As the owner of a small, local business I fully understand that often your best (or worst) marketing is via word-of-mouth. I have said often that many times “Perception is Reality”. I also understand that at times, as a small, local business things are completely out of your control.
I would like to think that the majority of my tenants would recommend me… but I know that there are some that will go out of their way to steer business away from me. Often, those that let me know what they think of me are those that have ended up on the wrong end of an eviction action. I very seldom file for an eviction action with the account only one month in rent behind. My property manager gets annoyed at me because she sees me as the king of second chances. If you are upset with me that I used the court system to make you homeless, there is not much that I can do.
On the other hand, there are times when you just have problems that you can’t seem to fix. It is not because you don’t care or aren’t trying, you just don’t know the solution. I had a unit with a leak in the ceiling. Have you ever tried to track down an occasional leak? We thought we found the source. We even thought we found other possible areas that could be sources in the future. We spent literally over $1,000 tracking down a relatively minor leak. Then, next rainfall comes… and it leaks again. Son of a ……. I have another unit right now where I am chasing some type of well issue. I have had my service team look at, and have called in two different plumbers. No one can find any problem – yet about once a week, this tenant runs out of water. I can assume that in both cases, these people aren’t going to have much good to say about me.
I understand that you are not going to make all of the people happy all of the time. However, I can at least live with myself if I know that I did all that I reasonably could. I know that for every tenant who is upset with me or my operation, there are 20 who would recommend me to others. I have had people who I have had to evict apologize to me for making me go through the process. I have had people whom I have had to start collection actions against recommend me. So, I am not perfect but I try.
That is what building a reputation is about, it is about trying. Sometimes things are out of my control. I will have an employee get frustrated with a tenant and let that frustration show. And to be honest, I have gotten frustrated and have, at times, been less than professional. Even though it has happened, there is no excuse for it. Often, the problems have to do with subcontractors, people whom I have almost no control over. I accept rental payments online through my website, I am one of the few that do and that feature has helped lease apartments to people who prefer online bill payments. However, I am really not able to offer that service myself, so instead I contract with a company to handle the online payments for me. So, when there is a problem with the online payment, often I cannot fix it, it is a problem with my vendor and has to be fixed with them. Although not my fault and something I have almost zero control over, my response has always been to my customers that if my vendor doesn’t make it right, you let me know and I will make it right and then I will figure out how to handle the problem with the vendor. Fortunately, that vendor is also a relatively small, Wisconsin-based business and have a pretty good record of being responsive and making things right.
Knowing what efforts I will go through to make things right, even when the problem is out of my control, you can understand how annoyed I can get when I see local businesses of whom I am a customer give me excuses or pass the buck. Believe me, I understand problems that I cannot fix. They happen, they cost me business. But just because I can’t find the solution doesn’t mean I am going to stop trying. Just because my customer’s problem is with a vendor and not with me doesn’t mean that I am not going to try to make it right. My customer doesn’t want excuses, they want the problem fixed. They don’t care that it wasn’t my fault, they only know they are MY customer, so in their mind it is MY problem.
Therefore, the saga that Mrs. Rent has been going through with Furniture & Appliance Mart has been nerve wracking with her. This episode over a $100 part has already cost them literally thousands of dollars in sales from her, and even more in potential future sales from her. So, at least $10,000 in lost sales over a $100 issue caused by an extended warranty they sold that they will not stand behind.
When Mrs. Rent moved here from Oklahoma, she took one look at my bachelor pad style of furniture and decided things needed to change. I will admit that most of my stuff was either borrowed or used furniture. Any new furniture I had was the stuff you get at discount stores that requires some assembly. Mrs. Rent had this expectation of nicer quality stuff, but also has the resources to get nicer stuff. Furniture & Appliance Mart became one of her favorite places… two different high end dining room sets, a nice set of office furniture, a high-end washer and dryer, and a new TV for the living room. Her wish list of items continued. She wanted a new TV for the bedroom, a new bedroom set, and she was not happy with my low-end appliances and had her eyes on a Wolf oven that cost more than some cars I have owned and a Bosch dishwasher that cost more than what I paid for all of my appliances combined.
However, her streak of being their customer ended pretty abruptly with the nearly $2,000 television which we also purchased an extended warranty on from Furniture & Appliance Mart for over $500. Although I have never been a fan of extended warranties, she has always gotten them and they have always made financial sense to her. And, with this TV, it has made sense.
It is a projection style television. The warranty is a 5 year warranty. About a year and a half after purchasing it, it just stopped working. It turned out the light bulb that runs the projection system burned out. At that time, retail cost on these bulbs was about $200. We called Furniture & Appliance Mart who told us we need to contact the warranty company. We did, the warranty company then contacted a local vendor, Seim Appliance, for the actual repair. Seim contacted us and explained that the warranty covered the bulb, but not the labor. But they also explained how easy it was to change the bulb. We were impressed with Seim, and have actually used them for other things since this first bulb replacement.
Just over a year later, the bulb went out again. We contacted the warranty company, and learned that the warranty company had been sold to a different company. So, we contacted this new company. We had some additional hoops to jump through, but within a few days, they sent us a new bulb, which we replaced.
Now, less than a year later, there is a large, blue area on the TV screen. We contacted the warranty company who now told us to contact Furniture & Appliance Mart. We did. This was on a Tuesday and they called us back to say their tech was in Wausau on Tuesdays and could come over that day. HOWEVER, based on how we described the problem, the Tech felt this is probably a light bulb issue. If, in fact, it is the light bulb, the bulb would be covered but the $75 for the service call would not. Well, we have already changed light bulbs twice so that is not a big deal, we will just call the warranty company and have a light bulb sent out like they did last time.
That is where things start to go sadly downhill quickly. Long story short, we have gotten 3 different stories in the last week about how this warranty works now, and add to that 2 different stories from Furniture & Appliance Mart. The current story is this… because this light bulb is less than one year old (remember we are not 100% sure the bulb is the problem, that is just the opinion of the tech based on the description of the problem), the warranty company wants the old bulb before they will send out a new one. They were going to email us shipping labels. We would then send the old bulb to them, they would test it, and if it was in fact faulty, they would send us the new one in 7-10 days. This is simply unacceptable to Mrs. Rent, and said why can’t they send us the bulb, and we will send them the old one. They agreed to that if Mrs. Rent would provide them with a credit card number. So, we give them a credit card number. They will send us the new bulb in 7-10 days, then we would have 14 days (from now, not from when we get the bulb) to get the old bulb back to them or they would charge us for the bulb. They have given us no idea how much they will charge us (currently, the bulbs have come down in price to about $100).
In talking with one of the senior managers at Furniture & Appliance Mart, they referred us to their employee who works with these warranty claims. That employee informed us they have received a large number of customer complaints since this change in warranty companies. Instead of using local vendors to perform the repairs (such as Seim Appliance), people have to send entire televisions into the warranty company.
I can understand Furniture & Appliance Mart’s frustration that their customers are now dealing with. But the fact is that they sold the warranties, and often pushed them pretty hard. The item that is prompting this blog post was a conversation that Mrs. Rent had with a Furniture & Appliance Mart employee who got quite rude on the phone and indicated that we didn’t have to purchase the warranty, we chose to… and that the problem was with the warranty company and basically made this entire thing our fault.
Personally, if I were them, and I had looked at their records and noticed that a customer that had spent many thousands of dollars with them had abruptly stopped; that this customer indicated they had made many more thousands of dollars of purchases at their competition (other furniture stores and other appliance stores, and was willing to provide receipts to prove it) because of issues with a warranty company. That all they had to do to get this large-budget customer back was “make things right”, and the cost of making things right would be fairly cheap (i.e. just buy a $100 light bulb or do a pro-rated refund of the cost of the warranty).
I know this has gotten long.. but it is frustrating. I have had to spend money out of my own pocket, $400 or $500, to fix a problem that I didn’t create, that was a problem with a vendor. However, in the big picture, a $500 fix of a problem for a $6,000 customer that because of that fix, will likely become a $20,000 customer is a good investment.
It saddens me that Furniture & Appliance Mart’s issue with their extended warranty company has created these issues for them. But they need to “man up” and stand behind their sale. Right now my biggest piece of advice is don’t get their extended warranty – it is money thrown away.