After a quarter century of faithful service, our oven died. We had the technician over on four occasions, but on the fifth trip, he read our oven its last rights. Glancing around our kitchen, it was obvious it was time to upgrade our appliances.
It wasn’t as easy as we’d initially thought. Our microwave was connected to the oven, so that also had to be replaced. Having two separate components would mean new wiring because the old configuration did not meet code. Then there was the sizing issue: They didn’t make microwaves in the same size as our existing model.
Since simple wasn’t an option, we figured it was time to bid farewell to our 25-year-old kitchen and embark on a complete kitchen remodel. Even with decades in the decorative plumbing and hardware business, we could not imagine what was to come. Our single best move was to hire an experienced kitchen designer to reconfigure and improve the space’s appearance and functionality. I now know why this showroom was honored as an NKBA kitchen showroom of the year.
Our designer strongly recommended a specific luxury appliance brand. I was familiar with the line, which had a reputation for quality. However, like many consumers, we conducted our own research. I read online product reviews and reached out to several DPHA members I knew who distributed the brand we were considering. After finishing our research, we ordered a cooktop, a refrigerator, two ovens, a microwave and a dishwasher.
As the appliances began to arrive, the problems started. The manufacturer sent the wrong refrigerator, wasting half a day of my contractor’s time. The cooktop arrived scratched. We took pictures, sent them to the showroom and forwarded them to the manufacturer, which agreed to a replacement.
Then, the first day we turned on one of the ovens, it made a noise resembling marbles banging around in a washing machine. It turned out it had a bad motor.
Four months after installation, we encountered more problems: The dishwasher stopped working, one burner on the cooktop would not stay lit and the microwave froze.
I called the appliance showroom owner, whom I’ve known for 20+ years. I was so dissatisfied, I wanted to ask him to have the manufacturer replace everything. Unfortunately, he said there was nothing he could do: These were warranty issues that had to be handled by the regional factory representative.
He had the rep call me, who told me I had to call customer service and be at home when they could fit me into their crammed schedule. The brand did not reimburse me for my time or pay the additional expense for the extra time my contractor had to spend re-installing and repairing defective products.
Frustrated, I called customer service. When the dishwasher was discussed, the rep asked what detergent we used. I responded Cascade. “Oh, that’s the problem,” the rep said. “Our dishwashers are so technologically advanced that sometimes the sensors will cause the appliance to shut off if you use too much detergent.” When he asked me how much detergent we used, I responded that we filled the container. Little did I know that filling the soap dispenser would cause the dishwasher to malfunction.
He instructed me to only fill the container by a third and that would correct the problem. “I guess I missed that in the operating instructions,” I said. The rep said this was not in the operating instructions. I resisted the temptation to ask why a luxury manufacturer would not make the soap container smaller instead of requiring its customers to fill the existing size by a third.
The customer service rep then told me it would be a week before he could send a technician to fix the other problems. I asked if an exception could be made considering all the problems I’d experienced with this luxury brand, but the answer was no.
If we define a luxury brand as a company consistently delivering a luxury experience, this brand does not qualify. Once I’d made my purchases, I was merely a nuisance, one the company wished would disappear. And that’s what will happen to this brand if it continues to have the same attitude toward dissatisfied customers.
The quality of a product sold in a kitchen or plumbing showroom is not based on advertising messages, showroom claims or what manufacturers want us to believe their brands represent. The quality of a product is determined by user experience.
As Stanford University professor Itamar Simonson and writer Emanuel Rosen point out in their book Absolute Value: What Really Influences Customers in the Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information, “The new information environment around us allows consumers to predict much more accurately the experienced quality (or absolute value) of products and services they are considering.”
Refrigerators can cost less than $1,000 to more than $10,000. Those who buy on the high end don’t do so simply to keep food from spoiling. It’s about how the product makes them feel at the point of sale, at installation and during the product’s life.
Luxury customers expect luxury service. That’s why they are willing to pay a premium. Most consumers understand that problems happen. But how you address them is the difference maker.
When brands fail to deliver anticipated experiences and don’t respond to problems as opportunities, customers have multiple channels to let their voices be heard. Negative online reviews appear because consumer problems have not been resolved using traditional channels.
Consumers don’t care what causes a problem. They don’t want the resolution delegated to the manufacturer or representative. They only care about getting the problem solved quickly and conveniently. When showrooms put the resolution burden on the consumer, or delegate to parties over whom customers have no control, these actions destroy the showroom’s and the manufacturer’s brand equity.
Most unhappy customers voice their unpleasant experiences – online or out loud – to anyone who will listen. Conversely, when showrooms take ownership of problems, get them resolved quickly and exceed their customers’ expectations, loyalty increases and dissatisfied customers often turn into passionate fans who willingly become brand advocates.
OOBE: Out Of Box Experience is what makes a brand. It is what makes customers either rave or complain. What are you doing to ensure your customers’ out of box experiences are praiseworthy?
Tom Cohn is president of Cohn Communications, Inc., which manages the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association (DPHA) and the Forte Buying Group. Cohn has been selected to manage the Bath & Kitchen Buying Group (BKBG) as of January 1, 2015.