Friday, August 13, 2010

Wish Book

In March I bought a bike. It was my first bike since I was a teenager and the billowing nostalgia washed over me as I instinctively got into my car and drove to the department store that represented all of my childhood wants: Sears.

If you’re old enough, you remember the Sears Wish Book, which was a catalog that Sears published annually, pre-Christmas, and it rivaled the size and heft of the most daunting tome my juvenile eyes had ever beheld.

Hours and hours of my life were spent pouring over each page in that behemoth, mentally drooling over every single thing any human could possibly want or need save for food, water and air. Every toy, every article of clothing, every electronic, every appliance, every tool, every THING anyone I knew could possibly crave was in that book. Until I was about nine, that Wish Book was completely mine, and every circled item description on each dog-eared page marked an item that I desperately wanted. When my brother was old enough to share in the mental drooling, we color coordinated the pens we used to circle items so that Santa would know who wanted what. Whether anything we ever dreamed of was purchased at Sears is a mystery to me. The gifts on the wish lists we compiled were likely purchased at any store where it was sold the cheapest, which was fine by us because as far as we were concerned, the Wish Book from Sears was merely a catalog of everything. It was the Amazon of my youth, hard copy.

Someone recently told me the largest seller of bicycles is Walmart, which makes sense, but I hate Walmart and only shop there when all else fails. There are pros and cons in dealing with large department stores. What you give up in skill, service and knowledge you bank on with apathetic employees who are more willing to accept returns and exchanges without questions or receipts because they’re not personally invested in the store’s success. Neither of these are selling points to me, but I hoped and anticipated that no matter how lacking the help at Sears could be, at least they’d be better than Walmart.

My $200 bike from Sears presented with problems immediately, and what frightened me was that my model wasn’t even a bike listed on Schwinn’s website as one they offered, so how proud were they of this product bearing their name? The seat was a veritable torture device, which was replaced after my very first ride, and then I immediately had to buy gloves with gel cushions because the grips on my handlebars were hard plastic. That was only the beginning. Quickly, my $200 bike was growing into a $300 bike, and no one could explain why my kickstand was way too short for the frame and would never hold it up or why I have to fill the tires with air each and every time I ride it. It must have taken four full months for me to finally find comfort on that bike, accessories and upgrades essential in making it a ridable vehicle. Bikes were not this complicated when I was a kid, and the difference between riding as an adult and riding as a child were so stark, it was a whole new experience to me.

Once I found my groove, felt as if the bike was finally where I needed it to be, and I could ride 10 – 20 miles at a time, I started experiencing problems with the gear shifting. Initially it was just violent shifting that would jolt me on the bike so hard, my feet would fly off the pedals and I’d momentarily lose balance. My brother kept promising to help me adjust my derailleurs, but it never happened. On a 20-mile ride last week, halfway into it, fifth gear would not hold at all and slipped harshly and continually into another gear, up and down, randomly. I ended up riding back to my car 10 miles in smaller gears, pedaling my glutes off, utterly exhausting myself trying to keep pace with the person I was riding with. The next day my brother attempted to adjust my derailleurs and discovered that sixth gear, not even the gear I had trouble with, had a quarter of the teeth missing. They did not look like fresh breaks, either, and though I hadn’t had any trouble riding in sixth gear, the fact that the teeth were broken did not give me confidence to test it.

Bike riders I know were incensed on my behalf over my very young bike being such a problem child already, and many times I was snapped at to return the lemon and get a real bike. However, my receipt only allowed for a refund within 90 days of purchase, which expired in mid-June, and as far as I could tell, I was stuck with it.

Boyfriend Extraordinaire, in an impressive showing of assertion and support, got on the phone and began making phone calls on my behalf, both to Sears and to Schwinn. By Monday, he had arrangements at Sears for me to drop the bike off, where a manager would take a look at the damage and decide whether they would replace the cassette or simply switch out the wheel with another bike, but they would do right by me and fix the problem for free. In the event that they failed, B.E. also secured a promise from Schwinn that they would send me a replacement part free of charge and all I had to do was get it installed. Plan A took place yesterday and I dropped the bike off at Sears, where The Bike Guy and The Manager would put their heads together today and fix my problem for me. I was told I’d receive a call in the morning with their decision.

My impatience was killing me. I couldn’t sleep last night at all, woke up far too early this morning, and managed to hold off until 11 am to call Sears about my bike when I, of course, had heard nothing from them.

This is when my lemon of a bike turned into a lemon of customer service.

The phone number listed for the Sears store where I took my bike was on an automated system. I spoke to the machine that I wanted the Repair Department, and I was forwarded to a new series of choices, none of which suited my needs, so I asked for Customer Assistance. A woman with an Indian-sounding accent answered the phone and I was immediately sifting through a cacophony of white noise of a call center surrounding her. When I spoke my problem to her, wanting to find out the status of my bike repair, she could not hear me. I repeated loudly and she still could not make out my words. Shouting at an uncomfortable volume was the only way she was able to discern the words I spoke, multiple continents away. When she finished taking my information, she transferred my call, and that line rang and rang and rang. Eventually someone picked it up and immediately hung the phone up on me.

Sigh… back to square one.

Called Sears again. Spoke that I wanted Repair. Spoke that I wanted Customer Assistance. Was immediately disconnected before anyone in India could answer.

Deep breath.

Called Sears again. Spoke that I wanted an Operator, hoping that this would give me a live person in the store itself. A man answered, I explained what I was looking for, he forwarded me to a department that forwarded me to another department, that never picked up the phone and I was disconnected for being on the line too long. Or so it seemed – the ringing stopped dead and the line disconnected.

Called Sears again! Spoke that I wanted Repair! Spoke that I wanted someone in Parts! Got another woman in India who also could not hear me unless I screamed myself hoarse, and she could not find a record of my purchase or me in Sears’ system, so I had to feed her all of my personal information at eardrum-puncturing volume, after which she said she’d transfer me to a store nearest my address. I managed to stop her before the transfer went through and explained that the local store was merely an outlet for tools, and I had taken my bike to the Sears Grand at the mall. This I had to repeat because I wasn’t screaming loud enough, though I felt as if she might have been able to hear me in India better if we hadn’t been holding up phones/headsets to our ears. She transferred me, someone answered after about five minutes of ringing and hold music, and they said I had to be transferred elsewhere, which resulted in another disconnection.

CALLEDSEARSAGAIN! It was now 11:30 and I’d been having conversations with machines and people in India for a half hour, with a mix of ringing, hold music, and disconnections to keep the conversations lively. I’d had it! I did not ask for Repair. I did not ask for Customer Assistance. I opted for the choice at the very end of the menu for someone in no particular department to handle my unclassifiable problem. It was a woman! And she sounded at least within 2,000 miles of me! And she spoke English without an accent! And she could hear me speak in my normal voice! Though now I felt a lot like screaming at someone! And I felt myself start to unload on her the horror of dealing with their automated system, India, screaming, being transferred all over the world, and disconnected more times than I even cared to count – would she please help me find someone at the store I went to just yesterday who had my bicycle?! In a very practiced, scripted voice she apologized for the inconvenience I’d experienced and promised to stay on the line with me until someone picked up the phone where she transferred me this time. Part of me wanted to hit her just because she was there, and another part of me wanted to French kiss her for finally being a person who pretended like she cared enough to get someone else on the line.

The man who took in my bike yesterday answered the phone and I explained who I was and why I was calling. Has there been a decision on what to do with my bicycle? That’s all I wanted to know. Nearly 40 minutes of fighting my way through a maze of dead-ended extensions and I could ask the question burning deep into my soul, and ask someone who was actually in a position to know.

Well, The Bike Guy isn’t in yet, and he only works on Fridays, but no one knows when he’ll show up. The Manager who was going to decide what to do hadn’t responded to the repeated attempts to get him to take a look at the bike and make the decision, and attempts had been made all day yesterday and were starting over today. If The Manager doesn’t make a decision before The Bike Guy leaves today, my bike will not be serviced and will have to wait until The Bike Guy returns sometime next Friday, at his leisure. But The Phone Guy promised to call me today with an answer, even though this Sears doesn’t do any bike repairs, which are usually sent 60 miles south of here to a bigger store that will take roughly 35 years to ship, fix, and ship back my bike. He was quite clear that they were doing me a favor by taking in my bike and considering fixing it themselves. And oh what a favor it was to indefinitely hold it hostage and create a myriad of puzzles one must solve in order to get through on the phone to find out if my bike has even been looked at by anyone who is kind enough to bless me with their attention. They sure do a helluva job avoiding being reachable. You’d think they didn’t want to deal with people. Who gives them business if not people?

The department store bike purchase has now become one of those epic mistakes I’ve made in my life, on par with dating a pro-wrestling fan, and one I will stand at every podium and climb upon every soapbox to warn people against following in my footsteps. Much as it causes parts of me to die a little bit, I can’t help but wonder if I should’ve gone to Walmart after all. No, no I shouldn’t have. That was a correct choice. I’d be in the same boat, except that I’d be able to get through to people at Walmart without having to call India twice, and find that they were equally apathetic about helping me get what I paid for.

On the verge of a nervous breakdown, feeling a lot like there was some kind of conspiracy taking place in the universe to keep me off of a bicycle, I called the local mom-and-pop bike shop, who have done right by me selling me the myriad of accessories and upgrades my lame bike has necessitated. Quickly I explained that I have a Schwinn that has broken teeth, Schwinn will send me a replacement cassette for free, which is so much easier than dealing with the numbskulls at Sears, and how much would they charge to install it. She did some mental math out loud, wheel off, change cassette, wheel on, and replied that the charge would run about $15.

Fifteen. Dollars.

How many gray hairs did I just get from dealing with Sears and how much will it cost to color those hairs for the rest of my life? More than $15.

How much is my time worth: driving to the mall, dropping off the bike, driving home, waiting around all morning for a call-back that would never occur, calling all around the globe for answers for nearly an hour, calling other places to fulfill Plan B, then returning to the mall to break my bike out of Sears prison and driving home again? More than $15.

How much is my sanity worth? Well, what little is left might be worth $15, but not much more.

So, it’s 3 pm and I’m on my way to retrieve my bike so that I can spend $15 and have it fixed by the people I should’ve bought a bike from to begin with!

Long gone are the Rockwellian days of the Wish Books and Sears love. Outsourced, no doubt.


Cielle said...

Wow. Imagine the Hell Boyfriend Extraordinaire must have endured in order to set up the fix (however badly it turned out)on an out-of-warranty bicycle that didn't belong to him, in another state, and at a store that doesn't normally do bike repair. Granted people tend to listen to men a little better than women, but bad customer service is bad customer service. There's nothing like it to make you appreciate the people who are willing to help.

ChiLibrarian said...

I hope there's a happy ending. I'm a little worried for you going to pick it up.

I love my bike shop. Happily, they're within walking/riding distance in case of emergency, even if it's up a brutal hill.

Happy Trails!

Happy Villain said...

Only after the whole ordeal did we figure out he googled and got the Auto Repair dept number online, which is the only direct number into that store. They were quite puzzled he asked about bikes and transferred him to the appropriate dept inside the actual store. SO YOU ALL KNOW: CALL AUTO REPAIR AT SEARS TO GET A REAL PERSON IN THE STORE!

All was well getting the bike back. No questions asked. More than happy to unload, they were. AND, as I walked in, The Manager who was supposed to make a decision about my bike was walking out, done for the day, not to return until next week, and he still hadn't looked at my bike. (Asshole.) But it made me laugh that on the way home I saw a Sears delivery van broken down on the side of the road. :)

Anonymous said...

I bought my bike from Walmart, which I also hate, five years ago and not a speck of trouble. Sears ain't what Sears used to be and only libraries subscribe to 'customer service' in these evil times.