Saturday, March 05, 2011

Unshredded (Or: How To Drop The Customer-Service Ball) ...

My parents gave me a shredder. Not this past Christmas, but the Christmas before. A big box, heavy, wrapped as only my mother wraps. I had no idea what it could be. I hadn't asked for a shredder. But I'd been to their house to use theirs, so, in the spirit of practical gifts – I am all about practical gifts – they bought one for me to call my own.

A Black & Decker shredder, chosen, I suspect, partly for its price point and partly because Dad is loyal to brands he trusts.

I brought it home, unpacked it, plugged it in. I shredded happily. It is rated for 10 sheets at a time but bogs down with three. No matter. I would shred one sheet at a time. I sat. I fed. It shredded. Life was grand.

I didn't use my shredder often, certainly not daily, probably not even weekly. A piece or two, here and there. My shredder had an easy life.

In January, I spent a couple of days cleaning out a big closet. I ran across a box of old statements and such, well past the seven-year mark for which we're all supposed to keep such things. I sorted through photos and created a pile to shred. Photos are shreddable, I figured. The booklet didn't say otherwise. But if my shredder could handle staples, it could handle photos, right?

So I sat down to shred. Photo after photo, gone, gone, gone.

Until my shredder stopped.

Not because it was too hot. The temperature indicator had not lit up.

The blades would engage for just a fraction of a second, enough to grab a piece of paper, but further? They refused to turn.

I let it sit for a while. I came back later. Still, no luck.

I mentioned it all to Doreen. An accountant by day, she's very familiar with shredders. She suggested mine might need oil.

All righty. I bought some shredder oil. (I think it's just vegetable oil, put in a wee bottle and sold for much more money.) I applied it as instructed. Nope, no help.

I employed the trusty Internet to search for information. Had others had this problem, too?

Indeed they had.

Of course, the one-year warranty had expired the month before. Typical.

On January 25, I wrote a post that mentioned that my shredder had taken ill.

On January 26, I posted a Tweet: "Research on my @Black_DeckerUS paper shredder (one month out of warranty, naturally) suggests the gears are stripped, i.e. now useless." I bought a membership to to research what shredder I should buy next. FYI, Consumer Reports doesn't rate shredders. So much for that membership. Let me know if you need me to look anything up for you.

On January 27, I received a reply via Twitter, which provided an e-mail address to which to send details about my issue, and contact information. Good on Black & Decker for being savvy enough to keep an eye on Twitter.

On January 28, I sent a pleasant e-mail to the suggested e-mail address. I make it a point to be polite to customer service folks, because I'm sure theirs is a thankless job. They have nothing to do with problematic products yet they bear the brunt of consumers' frustrations. And you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar, so I do my best to be nice.

On January 31, I received an e-mail from HoMedics, which owns Black & Decker, apparently. Consumer Relations Representative Joe supplied a 1-800 number to call for assistance and mentioned that if they were unable to get my shredder working again, they would provide a warranty replacement of my unit. Well, that's nice.

On January 31, I called the 1-800 number and entered the phone tree, and was unable to speak to a person. And given the information I entered, I was informed that I was out of luck. Expired warranty, don'tcha know?

On January 31, I replied to Joe's e-mail to let him know that I'd tried calling the number but was unable to speak with anyone, and asked what I should do next.

And then I waited.

And waited.

On February 10, I received an e-mail from HoMedics which included this language: "We try very hard to respond to all questions, comments and suggestions we receive within a timely manner. However, due to circumstances beyond our control, our response time has increased significantly."

Yeah, I'll say. It took nearly two weeks to send an e-mail telling me that it's not your fault that you can't respond to e-mails? Circumstances beyond your control? What's that about? Did the in-laws drop by unannounced and refuse to leave?

On February 23, nearly two weeks later for those keeping score at home, now nearly a month after my initial contact, I received a response from Joe, apologizing for the mix up in phone numbers and supplying a number at which I could speak with a representative.

On March 3, I remembered that response from Joe (my shredder was no longer top of mind) and I called the 1-800 number. As is often the case, all of their representatives were busy serving other customers. The voice that informed me of this informed me of this approximately every 30 seconds. But, I was further informed, if I did not wish to continue to hold, I could press a number to leave a message and a customer relations representative would return my call by the next day.

And here we are, the afternoon of March 5, and I probably don't have to tell you that I have yet to hear from anyone.

We'll see what Monday brings.

In the meantime, I'll haul my shreddables to my folks' house, and make a note of what brand of shredder they've been using, trouble-free, for years and buy one of those.

I know this much: It's not a Black & Decker.

Update, March 7:

A customer-service rep called this morning about my problems. He said he would help me with troubleshooting and then, if we couldn't get the unit to work, he'd look into sending out a replacement part or new unit.


He asked me if the bin is full. (If the bin is full, the unit won't work.) Yes, I'm aware of that. No, the bin is not full.

He asked me if the shredder head is properly seated on the base. (If the head isn't properly seated, the unit won't work.) Yes, I'm aware of that. Yes, the shredder head is properly seated on the base.

I assured him that I had tried every possible solution to help it run again: I'd let it cool off. For weeks. I'd oiled the blades. I'd reseated the head. I'd tried to feed the paper using the Power Boost. I'd unplugged it and plugged it in again. I tried every logical idea.

He asked me if the unit has been working since I first reported the problem, if someone else had helped me to get it working. No, I told him. I contacted them because the unit stopped working. And it hasn't worked since. I've tried it a couple times.

I began to give him a rundown of my attempts at resolving this. At which point, the call dropped. I laughed, thinking perhaps he was tired of me taking so long to answer his question.

But he called back and I finished sharing with him my shredder travails.

At which point, he put me on hold for the third time, and when he came back, he told me that he would send out a replacement unit once I returned the shredder head to the address he was about to provide.

Just the head, I asked? Not the whole unit?

Yes, he said. He was trying to save me some postage costs, since to ship the bucket part would require a bigger box and they didn't need that part.

That was very kind, I told him (he was very nice and as helpful as he could be in the situation), to want to save me some money (because, yes, I have to pay to ship their faulty product back to them; on the other hand, it
is out of warranty so they could have just said, "too bad"), but the bucket part weighs about a pound. The shredder head weighs at least 10. So, postage wise, that's where I'd incur the expense.

Also, since he's shipping a new unit, I don't really need the extra base. I guess I'll have a new wastebasket.

So, I hopped online to do a best-guess calculation of what it will cost to ship this part back to them. Parcel post will cost about $11. Fine.

So I'll ship the part back to them and wait my 2-4 weeks for a replacement unit and use that until that one fails. (I have little faith in this product at this point.) And
then I'll buy a new shredder.

Update, March 22:

The replacement shredder arrived a little while ago in a box in rather bad shape. I took photographs, in case I needed to explain to HoMedics that UPS was the problem this time.

I freed the components from their packaging, put the shredder head on the shredder bucket, plugged it in, turned it on, and ... nothing.

And then I discovered that when depressing the first switch (there are two, for safety), thinking I was turning it on, I had actually turned it off. OK, all good.

I had amassed a wee stack of paper to shred, so I commenced shredding. I don't remember my previous shredder amping up to such a high-pitched sound, but everything seemed to shred just fine, including the Valentine's Day card that I recently spied in a box of cards I keep on hand. I had bought it for someone I was dating a few years ago who broke up with me 10 days before Valentine's Day. Why did I still have that card? Did I think I would give it to someone else? That's just bad Valentine juju, I reckon. So that card, symbolically, went through the shredder, too, the last trace of a relationship that ended in just the right way.

I made a note on my calendar and on the shredder booklet of the date of the arrival of the replacement. We'll see how long this one lasts. Hopefully, longer than the first unit.

Stay tuned. What could be more fascinating than the ongoing saga of Beth and Her Shredder?!


Blogger Tom Erdman said...

It's amazing how these things work. If nobody had ever contacted you about your shredder and you knew it was out of warranty, you would chalk it up to bad luck and get another, or get along without one. But, once an additional promise came about, your expectations rose to that new promise, not the old, original one. So, now customer service has a new level to live up to, something that is not written in their manuals, and I'm sure something that creates responsibility above the pay grade of those people entrusted to help you.

4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like this is a case for The Haggler (consumer advocate columnist, Sunday NYT Business Section).

8:45 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Nah, they're doing right by me, really. The item was out of warranty (whether it should have lasted longer than a year with casual use is another question for another time) and they're replacing it, which is nice. They could have just pointed me to the warranty language and said, "Sorry."

So they're trying. It's just been a protracted process. In these days of instant communication, taking a month to get back to someone is rather ridiculous.

9:01 AM  

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