UPDATE AT THE BOTTOM (9/15/14, 9/17/14 & 9/18/14)

Shiny Lemon!

I have made a conscious choice to remove baked food from my diet back in early 2013.  That has not stopped my wife from pursuing her passion for baking from time to time. It goes without saying that baking requires a well functioning baking oven. The one that came with our home was a Whirlpool Wall Oven/Microwave combination. Sometime in early 2014 the Oven broke down. I had no choice but to replace the combination. After doing some online research and a couple of trips to stores like Sears, Home Depot and Lowes, we decided to drop 2700 of our hard earned dollars on a brand new Whirlpool WOC95EC0AS wall oven microwave combo to replace the old one. Lowes sent someone home to take measurement to make sure that we ordered the right size for the slot in our kitchen. 2 weeks after the purchase, around March 27th or 28th, we had the Microwave/oven combo installed in our kitchen by some Lowes provided installation contractor. After installing the appliance, the technician demoed both the microwave and the oven part of the combo. Everything looked good and we were happy to see the shiny new appliance adorning our kitchen. Little did we know then that this would start a seemingly unending horror story.

For the first 3-4 weeks we used only the microwave and it worked as expected.  Then one weekend, my wife decided to do some baking. The dough was prepared meticulously and then came the first surprise the oven refused to turn on – “Feature not available” the message scrolled across the LED display. And horror of horrors, the microwave started giving the same message immediately after. We looked online for solutions, and we found one that suggested that we try breaking the circuit for 1 minute and turn on again – we tried it to no avail. And now we went from having a working microwave/broken oven to no microwave/no oven.

We waited till the next day or so before placing a call to the customer service number provided in our warranty receipt.  By now the 30 day return guarantee had expired and it was the end of April, 2014. Product was now under manufacturer’s warranty. Whirlpool/Lowes customer service scheduled a technician to come take a look at the oven.

My wife took a day off from work and waited for the technician. The technician from J&H appliance repair of SJ came home took look and then tried breaking the circuit and turning it on again after a minute; of course, it did not work. After consulting with someone on the phone, he decided to order some parts – the main circuit board. He promised to come back after the part arrived. We did receive a call from J&H to schedule an appointment to install the part and schedule a time we did.  J&H decided to no-show us on the appointment and my wife wasted another day of her time-off from work.

We called customer-service again and this time they decided to send in a technician from a Sears owned company called A&E Factory Service. A technician came home and he went through the same steps as the earlier technician from J&H. This time, it was my turn to stay home and welcome the visitor. Finally when there was no trick up his sleeves to left to try, he decided he is going to order the main board. A&E technician did something different – he ordered the part to my home. I called him as soon as it arrived. We scheduled a time and he arrived to install the part. I stayed home again. Well, result was no different and the appliance was in no mood to oblige to our coaxing and cajoling – “Feature not available” it continued to bleep out. He ordered 2 more boards to my home. I stayed home again to welcome the technician and he arrived again to install the 2 new boards but the result was no different than the last time – “Feature not available” the zombie appliance screamed. He told me that there is only one that remains to be done – which is to replace the front panel circuitry – so he ordered it. By now it was end of June. We hadn’t used the oven for 3 full months and the microwave for 2 months.

First week of July, a new technician from A&E showed up early in the morning to install the newly ordered front panel. Surprise, Surprise – “Feature not available” screamed the shiny lemon sitting in my kitchen wall. The technician asked me if I will be home the whole day and I said yes. Another technician, a supposedly senior expert came by that afternoon. He tinkered with it for a couple of hours and like all who came before him, he surrendered. He said there is nothing left to do with the oven and that he is going to recommend that the oven be replaced.

He left me a voicemail next morning saying that I need to call Whirlpool myself and apprise them of my experience and ask for a replacement. So I called the customer service – after a long 1 hour talk with customer service rep, followed by a conversation with his rude supervisor, I was told that Whirlpool no longer deals with A&E – that they broke their relationship with them as of June 31st, 2014. I failed to understand why that was my fault. I was told they need to send technician from another company – can you guess the company whirlpool recommended? It would be funny, if it wasn’t incredibly painful to deal with horrible customer support representatives – yes, it was the the no-show company J&H. I told him I’d have nothing to do with J&H. So they recommended their only other option – a company called AGO.

AGO technicians started showing up at my house since early July and I waited with baited breath for them to suggest a way forward to a resolution. Well good thing that I didn’t hold my breath for that to happen. AGO technicians have made 8-9 visits to my home during July and August with the last visit being on Aug 20th. They replaced all the boards that A&E guys had already replaced the previous month. On August 21st, I received a call from AGO rep saying that they have given up – that the product is irreparable. They gave me a reference number and asked me to call Whirlpool for a final resolution.

I called Whirlpool customer service on August 22, 2014 and Spoke to Jennifer and her supervisor for 32 minutes. They wanted to restart the whole process of sending technicians to my home. It would be funny if they hadn’t stolen $2700 of my hard earned money + all the lost hours and productivity + vacation time lost + headache they caused  + the pain of not having a working Oven/Microwave in our kitchen + dealing with rude “customer service” reps, I lost it. I threatened to put the whole recorded conversation on YouTube.  The rude inconsiderate supervisor hung up on me.

I called back after a few minutes and spoke with a tad bit more reasonable rep named Ashley. At least, she had the patience to hear me out without barking at me about what my rights are as a customer. Well she had no better solution than to suggest another technician appointment – what was the excuse this time? That the last technician from AGO didn’t call Whirlpool’s tech support line while he was at my house. As if that is my fault. I agreed and we setup an appointment for Wednesday, August 27, 2014 between 8AM and 12PM with the same old company J&H who no showed me once. Goes to show you who Whirlpool’s associates in business are. They had only two companies providing repair services in San Jose – AGO and J&H.

I took the morning off from work on Aug 27, 2014 and waited till 12 noon and there was no sign of technician. So I called Whirlpool customer service number one more time. As you would expect by now, a rude customer service person named Eva from Michigan picked up my call.  It was reasonably clear to me during that conversation that the J&H technician no-showed because appointment was not communicated to them. She emphatically claimed that my warranty is not a product replacement warranty but a “repair” warranty and that she needs to send me a technician to take a look at the product.  Can anyone believe it? She told me I have only one option either to accept the perpetual technician visits or she will note that I have rejected their offer to service the product. I told her I am not rejecting anything, just exploring all my options. She assured me I had no other options. The arrogance of these people!

So here I am, several thousand of my hard earned money stolen by Whirlpool and I still have no working product.  Adding insult to injury, 2 weeks ago I received a letter from Whirlpool pitching me to extend my 3 year extended warranty to 5 years. They want to inflict more pain and charge you for the privilege.

I have more options than Eva would want me to know. Luckily I have legal coverage under my benefit plans at work. Even more importantly there is social media and internet. I am pursuing those options at the moment.

Here’s the summary:

Lowes takes my $2700 on March 13th.

I get the Wall Oven delivered and installed on March 27th.

A total of at least 15 repair visits are made to my home between first week of March May and August 21 ( I have started losing count)

Time since product purchase: > 5 months

# of times the oven has worked : 0

Hours spent talking to rude customer service reps:  4-6 hours

Time spent at home baby sitting repair technicians : > 100 hours

Lowes, Inc washed their hand stating 30 day money back guarantee is over. Its customer service people were not of any help either.

UPDATE – 9/15/14

Within a few hours of publishing this post (on 9/2/14), I was contacted by both Lowes and Whirlpool via Twitter. Both the companies seemed genuinely interested in resolving this issue. After I DMed my appliance and contact information via twitter, Melanie from Whirlpool called me and left me a voicemail on Wednesday, Sep 3rd, 2014 informing that they have decided to replace the oven. I was told in that voicemail that I should expect a call from Whirlpool on the details of the exchange before end of day on Friday (Sep 5th). I was contacted by Lowes and I informed the Lowes rep that Whirlpool has agreed to replace my oven.

I thought I would really be able to make  a single update to the post informing the world that Whirlpool really made amends and tried to hard to correct the failures of the past. It is 9/15/14 today and I haven’t received any updates from Whirlpool about the how/when of the exchange. I made 2 customer service calls to Whirlpool last week. I was unable to speak to Melanie the first time, but did speak with another rep. She told me she will pass the information on to Melanie and ask her to contact me. She connected me to Melanie’s voicemail and I left her a voicemail. Melanie’s voicemail greetings suggested that I also contact her via Whirlpool’s customer service email for faster response. So I did that too.

On Thursday 12:37PM pacific, I received a call from Melanie. She had no useful information to share with me. She is waiting for some paper pusher to do his/her job and could not make any promises as to when it will be resolved. My “file” is stuck in one of Whirlpool’s many bureaucratic bottlenecks. This is no personal indictment of Melanie – it is just evidence that Whirlpool’s is not serious about customer satisfaction.  My experience is not isolated as evidenced not just by this event but also by the number of people ranting on their social media handles. Here was an opportunity to rectify its mistake and win the confidence of a customer back and so far Whirlpool seems to be uninterested in any such thing.

IMPORTANT UPDATE (9/16/14):  Please share this story via your social media handles. It is important to hold these people accountable for their actions. It is also important that we inform consumer about the perils of doing business with these organizations. Thank you very much.

UPDATE (9/17/14): Whirlpool’s customer support’s twitter moniker is @WhirlpoolCare. LOL. They could have demonstrated care by resolving customer issues, instead they removed my permission to post to their Facebook Page. WhirlpoolCare indeed. :)

I will be handling this mostly through Twitter – follow me at https://twitter.com/subhiandrews. I will be using hashtag #whirlpoolsux going forward. I would request that you do the same. Thank you.

Coming soon – https://www.facebook.com/WhirlpoolCare and if you have artistic skills in graphics. I am looking for images that will  represent the #whirlpoolsux #customerdisserviceexperts horror story

UPDATE (9/18/14): Whirlpool so far has broken all its deadlines and promises and has not bother to contact me for more than a week. Today I called Whirlpool customer service and spoke to Angie. She told me that everything has been approved and its just that Tameka has not contacted me with the details (Talk about caring for a customer with a broken unusable product). Angie promised to send Tameka an email and that Tameka will call me within 24 hours. And that 24 hours ends at 10:27AM pacific tomorrow. Will they keep their promise this time? Do they even pretend to care?  We will find out soon enough.

UPDATE (9/19/14): Whirlpool kept this small promise, for a change. At 9AM this morning I received a call from Beth at Whirlpool to inform me that they have approved my exchange. It will be handled through Lowes and I will have to wait for another call from Lowes in the next 7-14 days. Not sure if Whirlpool and Lowes will go back to their old dirty habit of jerking their customers around. My trust of these companies are at zero. Let’s see if they can redeem some of that trust by giving me a positive surprise.

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It’s time for me to gloat. This lowly blogger, sitting on the “high perch” of his blog, once suggested to Microsoft that they buy Barnes & Nobles, specifically, for its ereader and ebooks business. Here were the 3 reasons cited 11 months ago.

1. Barnes & Noble has over 700 stores worldwide and over 600 college bookstores. These books stores are a great showroom for Microsoft’s array of software, gaming & partner made hardware products. Some of these stores may not be ideally located for Microsoft’s store strategy, and in those cases, Microsoft should just sell the location. Large stores, especially in upscale downtown locations or inside major shopping malls should be attractive to Microsoft.

2. Barnes & Noble, just yesterday, announced the new Nook ebook reader. As stated earlier, it is very promising new product. Even the “older” color screen version of the nook has been a hit product. Granted, the color nook runs Android. It’ll not be hard for Microsoft ride the success of nook while preparing to transition the product to something that runs a version of Windows CE kernel.

3. Barnes & Noble sells traditional paper books and, increasingly, the electronic version. Microsoft as a technology company is investing heavily in its online division to compete with Google. This is another way for Microsoft to ensure that they make their presence felt not just in search and related services, but creating valuable information content in its cloud services.

Microsoft did even better than what I had in mind – they just took a stake in the ‘E’ side of B&N’s business without taking over the high overhead paper, brick & mortar operations. This is typically the way Microsoft rolls when it needs to compete with “established” players in a sector, they identify a beaten down yet capable player, and partner with them. They have done it with both Yahoo & Nokia, and now with B&N – WSJ reports:

Microsoft Corp. is making a $300 million investment in Barnes & NobleInc.’s Nook digital-book business and college-texts unit in a move that helps value the prized Nook business, the companies said.

Microsoft will have a 17.6% stake in a new subsidiary for the businesses in a transaction that values them at $1.7 billion, the companies said. That compares with Barnes & Noble’s current market capitalization of about $791 million and could fuel the argument of some analysts and investors that the digital business should be separated from the retail division.

As part of the move, there will be a Nook application included in the new Windows 8, which is scheduled to have a release preview in early June. Later this year, computers and tablets with Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system are expected to go on sale.

This is an excellent move on the part of Microsoft. I would have hoped that they would take a controlling stake in the B&N unit.

Unapolegetic Apple fan MG Siegler declared Spec Dead back in Novermber 2011. I, sort of, agree with that sentiment. Yes, Spec is useless unless it serves some useful purpose in terms of user experience and functionality. It is actually even worse – higher specs that don’t  serve any useful purpose actually drains resources like battery, thus contributing to a worse UX than otherwise.

John Gruber another Apple fan blogging at Daring Fireball concurred. That was a widely accepted sentiment across the network of Apple fans – look at the number of “likes” that MG Siegler post received.

I am staring to wonder why the Apple community is trying to beat the Nokia Lumia 900 with the spec schtick? Does anyone know?

To be fair to both Siegler & Gruber, I am not aware of either of them making such an inconvenient 180 degree turn themselves.

On Sunday I wrote about the suicidal nature of the subsidies that carriers are giving to iPhone, and why it might be in their best interest to end it. I think the end of subsidies will come sooner or later, could be as early as next year.

Now, Brian X Chen of the Bits Blog on NY Times has also noticed the new found love that mobile carriers are showering on Windows Phone.

If it plays its cards right, Microsoft has a great opportunity to get a strong foothold as a third ecosystem in the very important North American mobile market. Microsoft has a lot to lose come this fall – with the risky and exciting move to Windows 8 and now Windows Phone 8 Apollo.

Update:

AT&T CEO shows off White Lumia 900 when asked about iPhone 5

It will be an understatement to say that the U.S mobile market is one of the most important ones in the world – for its size, ability of the customers to pay for more expensive services, and the faster device refresh cycles.

In the U.S, carriers typically subsidize the handsets heavily to cajole their new and existing customers into long term contracts – to buy customer loyalty and more stable revenue streams. All subsidies are not created equal, and some come at a tremendous cost to the carrier. For example a typical high end smart phone running Android usually goes for a full retail price somewhere in the neighborhood of $500-$600 per unit, and they sell for about $199 with a 2 year contract with the carrier.

The unequal amongst equals is iPhone. The lower end 16GB version of the iPhone, with typically much lower specs than the greatest Android, goes for $650 to $700 at full retail. Yet iPhones are sold for the same $199 price with a 2 year service contract. Essentially, iPhones are subsidized to the tune of $450 to $500 per phone. Is anyone wondering why iPhone is one of Apple’s most profitable businesses?

It would be interesting put this subsidy in context of the another product that Apple sells to the consumers – the iPad. The lower end 16GB iPad with much larger display screen sells for a full retail price of around $500 and even the 4G version could be bought for just $629. So why are the carriers lining up to part with their profits for getting the iPhone on their network? Crazy thought, isn’t it? The usual explanation is that the most well paying customers want the iPhone and if the carriers don’t provide it, the customers would flock to the networks that do. There is certain merit to that argument, but the carriers should ask themselves – at what cost?

Take a look at the following chart and see if you can find the magic that iPhone exclusivity brought to AT&T’s share holders!

A miserable marriage.

In case you are still wondering, the answer is, it didn’t! AT&T is now scrambling to promote Nokia’s new sexy Lumia 900 devices as an alternative to hitherto most desired device – the iPhone. Grapevine has it that AT&T the launch budget for Lumia line of phones is a lot higher than what they spent on the iPhone launch. AT&T has even replaced the phone on some of their ads, even in those that don’t make Lumia 900 by name. In the Bay Area, I hear AT&T’s 4G LTE ad on the radio all the time always followed immediately by an ad for “beautifully different” Nokia Lumia 900 4G phone.


AT&T is not alone in expressing an interesting in promoting a viable flagship alternative to not just the iPhone but the plethora of Android handsets. Verizon joined the bandwagon recently during its earnings call. Verizon’s CFO, Fran Shammo, said the company wants a strong third software competitor in the mobile market. Hallelujah, for the late realization. He went on to add that “We’re really looking at the Windows Phone 8.0 platform because that’s a differentiator. We are working with Microsoft on it,”.

Is this a new recognition by the carriers that the partnership with Apple is taking them to the cleaners? It does, from the looks of it and if it is, this is good news for most parties involved – more competition amongst mobile platform will fasten the innovation in the industry, will likely to lead to better consumer products, lower prices, and, last but not least, happier carrier stock holders.

This is not to say Apple’s profit machine is about to come to a screeching halt. Far from it. First, the carriers are not yet announcing any reduction in subsidies for iPhone just yet, and even if they did, Apple still has a lot of the world left to derive its top line and bottom line growth from. Second, it is still too early to say that these new campaigns, new promises, and new strategies will amount to a hill of beans. While I am no qualified expert on financial matters, I am hopeful that Apple’s profit gold mine will continue to crank out nuggets. Apple as a company is in the zone. Momentum, either positive or negative, is a crazy thing, it can go on for a long time and will only stop when no one expects.

Two days after its reentry into the U.S market with the launch of its premier Windows Phone, Lumia 900, Nokia reminded investors that all is not well just yet at Espoo. Analysts eager to pass judgement without analysis were quick to pounce on the opportunity – to rain on Nokia’s parade – a seemingly successful comeback to the North American market(the new smartphone models topped the charts on Amazon at best seller phone  1 & 2)

Here is a small list of things that escaped analysts’ attention.

  1. It is no secret that Nokia’s traditional symbian smartphone business is in trouble. Analysts should not be surprised by this, but they were. The question is whether the new Lumia sales will move up fast enough to compensate for the decline in Symbian sales. They should not expect miracles in this department
  2. Lumia line was launched only a couple of weeks before the last holiday season, that too only in 6 countries. With major markets like the U.S and China held of until last week or so, the sales of the new line of smartphones running the beautiful WP Mango at 2 million units look very healthy and promising.
  3. Lumia has received very positive response from consumers and reviewers in general for its beautifully different design.
  4. AT&T is completely on board with the launch. I have been to a couple of AT&T stores, and Lumia had a prominent place in the store with signage all over the store walls. Unlike in the past with other WP devices, store employees were eager to sell you a Lumia.
  5. Nokia has a friend and ally with deep pockets – Microsoft. Microsoft and Nokia both need each other to succeed in the mobile market.
  6. Nokia’s hardware design capabilities are second to none.
  7. Nokia’s software capabilities are ages ahead of the troves of android phone set makers.
  8. There is only one line of smartphones in the market that truly differentiates in both hardware and software(materials, colors and functionality) all the other smartphones available in the market – Lumias.
  9.  It wouldn’t be much of exaggeration to say that Nokia has channels and presence in every single country on the planet. It also has established relationship with mobile carriers in these markets.
  10. If it takes a Microsoft acquisition to make it all work, Microsoft will do it.
  11. Microsoft now has fans – a rather unfair review on The Verge received 2500 comments,(when the usual comment for a blog entry is under 100), much of it coming from people who should be considered fans/well wishers of Microkia.
  12. People love an underdog who is capable, and that underdog is nowMicrokia. Think Different(ly)

While it is still early days in the transition of Nokia from Symbian/Feature phones to Lumia and, possibly, Windows 8 tablets, Nokia will not only survive, but is likely to thrive in the coming years.

 

He inspired people like no other entrepreneur before him. Here are a few of his words that inspires me:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” -Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs will be missed terribly by the whole world. I surely will miss him. :(

Much anticipated Apple’s “Let’s talk iPhone” event popped faster than one could poke a cheap balloon with a pin. Expectations were high. Incredible rumors were floating around that had the Apple fanboys in a tizzy – like an all new magical edge-to-edge glass iPhone 5 with wider screen and NFC, a cheaper iPhone 4S for conquering the lower end smartphone market,  a new home button with multi-touch, a new iPod multi-touch,  iOS5, and weirdest of them all – a Facebook App for iPad(I’ll probably blog on this later).

This event was important for a whole another reason – Tim Cook, the new CEO, was taking stage for the first time in place of the legendary Steve Jobs.

I was following the event somewhat live on Engadget.com. The event dragged on as Apple gloated about its recent past, its “magical” new stores in Hong Kong and Shanghai, and a rerun of the WWDC show on iOS5/iCloud. At one point after the new greeting card service announcement, Engadget blogger posted this “That got applause. People seem desperate to clap for something. That was it.” Sad part is, it was an event orchestrated just like any other Apple event, yet it was uninspiring unlike the Apple events that we are accustomed to.

Towards the end of the event came the announcement that there is going to be a new iPhone 4S. It is essentially the same package as iPhone 4 with a faster processor and a better camera – nothing earth shattering in terms of specs – one would normally expect any company to upgrade their hardware a couple of times in 15-16 months. Besides, you could find Android phones with these or better specs and features. My hope for a “one more thing” moment was shattered to more pieces than would a retina display when it drops to a concrete floor. The iPhone 4S, instead of being an all-conquering lower end smartphone is the new premium iPhone. If there was a “one more thing” It was a dud – Siri. It is a feature perfected by Google on its Android devices. Siri is nothing but a catch up act, and if anything a weird way to interact with an inanimate object – voice.

Apple with this new iPhone is not setting the trend, just doing catch up with its competitors. Coming 3-4 months later than usual, this is a big disappointment.  So why did Apple do this in October rather than the usual June schedule? There are two possible reasons (speculations on my part) – First, Apple desperately wanted to do something “magical” again, and they probably tried and could not make it happen. Competition is tightening and it is getting harder to differentiate in the smartphone market. Second, they wanted to launch latest iPhone when iOS5 and iCloud were ready. This second reason is less likely. Given Apple’s penchant for fanfare, they would have prefered the iPhone first in June and iOS5 & iCloud in October. They would have had two opportunities for magical events.

So the question now is – why would anyone  pay premium for an iPhone when he/she can have much of these same features for a lot less money on an Android or a WP7 device? I won’t but I am sure millions will. Apple has the momentum and the brand reputation to continue selling these devices at a premium, at least in the near future. But alarm bells must go off for anyone looking at Apple as a trend setting company and a sure fire investment bet.

The future does not look as rosy as it’s past for Apple even in the tablet arena. It’s only a matter of time before Android tablets catch up to the feature set and sleek industrial design of iPad. Then there is the Windows 8 coming and if early reviews are any indications, it is looking real good. Apple has a tough business model – with Apple pulling much of the weight of innovating on its own platforms vis-à-vis Windows/Android with more open environment with many partners innovating on both hardware and software applications. Apple was able to do the near impossible through excellent execution around a tough business model. All good things must come to an end. Apple is not that nimble medium sized company any more. It is the second largest corporation by valuation.

At the risk of looking like a fool in the not so distant future, I would make a prediction–Apple’s best days are behind them, not ahead of them. It has lost an irreplaceable CEO, done the impossible for more than 10 years, and its competition adapting increasingly quickly to a world defined by Apple. That’s not to say that Apple will shrink soon to a fraction of its current size. One misstep doesn’t make a trend. If anything Apple will continue to be at the leading edge of technology. Apple will sell a gazillion iPhone 4S, and probably millions more of future iterations of that once disruptive technology. It will continue to sell gazillion more of iPods, iPads, Macs and other devices. But will they still manage to charge a premium for their product? I would venture to say, no! Disagree? Well, we shall see! If there is one company that has potential to always suprise on the upside, it is Apple.