Saturday, February 18, 2006

Complaints as a service

Twenty years ago I read a newspaper article about a woman who was making the equivalent of a hefty salary by complaining. She was a master of letting companies know where they did not live up to their obligations and in return she received lots of free products, refunds, vouchers, coupons, etc. As much as the article's author was pushing the concept of "spend lots of time bitching and you can free stuff," I recall her side of the story. She viewed her complaints comments as a service to the company; giving feedback when most people aren't willing say anything.

I was thinking about this last week when I wrote my complaint letter to Intermatic. While I thought it would be cool to get a free timer out of the deal, I already have a new one installed and it's not like I need a bunch of them.

I know it sounds funny, but I really thought a good company would value my problem as an opportunity. Unfortunately, most companies don't think of problems as opportunity. For an example of how most companies seem to handle issues, read Seth Godin's article about Jonathan Cruce's problem with VTech or his post about Shari's Berries.

Contrast that story with the following response from Intermatic:
Hi Jeffrey,

Thank you for your recent letter and picture. I am sorry that you are having problems with our timers. I would like to talk to you about the past and present timer you have purchased and I'd like to tell you about our new timer that will hit the market soon. I'd be happy to put you in my data base so that you will receive one of the timers complimentary.

Please send me a day time phone number.

Thank you!

Lisa Kosel
Customer Service

I was out this afternoon and missed Lisa's call, but the summary of the voicemail she left is I am going to receive both their latest switch/timer (different than the one I bought last week) and their soon to be released timer once it comes out this Spring or Summer. She also left me her direct line so she could explain the features of their soon to be released product.

And all of this is why I am now a big fan of Intermatic. If your curious, they also make Malibu Lights, the landscape lighting you can buy at Home Depot and Lowe's.

For new readers (should I get so lucky) check out the related posts where I complain about and then get a lovely response to my rant.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

My new light switch

I wrote a complaint letter today. I'll let you know if I hear anything back from them.
11 February 2006

Intermatic, Inc.
Intermatic Plaza
Spring Grove, IL 60081

To Whom It May Concern:

I just purchased and installed a new timer for the lights outside my garage (2 fixtures, each with a 60 watt Halogen bulb). The problem is, I did this just a few months ago and today I had to do it again.

I had an automatic timer for the lights and it worked for three or four years. The brand was not yours, but it worked just fine. Sometime last summer it bit the dust. I went to Home Depot, again, and bought a new automatic timer for my lights. I bought your timer, the SS8 model and I’m guessing this was in the early fall. I do recall remember it was a pain to install because of the space the timer took in my electrical box.

About a month ago, it broke. I tried replacing the battery, but that didn’t help it either. So I am once again trudging to the store (Lowe’s this time) to pick up a new timer. I would have gone back to Home Depot, but I don’t want to go digging for the receipt; without which it would take them a couple hours to figure out how to give me a partial refund should they even be able to find the item in their system.

If I had been sure the last model was from you I really doubt I would have purchased the new model, EJ500CL. I will say the install on this, the digital model, was easier than last time. I also thought the controls were easy to understand.

My problem is why did the first one break? Why did I have to go through all this hassle and spend another $24.98 plus tax? Even if I have the whole timing screwed up and it lasted a year, who cares? This is a product I expect should last at least 5-10 years without maintenance, repair, or replacement.

It seems to me this should really be your problem, not mine. I’m almost afraid because I ended up buying another of your products. You can trust me when I say that if this one goes bad I’ll be passing the word about this to everyone I can get to listen. In the meantime, while I wait to pass judgement on the new timer, is there anything you will do to alleviate my frustration?


On the plus side of today's experience, the reason I went out of my way to Lowe's in the first place is because I had received a $10 coupon in the mail.

So, I walking through the store, getting the new light and a couple keys made when I realize the coupon must have been that thing I thought dropped out of my pocket in the car. So I leave the stuff at a checkout stand, go digging under the seat to find the coupon, and discover it was $10 off of a purchase of $50 or more. *sigh*

Now I'm looking for grass seed, but I have to call Steve because I think I've got Bermuda grass instead of Kentucky, but I wasn't sure. Anyway, after upping my purchase to $50+ bucks I go back to the check out line to discover the coupon expired on February 5! Before I can say anything, another checker walks over starts punching buttons, calls a manager, and gets me my $10 discount.

Which all means I'm going back to Lowe's next time, because they know how to take care of their customers.