Your Company Writes Stories Every Day

On September 3rd my family bought me a TV for my birthday. It was made by Westinghouse. Two months later, almost to the day, I am watching my TV when it stops working. It just stops, turns off as if I had hit the power button on the remote by mistake (which is what I thought happened).

So I do all the things you do when something like this happens. I tried different outlets, tried holding down the power button for various lengths of time. Nothing. I wasn’t getting a stand-by light or any indication whatsoever that power was reaching the TV.

Like most appliance type things, the TV came with a piece of shiny card-stock paper that said “STOP. Do Not Return This TV To The Store.” Then there is a phone number to call if you have any trouble with the TV. Being the purchaser of the TV my wife, Jen, called the number on the shiny piece of paper. After being on hold for an inordinate amount of time, during which a recoding encouraged her over and over to visit the website for help, Jen gave up, hung up the phone and went to the website, which told her to call the number she had just called.

A few days pass because, who has the time to deal with this sort of thing. In the meantime, I am tweeting at Westinghouse, asking them for ideas. A few days later, they reply via Twitter, telling me to send my contact information via private message, which I do. A few more days pass and nothing happens. A little online research reveals we are not alone. Apparently, the name “Westinghouse” ain’t what it used to be and lots of people have had the same TV problem.

Jen decided to try calling Westinghouse again and does manage to reach a very nice woman in some faraway land who follows a script. She gives us some suggestions for trying to “reboot” the TV, none of which work. So we are told to email them pictures of the receipt and the TV and they will get back to us with next steps. Next steps?

Turns out the next steps are making arrangements to have the TV repaired. How long will that take? It depends. Jen says she has no interest in having a two month old TV repaired. She wants it replaced. The circular scripted responses go into overdrive and after a time Jen asks to speak to a manager and is put in hold. Eventually she hangs up.

Now, you see, Westinghouse is not just a company with whom I will no longer do business. Westinghouse is now numbered among the bad guys.

We bought the TV at Target and despite the shiny piece of paper that said “STOP” and despite the fact that our receipt said we only had 30 days to return the TV, Jen gave Target a call just to see. I was at my desk and after just one minute I could hear Jen laughing. Laughing. On the phone with Target, laughing. She hangs up and tells me to take the TV back to Target and ask for Larry.

We don’t have the box so I zip-tie the cord and the remote and head to Target. I’m standing in line at customer service holding a TV with no box and I can see the customer service person has noticed me and I can tell she’s not thinking “I can’t wait to talk to this guy.” But she smiles nevertheless when it is my turn and I put her mind at ease as fast as I can by blurting out “Larry told me to bring you this TV.”

Because the purchase was more than 30 days old she has to call Larry who arrives and is wearing a tie, which, at Target, means he’s El Jefe. He smiles the “I’ve-been-expecting-you” smile and tells the cashier how to work around the receipt issue and in moments I am holding a Target gift card which I promptly carry over to the electronics section where I pick out a new, more expensive, not Westinghouse, television. Not only that, I pick up some other items around the store while I am there.

As I’m pushing my cart to the checkout I pass the customer service desk and when they see me I point to the TV, you know, to let them know I didn’t use the gift card for beer. They smile the “I-hope-he-doesn’t-invite-us-to-Thanksgiving-dinner” smile.

Of course Westinghouse is no longer Westinghouse and hasn’t been for 20 years. Westinghouse is really CBS (as in broadcasting… ironically, maybe), more or less, and the Westinghouse brand is licensed out to anyone willing to pay for the right to use it. Basically, our Westinghouse TV was the brand equivalent of Star Wars grape jelly. The people who designed, built, and marketed my former TV very likely have nothing to do with the people who may have designed built and marketed other Westinghouse branded products, and yet, none of them will receive my business going forward because where there is one bad licensing agreement there are more. Westinghouse Digital LLC, out there in good old Diamond Back California, is the maker of these TV’s. It might be, and there is evidence to suggest, that they have been an innovator in the flat screen TV space and it might be that this TV is an anomaly or a VW smog check thing, but it doesn’t matter. Product aside, it’s about how we were treated.

Westinghouse Digital owed us something and, technically, Target owed us nothing. Westinghouse made it difficult to find a solution. Target found a solution in less than three minutes on the phone. The person on the phone representing Westinghouse had zero authority to make us happy. Larry at Target had all the authority he needed to make us happy.

I learned this lesson long ago working at Nordstrom, where I was empowered, as a lowly shoe salesman, to do whatever it took to make my customers happy. On more than one occasion, I had a customer come in on Friday afternoon and buy a $200 pair of patent leather tuxedo shoes, only to return them on Sunday because “they didn’t fit right.” I knew, and the customer knew I knew, that he had worn those shoes to some fancy event on Saturday night. But Nordstrom did not pay me to be a detective. Nordstrom didn’t pay me to monitor the margins or road-block loss. They paid me to make people happy.

There are many things that Target is not and like any company that size I can likely find reasons to be less than enthusiastic. But down on the ground, in the real life of trying to get through another day and in terms of my personal human experience, other than occasionally being asked to wait in line a little longer than I like, I can say that my experience is overwhelmingly positive. And because of Larry, today I am not only a customer but an advocate. As for Westinghouse Digital? Well, I like Target.

Mike Ferguson
November 2016

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