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Managing Expectations

The touchpad on my oven at my house died about a month ago. It’s a Kenmore so I called Sears. Tough to get that first appointment so they first came out last Saturday. I was pretty sure I knew what was wrong and priced out the part alone at $200. When they offered a $275 “we’ll fix it or replace it with a warranty”, I jumped on it. (It’s worth $75 to avoid me screwing up my oven and have my wife be mad at me. Come to think of it, that’s probably worth a lot more than $75.) Upon arrival, the technician gave me a hard time about the lack of a serial number on the microwave. Huh? (It’s an oven/microwave stack combo and apparently, the serial number is a prerequisite to my service deal.) Is it my fault the serial number is a dinky sticker inside the microwave? No. We found it on the manual but nonetheless, don’t bother me with this. Just fix it.
The technician diagnosed the bad touchpad (“control panel”) and said he would need to order the part. Fine. I then scheduled the next appointment for yesterday (1 week). The technician said UPS would ship the part directly to my house. Fine. Another 4 hour block of time wasted but whatever.
On Thursday, I get an automated call from Sears saying to call them. I call. (BTW, their automated customer service line is annoying: it’s voice recognition that doesn’t often recognize and I can’t understand their CSRs and I’m usually good with accents.) Sears tells me the part won’t arrive until Saturday but that we’re still on. I just need to call them when the part arrives. Fine. My appointment is scheduled for 1-5pm. 1pm rolls around—no part. 1:15pm part arrives.
I call and wade through the annoying call tree. Oh, sorry, you missed the window. You’ll need to reschedule. I’m sorry, what? I said that Sears made a commitment and that the part arriving late wasn’t my fault. If it needed to arrive sooner, Sears should have shipped it in a more expedited fashion. I also said that Sears originally had me scheduled and should be able to fit me in at the end of the day. Nope, can’t do it. Big, long explanation which had nothing to do with me. I was nice and said that it wasn’t my problem. Pay the guy overtime. I have the part. Let’s get that technician out here today and meet your commitment to me. Nope, can’t do it.

Not getting anywhere with the CSR, I asked to speak to a supervisor. Condensing this long post, I was either disconnected or put on hold for 30+ minutes at a time 4 times (!) only to have to re-explain my issue to a non-supervisor. Throughout all this, I never lost my temper. It wasn’t the CSR or technicians fault. They were just doing their job. This was Sears fault. Their logistics and scheduling process was flawed, their call center people weren’t empowered and their call center technology was substandard.
Finally, I reached a supervisor. She told me, point blank, a technician would be out today. Great. Thanks. I’m happy. Crisis averted. Not 15 minutes later, I receive an automated call asking me to call Sears and reschedule.
Now I’m on a mission. Who can I escalate this issue to? The CEO of Sears? Ah, better yet, how about the Internet! I crack off two well-thought Twitter posts expressing my disappointment and dissatisfaction with Sears. 10 minutes later, I get a response from @searscares asking me to Direct Message my contact information. They want to help. Hmmm, ok. It can’t hurt. I get a call from Liz who is taking my case on. Fine. I explain the situation and she agrees it’s unacceptable. She sets off to work on it and will call me back.
Liz calls back about 30 minutes later with bad news. She pulled out all the stops and couldn’t make it happen. I thanked her for trying and we rescheduled. She offered me a gift card which was nice but it didn’t solve my problem. I wasn’t so much upset about my oven (it will get fixed…don’t use it all that much anyway) but disappointed in Sears. They used to be a great American company with a rich history of service. Sears and Roebuck – they were the original mass retailer for crying out loud! And then it hit me…
I had played the role of Sears before. I had failed to manage expectations. Ouch. I suppose we all have/do but this one hurt. On past client efforts, not often, but at times, I had either failed to plan adequately or failed to provide adequate and timely communication resulting in jeopardized deliverables. I hadn’t met the expectations of my client just like Sears hadn’t met mine. It’s all about managing expectations.
Fortunately, I learned about managing expectations [the hard way] a while back and use several approaches to avoid mismanaged expectations:
  • Planning. Yes, it will change but think the process through. It will identify missed elements and incongruent deliverables. “Wait, we can’t complete X before Y.”
  • Contingency plans. Stuff happens. Shipping gets delayed. “If the part doesn’t make it to the house that day, is there another day we can make the repair?”
  • Risk management. An experienced technician would know a week is not enough time for the part to arrive. Empower your folks to spend $15 to expedite shipping (as an example).
  • Timely communication. I’m religious about weekly status reports. However, this needs to be followed up with a face-to-face meeting. There’s too much ambiguity around an email or even more formal written communication. Have a consistent, single point of contact for me.
  • Humility. If you mess up, come clean as soon as possible. If there’s a problem, I want to know about it. Stuff happens. Likely, it’s ok and I’ll respect you more for working with me rather than burying a problem that will multiply into a monster over time.
  • Respect. Don’t blame me for the problem. Own the problem. Make it right. I will contribute to the solution. Don’t use automated calls. Call me. Talk to me. If it’s just a reminder, an email is fine/perfect. Treat my situation as though it were your own. If we’re in this together, I’ll treat you like a trusted partner.
  • Inspection. Is the process flawed? Are the right people in the wrong roles? Are our tools insufficient? How are we doing? What quantitative and qualitative metrics can we monitor over time to judge our effectiveness?
Managing expectations is extremely hard. I fail every day with my family and my teams. But I also succeed and improve with each mistake. That said, I know I’ll never be perfect but must continue to strive toward improvement. Sears needs to do the same.


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