a light bulb for the water dispenser in our refrigerator. It used a non-standard design and I went in the store looking to see if they could possibly order one. Miles listened, then he went into the backroom and came out with one – no charge. I wasn’t looking for a freebie that day, but he wanted me to leave a happy customer and so he performed a small gesture that meant a lot to me. That’s what customer service is all about.
Sears corporate would do well to send some of their top brass to this store to find out how to do things right. They could learn a lot from spending just a few days on the floor with not only Miles, but many of the other employees there. Even the manager of this store is amazing – I happened to be in the hardware department one day when she overheard me talking with an employee giving my name so he could send me some information to my email. She came up to me and engaged me in conversation and thanked me for the positive comments I had put in for the store. Again, here was a gesture that cost the company absolutely nothing but meant a lot to me, the customer. To this day when I’m in the store if she sees me she will say hello and ask how I am doing – you can’t buy customer satisfaction like that.
My partner Keith worked for Sears for most of his early adult life. He was a former employee of the Sears in Columbia, leaving 6 years ago to finally get his college degree. To this day he looks for any opportunity to return to Sears because he, like me, believes in Sears. He really misses the customers and the interaction he had; and though sometimes I think that perhaps he is seeing Sears with rose colored glasses, I think in the end he really understands what it will take to make Sears great again.
If anyone from Sears is reading this, believe me when I say there are those of us out here who still believe in the company. We want to see you survive, to thrive, and to be the American icon you once were. Money alone won’t make that happen – because in my opinion what can really help turn Sears around is something that costs very little, yet has enormous returns on investment – customer service.