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Where’s the Maytag Repairman?

I've had my Maytag washer and dryer for at least 10 years, the same exact ones, each with the old-style mechanical dials, timers, and buzzers.

A few weeks ago, the washer stopped working. Given my very modern life, filled with everything from soccer practice and pets to dinner parties and sleepovers, panic set in quickly. Being without a washer was like being without oxygen or, heaven forbid, my grill. But after a simple phone call and 40 bucks for a new drum belt, it was back up and running, hopefully for another 10 years. However, should the time ever come in the future when I need to replace these workhorses, the choice for a new washer will be easy to make. I'm buying Maytag.

Why? It's simple. For me, it is all about Maytag's “contract” with the customer, its integrity to stand behind the product, its commitment to quality, and its belief that service and support are just as much a part of the “product” as metal, rubber, and integrated circuits.

During the illustrious life of my washer, I've also had more laptops, cellphones, and TVs than I can remember. Obviously, the advancement in technology plays a large part in my replacement cycle, but so does the service and support, or perhaps, better said, the lack thereof. A few years ago, my laptop died. It simply stopped working; no power, no hum, no lights. Who was I supposed to call? The retailer I bought it from, the OEM, or the contract manufacturer? Where's the Maytag repairman? If you think about it, servicing electronic devices really presents a quandary. After numerous calls to call centers and wait times that lasted for what seemed like an eternity, I hung up and went and bought a new laptop — from a different retailer and different manufacturer.

Within consumer electronics, manufacturers have lost sight of the “contract” they make between the products they sell and the customers who buy them. Companies rely on the constant and rapid pace of technology innovation and the never-ending cycle of product commoditization to drive customers to buy new products. While there are plenty of choices when it comes to the consumer electronics equivalent of the auto manufacturer's extended warranty option, are any of them really different from one another? I usually entertain the sales pitch behind these service contracts, but always feel like the sucker and never buy them. Why should I? Why should I pay for this insurance policy, and in essence reward a company for its bad quality or mistakes and be subject to endless wait times at some remote call center?

Where's the Maytag repairman? If Apple's growing market share and dominance in the space is any indication, I think consumers are getting wiser and recognizing the importance of service and support when it comes to buying decisions. In fact, Accenture research has found that the service experience during and after a purchase is the most important factor when consumers pick which brand to buy, followed closely by the brand's reputation, which is influenced by customer experiences. Not only was service the top consideration, 74 percent of 1,000 US consumers said the degree to which they factor service into their buying decisions has increased somewhat or significantly.

What does this mean for other companies? Acknowledge that service is more than a cost of doing business. It's an opportunity to boost sales, so consider creating a consistent end-to-end service experience that connects the value of a product purchase to services provided before, during, and after the purchase.

{complink 379|Apple Inc.} recognized the differentiating characteristic of service and its importance to customers. Face-to-face human contact, a “help desk” for just about anything, educational training classes, and I even received a free “no questions asked” one-time replacement of my iPhone when the glass screen broke.

And, Apple does have an extended warranty option called Apple Care, should you want that peace of mind. But the real peace of mind is in knowing that while Craig and I travel the globe, should we ever have a problem with our phones, we have confidence in the support and service “contract” we made when deciding to buy the product in the first place. If not having a washer for one or two days brings on a state of panic, what would you do without your cellphone for a couple of hours?

39 comments on “Where’s the Maytag Repairman?

  1. Barbara Jorgensen
    November 18, 2011

    This is a blog after my own heart. I had the same experience with my laptop and even the Geek Squad couldn't help–they had to send it back to the vendor. If the thing hadn't been covered by a warrantee, I might have just scrapped it. (Which is what I did the second time it crashed within an 18 month period.) That vendor has lost my business. I am definitley revisiting my strategy of buying from the big box stores–Maytag is the exception in white goods–GE has a repair service but I've seen them more times in five years than I have in the prior 10 with a Sears Kenmore. Apple and Sears are among the dying breed of  companies that have their own retail outlets and haven't outsourced their service to an 800 number.

  2. AnalyzeThis
    November 18, 2011

    I largely agree with you, but just to be contrarian: there's a big difference between cell phones and washers. A washer from 10 years ago still does what you need it to do and you can probably go out and still buy a washer with the exact same features.

    On the other hand, I'm not even sure if a cell phone from 10 years ago would be able to make calls at this point. And it certainly wouldn't have very many of the common, modern-day features you'd expect. Plus the battery life would be terrible and you'd hate lugging it around.

    It is indeed true that the lifecycle of electronics tends to be shorter than say, appliances. But a lot of that is due to the fact that there's just far faster advancement and innovation. A dishwasher from 1980 might be slow, but it'll still be compatible with your dishes. A computer from 1980 is near-useless at this point.

    And in the case of Apple, they're constantly coming out with cooler products. On the other hand, I did like this article recently that shows that the original iPod still works and is functional with iTunes!

  3. Nemos
    November 19, 2011

    Moreover, I want to add some facts and my experience in the field of mobile service and in service generally. It is a fact that service was and is undervalue part inside a company. A lot of managers behave to the service departments as something foreign. This devaluation has to do also with the employees who work in the department(if exists) that means lower income wages for them.

    Most of the managers give all the attention in the sales, and how many units are sold. In this part I want to add the fact that many manufacture, they don't have its own service centers, and they make contracts with authorized service centers. Even if the service center applies to all the regulations as you can understand it have different goals. For instance, it cares about how many mobile phones will claim as repaired from the mother company and doesn't care if has many re repairs. That sounds great for the authorized center but not for the customer and for the mother company.

  4. Nemos
    November 20, 2011

    The fact that mobile is not the same with the washer doesn't mean that we don't need quality and responsible service for both. The quality and the support in a unit it doesn't have to do with the life cycle of its product.

  5. bolaji ojo
    November 20, 2011

    I have an almost one tear old scanner/fax/printer combo machine in a corner of my office today. It is working but the paper feeder is chewing my paper rather than feeding it through. Since I didn't buy extra warranty for it, the machine is being discarded. I shouldn't have to change it but it was a lot cheaper to pick up a brand new one at Best Buy for one hundred dollars than try to repair the old one.

    The repair shops in the area have mostly closed down and the Geek Squad at Best Buy tell me I have to pay a fixed fee even before they would look at it. The fee would cover three equipment — for one year. It's a Canon that replaced another printer from HP. The new one is made by HP and I bet it will be gone within another couple of years. This time, though, I got the extra warranty — but it only covers the next two years. Something is wrong with this picture.

  6. DataCrunch
    November 20, 2011

    It definitely seems like the latest in electronics (laptops, printers, etc.) seem to have much shorter life spans than the equipment of yesteryear.  The unfortunate part is that I have come to expect this.

  7. Anand
    November 21, 2011

    On the other hand, I'm not even sure if a cell phone from 10 years ago would be able to make calls at this point.

    @DennisQ, You can use 10 year old handset now also because 2G services are still active but only difference being will not be able use advanced feature.

  8. Anand
    November 21, 2011

    It definitely seems like the latest in electronics (laptops, printers, etc.) seem to have much shorter life spans than the equipment of yesteryear.

    @Dave, I agree with you. But people still prefer products which are durable. In India one of the reasons why people preferred buying Nokia over others is Nokia provides very good customer service, they had installed Nokia care centre in each city.  So service provided by the company definitely influences the customer preference.

  9. Ariella
    November 21, 2011

    Maytag did an excellent branding job. But the Maytags of today will not be like the ones of 10 years ago because all washing machines today are designed for high efficiency, which translates into various problems with built in sensors taking over and more delicate parts than the earlier, merchanical models. My mother had a washing machine for over 30 years, and I'm using it now. Its dial broke off, but as the whole thing is manual, I can move it by grasping it by hand or with pliers. I was warned from an appliance store that I could, at best, expect a machine to last 5 or  6 years today and that it pays to buy the service contract because the electronic parts do lead to break downs withinin that time frame.

    As Dave pointed out, the difference is that we don't expect electronics to last more than 3-5 years. Even if they still funciton, the newer ones on the market, would likely be better and even cheaper. But that does not hold for major household appliances. I've hear that refigerators also used to last nearly forever. We've already had to replace the one in this house. The built in ice maker and water dispenser caused leaks and other problems. With appliances, keeping it simple usually keeps it working longer, but with electronics people want more bells and whistles.

  10. FLYINGSCOT
    November 22, 2011

    After years of pursuing the cheapest offerings the world is heading back towards valuing service and perhaps paying a little more for the product to get it.  As an example in the UK I see a lot of service coming “onshore” again as customers tend to favor local support.   I also see some Korean car companies doing very well by prmoting their product warranty and customer service.

  11. Tim Votapka
    November 22, 2011

    I can attest to Nokia reliability. Each cell phone I've had since 1995 has been retired due to the cost of battery replacement, not the phone itself. The current cell phone goes back about 4 years now w/ the original battery, and despite a few scuffs on the skin, the device performs just the way it did when it was shipped. Now that's dependability.

  12. Tim Votapka
    November 22, 2011

    Dave – add CD clock radio players to your list. Been through 3 in less than 5 years and it's always the CD drive or reader that fails. Gave up on buying any more of these despite “brand” names.

  13. JADEN
    November 23, 2011

    Recently I experinced the importance service and support.  I have a Dell latitutde D630 under warranty extension, and it started overheating seriously and the system is almost dead.  I went online, chatting with a Dell Technical support reprensentative, told him the problem and the following day their engineer was at my door to replaced the motherboard with new heat sink and processor cooling fan. That is entirely a new laptop.

    Just as you mentioned in your blog “the service experience during and after a purchase is the most important factor when consumers pick which brand to buy, followed closely by the brand's reputation, which is influenced by customer experiences”. 

    I can recommend Dell to anybody anywhere, anyday because of my experience with them.

  14. Houngbo_Hospice
    November 23, 2011

    @JADEN:

    “I can recommend Dell to anybody anywhere, anyday because of my experience with them.”

    That is good to know and any Dell representative reading this post will be very proud. I'm not used to buying Dell laptops, but based on your testimony, my next laptop could be a Dell laptop.

  15. Kunmi
    November 24, 2011

    When Dell first hit the market, the product seemed fragile due to the use of certain components. Dell products have been improved and more reliable. I will not hesitate to recommend it. Eventually, Dell computers may be at the peak of them all.

  16. Ashu001
    November 25, 2011

    Ariella,

    Do u think its time manufacturers went Old School with most electronics and household appliances???

    Things have become way too complex today that more often than not we do not use half the features that come with our devices.

    Case in point-A Windows laptop.I have lost count of the number of people I have met who would rather stay with Windows XP than upgrade to Windows 7 today if the laptop would just last.

    Most users dont use half the stuff in a standard Windows OS.

    Maybe its time that most manufacturers sold a Basic No-frills version alongwith all the Regular Bells and Whistles stuff.

    But I am not sure that would work either.

    Case in Point-The World's cheapest car-The Tata Nano.The Basic version cost about USD 2000 but was a collosal failure in its home market-India.Most buyers bought the product with all the Bells and whistles in place which naturally raises the selling price too.

    Or it because India is just starting the aspirational cycle (when it comes to consumption)while the Western world is through with it?

    I guess this is what makes Marketing such a fascinating field.

    Regards

    Ashish.

  17. Ashu001
    November 25, 2011

    Tvotapka,

    I know what u mean.

    I have also been using Nokia Phones for ages and ages.And they have always stood the test of time(especially on the simpler ,more basic models).Whatever problems have arisen ,have arisen on more complex models.

    I guess thats what is the big issue with Tech gadgets.You add more bells and whistles u get more problems.

    Regards

    Ashish.

  18. Ariella
    November 25, 2011

    Ashish,

    Personally, I like certain things to be simple — centered around their primary function. I like my phones to make calling simple and my washing machines to simply wash clothes without deciding for me how much water to put in (one of the main complaints people have for the new machines is that they don't take in enough water to really wash the clothes well).The fact is  that the extra electronic components built into cars and even appliances today significantly shorten their useful life and call for more expensive repairs due to highly specialized computer parts. But there are many people out there who love the bells and whistles that new gadgets offer. Perhaps it is possible to produce lines to appeal to both markets, but I'm not sure manufacturers would bother to do that.  

  19. Ashu001
    November 25, 2011

    Jaden,

    I quite agree. Dell has worked very hard on the customer service issues which are of most relevance to most customers.

    Dell understands quite clearly what most consumers want today in the Laptop space and they work very hard to make it happen for everybody concerned.

    Regards

    Ashish.

  20. Ashu001
    November 25, 2011

    Ariella,

    I know what u are driving at here.

    The older and wiser u get the less need(& desire) there is for newly  fangled ideas ,devices with bells and whistles,etc.

    You just want to stay focussed on getting the job done.As simple as that.

    As for manufacturers I guess its really a question of putting your greivances across to them(preferably in writing)-I am guessing that should be quite helpful in  helping them understand and appreciate what the customer really wants.

    A lot of them have very good customer service departments which listen to what users have to say very carefully.I am sure atleast some manufacturers will look to add no-frills devices.Atleast as a test product first.Lets see what happens then.

    Regards

    Ashish.

  21. Ashu001
    November 25, 2011

    Bolaji,

    The picture you present is a very accurate one today.

    And for that the Number One people to blame are the manufacturers.

    Would this attitude of manufacturers change if they were forced by Govt regulations?

    Lets say you tax them and make them pay for everything from the Mine to the landfill?? Would that change things dramatically?

    I would harbor that the answer is in the affirmative.

    This will most definitely force them to think differently,much-much differently to how they think today.

    So this is probably the best time for Govts to intervene and legislate(for once I support Bueracracy here)…

    Regards

    Ashish.

  22. Taimoor Zubar
    November 26, 2011

    I think the life of products these days has shortened immensely. Back in the previous decade, products were designed with the quality to ensure that they would keep running for 10 years. These days, electronics get obsolete within a year or two and there's no point incurring such high costs for ensuring the best quality.

  23. Ashu001
    November 26, 2011

    Taimoor, This mentality (where you mention its too expensive to build quality products) is primarily because of the availability of cheap credit courtesy of the World's leading Central Banks. That phase has now drawn to a close.As most Banks start to withdraw their credit lines across the globe(US,Europe and China are prime examples);the demand for high-quality products which are built to last (and are paid for in cash)is going to increase and increase sharply. We need to accept this change (however gut-wrenching it may seem initially);for the simple reason it will eventually enable a more sustainable Global economy (as well as more sustainable planet Earth). Regards Ashish.

  24. Taimoor Zubar
    November 26, 2011

    Ashish, you have to take into account the pace at which electronic items are becoming obsolete and being replaced with advanced versions. Companies may manufacture laptops of very high quality and durability but they become outdated within two three years. I don't see why consumers would want to purchase something so expensive then.

  25. AnalyzeThis
    November 26, 2011

    @TaimoorZ, I agree… laptops may not be the best example because I'm pretty sure a three year old laptop is just fine, but it's certainly true with cell phones: a 3-year-old cell phone is going to be not nearly as functional as a new model, no matter how well made it is or how advanced it was when it was originally made.

    Like you pretty much say in another post, why build a product to last ten years if realistically it's only going to be relevant for three? Doesn't make much sense.

  26. Ashu001
    November 27, 2011

    Taimoor,

    I have lost count of the number of working professionals I have met in the last six months or so still using a Windows XP laptop(its definitely an extremely significant number). As far as my personal case goes,I downgraded my then new Vista machine to (I was fedup with how slow and unresponsive the OS was) and was very happy with it and would never have stopped using it ,if it would'nt have died on me recently.And I work in IT!!!!

    All this talk of technological advancement being so rapid that machines should not be  built to last  rings more than a little hollow to me.

    Even in the cellphone space not everybody is a technology freak who wants to buy the latest smartphone as soon as it enters the market.Even here,I have seen plenty of users who would be very happy using their old phones if they were built to last.Btw,Nokia still comes out with such phones(especially in the mid-range of features and prices).

    Regards

    Ashish,

     

  27. Ashu001
    November 27, 2011

    Dennis,

    What parts/features of a new cellphone do you find missing in a 2-3 year old cellphone?

    For majority of cellphone users out there,they only use a phone for Calling,SMS,taking pictures,Organizer,Calendar and for an Alarm Clock.

    There are some more who use it for watching videos/surfing the net but even that was available 3 years back.

    So whats really new that forces you to upgrade an otherwise fine/perfectly working phone???

    Yes if your cellphone was much older(say 5 years or so) then except for a small minority everybody else would be okay.

    Would love to hear what you have to say here.

    Regards

    Ashish.

  28. Taimoor Zubar
    November 27, 2011

    I guess it depends on the usage and varies from person to person. If you are using your computer for normal uses such as browsing, chatting or word processing, a 3 or 4 year old laptop may be fine. However, if you are running graphic-intensive applications or HD games etc, you would only get optimal performance on dual-core or quad core machines. Even software manufacturers keep updating the minimum software requirements to run their software every now and then.

    Similarly, a normal mid-range mobile phone is good enough if you only want to make calls or send/receive texts. If you want to have a good browsing experience, take high-quality pictures and videos, run games on your phone or run multiple applications on your smartphone at the same time, you cannot do that on a 3 year old phone.

  29. Tim Votapka
    November 27, 2011

    As a consumer, I'd expect to invest in a product that delivered efficiency, durability and quality which is reliability over time. If something is feature rich, I'm fine w/ that, so long as it doesn't make the device obsolete or unserviceable after a relatively short period of time. I'm not interested in pouring cash into manufacturers' bank accounts simply because they've built a better mousetrap. I'm not among the majority where that mindset is concerned. Our culture has become reasonable with the buy it and toss it mentality. My neighbor for example has purchased no less than 14 cell phones for one of his kids in less than 4 years, simply because each device was either dropped kicked or less of a novelty after a couple of months. In their eyes, and many like them, longevity wasn't a consideration.

  30. AnalyzeThis
    November 27, 2011

    @tech4people, that's easy, first of all, a 2-3 year old phone won't have 4G. And Android wasn't as common back then, and even if you do have one of the early Android phones it's very likely that updates for it have stopped. 2-3 years in the cell phone world is a long time, my last phone that I had for 2 years was Windows 6.5 based. Obviously that's been completely abandoned at this point.

    If you are at all interested in apps, a 2-3 year old phone probably isn't very useful at this point (maybe the situation is slightly different with iPhones, however).

    Yes, you're correct that if you're just looking to talk/text a 2-3-year-old phone is probably going to be OK… but using that logic, you could still use a land line and be just fine.

    Phones have dramatically improved in a short period of time. The quality of the camera on that old phone is likely to be pretty poor as well, for example.

  31. JADEN
    November 27, 2011

    @Kunmi,

    Indeed you are right, that was the time of HP supremacy, Dell system is more reliable, and the support service is highly great.

  32. _hm
    November 27, 2011

    @Jaden: I agree with you. I purchased high end HP desktop and had blue screen in one week. I spent quite many futile hours with HP support, knowingly misguiding. Very poor standard. I will prefer Dell for very good service. I do not know what is wrong with HP.

  33. Ms. Daisy
    November 27, 2011

    Craig and Steve:

    Your team at Accenture got it right, the customer service experience during a purchase and brand reputation play a great role in my decision making for major appliance purchase. What is also important to me is the company's follow up repair support history. Yes, the “Maytag Repairman” context is very important to give the peace of mind I need when purchasing these expensive items.

  34. Eldredge
    November 28, 2011

    Service is definitely very important. At a time when people can find the products they want from a variety of manufacturers or retailers, it is the service provided that sets some enterprises apart from the rest.  

  35. JADEN
    November 28, 2011

    @_hm,

    HP! there reputation for good quality is gone, there technical support and service is horrible, unhelphful, and appalling incompetent.  May be they can't afford competent technical representative.

  36. Tim Votapka
    November 28, 2011

    Well said! And yes, the imaging quality on the older model…poor from day 1 as is the storage capacity for images/video files.

  37. _hm
    November 28, 2011

    @Jaden: I have very similar feelings. But I wonder, how can it hapeen so and happen so fast? Is it disadvantage of outsourcing services?

     

  38. electronics862
    November 28, 2011

    Quality product life and assurance from companies when coming to their products will win the market. By my own experience i can say Dell laptop will be sent back to store more times than a Apple may thats the reason Dell has larger number of repair depots. The life time for a product is a key for any company to stay in the market for longer time with profits. 

  39. Ariella
    December 1, 2011

    Someone pointed this out to me. It includes illustrations like ““Well, these computers, they are all . . . krappe. They don’t last. I don’t know why, but they don’t. I am installing a new hard drive. You mustn’t blame yourself.”

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