Sunday, February 11, 2007

Balancing Act in the Global Bazaar

Jala, my partner of 43 years, was speechless when I rolled up to our Chesapeake Bay beach cottage in Norfolk, VA, in a Home Depot rental truck with a six-foot-tall cardboard carton strapped in the bed behind the cab.

It was Oct. 9, the eve of her 66th birthday, and I’d brought home the first refrigerator I’d ever bought—a ten-cubic-foot, frost-free Magic Chef.

It was also—in the ten years we’d lived in our cottage—the first fridge of any make or model I’d found whose dimensions corresponded to the only space in our diminutive kitchen where a refrigerator can fit.

Occupying that space for more years than anyone remembered was the tough but ancient little Sanyo a former landlord had provided, with her decomposing door seal and top-mounted freezer compartment that we had to defrost with pans of boiling water every week—or less, in the heat of summer—and where, even in winter, it took a good eight hours to freeze a tray of ice cubes. We thanked her for her long service and wheeled her out to a garage where, odds are, she’s entered permanent retirement.

Meanwhile, it took me an entire evening to install Magic Chef, beginning with a thorough clean-up of the shocking accumulation of dust and crud on the floor and walls behind Sanyo, which I discovered when I moved her, as spiders fled into recesses behind the cabinets.

Then I realized I would have to reverse Magic Chef’s doors so they would open without squeezing us against the stove. Easier said than done, for an appliance hack such as I! I broke sweat on that ordeal, as I brought out just about every screw driver, wrench, awl, and drill in my flea-market bin of tools before I succeeded.

In that process, though, I discovered that the screw-in bolt on one of the “leveling legs,” as they’re called—the refrigerator’s front feet—was bent so that the unit would not stand up evenly. Bummer! Our first, very own, new refrigerator, the only major appliance we’d bought in 43 years of housekeeping together, had come with a defect! I slipped a shim under the good foot to keep the unit from rocking, preferring for the time being to adopt a state of denial while we transferred our perishables from Sanyo.

But the morning after Jala’s birthday I decided to face practical reality. I called Home Depot to ask if I could get a new leveling leg. An operator forwarded my call to the appliance department, where a woman gave me the 800 number of the Home Depot Service Hotline.

A man at the Service Hotline, who eventually responded after I’d selected a number from a long list of options on an automated menu, said he needed the model and serial numbers of my appliance, which I’d find on the inside of the door. He was wrong, the numbers were on the back of the fridge, where I couldn’t read them until I’d maneuvered her off the shim and out from the wall. By the time I got back to the phone, the service rep had hung up.

I called again, steered my way through the menu, and eventually a different service rep answered. He told me I’d have to pay for the new leveling leg. When I asked him why, he forwarded my call to the complaints department, where I was put on hold.

Certain this guy had misdirected me, I hung up, redialed, retraced my route through the menu, and soon a woman answered. After satisfying her that I’d bought a model with a valid warranty, she gave me the 800 number of customer assistance at Maytag Corp., the manufacturer.

In my first call to this number, I mistakenly pressed two, which directed me to a department dealing exclusively in microwave ovens. I hung up, redialed, waited out the menu, and pressed one.

An automated message reported that the office of Maytag Customer Assistance was closed. Hours were 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern time. The clock on my wall said 9:53 a.m.

I redialed at 10:05, pressed one at the menu prompt, and, after an interlude of elevator music, a woman answered. Before I could say anything, she needed to know my name, address, phone number, and e-mail address. Then she asked why I’d called. I explained I’d just bought this refrigerator with a bent leveling leg, and she put me on hold. After about three minutes, she returned to tell me I’d have to call Magic Chef Maytag at yet another toll-free number.

By this time I was close to snapping. What kind of service was this? Globalization, corporate mergers, outsourcing—nothing but a maze of confusion, deliberately designed to flummax customers! Sell sell sell—that’s all it was made for! Profits for greedy Republicans who care for nothing under Heaven but making money!

However, I’d waded in too far to give it up now. I took a deep breath and dialed the 888 number. A menu came on strongly encouraging communication by FAX or e-mail rather than phone. Not a good sign, but, as directed, I stayed on the line, and a service rep named Dan came on. “How may I help you?”

Repressing my hostility for the entire systemic network of consumer capitalism, I asked—one more time—if I could get a replacement for the crooked leveling leg that had come with my new refrigerator.

“Oh, Sure,” said Dan, who took down my contact information and the refrigerator’s model and serial numbers, gave me a tracking number and his telephone extension, and said the replacement part would go out the next morning.

A few days later the part came in the mail. I screwed it on, and the fridge has stood elegantly on its own two feet ever since.

It was that easy, once I got to the right person.

So shall I regard that morning as an exasperating experience with an inefficient system of interlocking corporate structures, perhaps deliberately contrived to dodge customer service obligations?

Or shall I see it as fun—a game, like a treasure hunt—whose object, happily realized, was to locate the friend out there in a big wide world who could grant me the favor I both needed and deserved?

It’s a choice of world views, and it’s all mine to make


At 10:21 AM , Blogger Alphacarol said...

I love this story. I can really relate! Beautifully written with a surprise ending. I never thought of going on a treasure hunt. I'll remember that next time!

Carol Manuel

At 1:20 PM , Anonymous Heidi said...

This is funny and made me laugh out loud a few's true that you can feel like the whole thing is designed so companies can avoid service to their customers. Oh well, I'm glad you had a happy ending.


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