Customer Service Is More Than Giving The Customer Everything That They Want

by Randy Murray on October 19, 2011

Yesterday I wrote about my chair. Here’s another story about it (welcome to ChairTalk).

When I bought the chair at Staples, I did something I typically avoid doing: I bought the extended warranty. Why? Because the salesperson made a very convincing pitch: for $25 they would cover the $200 chair for two years for ANYTHING that might happen to it. I knew that I was going to be spending a lot of time in that chair, so I shelled out the extra $25.

Somewhere along the way, I caught the right arm of the chair under the edge of the desk and it tore away a chunk of foam. Totally my fault. It was annoying, but not a big problem. After a few months, my wife reminded me about the warranty.

So I called. I was hoping that they’d send me a replacement arm. But the person on the other end of the phone line just asked a few questions, verified my warranty number, and sent me a full refund for the chair. She told me to go by a new one and dispose of the old chair.

I was shocked. That’s not what I wanted at all. I wanted my chair fixed, especially if it was still a current model (and it is). I didn’t want or need my money back.

Sure enough, in a few days I received a Staples gift card worth $199.99, the price of the chair, minus sales tax and the price of the warranty.

But I didn’t go and buy a new chair, instead, I looked up the chair’s manufacturer and emailed their parts department, hoping to buy a replacement arm. They were very slow in returning emails, but within a couple of weeks a new arm showed up in the mail. No charge. I swapped it out using my trusty Allen wrench set in about a minute.

I understand why Staples handles their warranties this way, but it sets up a very strange dissonance. From the corporate perspective, extended warranties are a gold mine. Very few people ever redeem them. They’re almost 100% profit. So when someone does call in, it’s easier to just refund the entire purchase price than to set up systems to track down and supply replacement parts. It’s cynical and little better than a con job for most customers. I recommend not buying extended warranties for most items, but I can’t say I didn’t come out ahead on this one.

I’m assuming that Staples thinks I would be happy to get my money back. I can’t say I’m unhappy. I just got a free chair. I have $200 to spend on office supplies (and don’t you believe that I can’t—I’m like a kid in an, er office store). But I would have been very happy and unconfused if they’d just did what I did: track down the replacement part. Their treatment of their own warranty system is not only cynical, but it encourages that same cynicism in their employees and their customers.

Here it is boiled down: if you buy an extended warranty and don’t use it, you’re a sucker.

Is that the message they really wanted to send?

The Customer Service Is More Than Giving The Customer Everything That They Want by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Brian Beasley October 19, 2011 at 10:43 am

Like you, I purchased the extended warranty for my desk chair. The cost and conditions were almost exactly as you described in your post. That was nearly a year ago and my chair has suffered no damages, so I have not needed to file a claim…yet.

I also purchased the extended warranty for both of my daughter’s cell phones and laptops. It proved to be a wise decision. We’ve replaced the cell phones for both girls once already. I’ve also had to use the extended warranty for my older daughter’s laptop. The power supply died after 18 months. I went to Fry’s with the defective part, the extended warranty certificate and the original purchase receipt. Ten minutes later I walked out with a new power supply at no cost to me. I paid $50 for the extended warranty. Had I not purchased it, I would have shelled out $85 for the power supply.

I agree with you that the extended warranty is almost always a con job. The exception may be for expensive electronics for your teenage children.


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