Appliance Repair: A Dying Trade

by Samurai Appliance Repair Man on November 30, 2005

in General Appliance Wisdom

Had an interesting phone call today.

“I got a Kitchenaid wall oven and the door is locked closed after I ran the clean cycle. I called Kitchenaid and they said to call you.”

Since I’m the authorized Whirlpool/Kitchenaid servicer in the area, Kitchenaid referred him to me.

“Yes, I can fix this for you. May I have your name, sir?”

He told me his name. I remembered him from another job I did for him previously. An older guy and his wife. She seemed ok, but he was a real peculiar sort. The kind you read about in Tales from the Dark Side. I replaced the condenser fan motor in his Sub-Zero refrigerator.

“I had another fellow out here a while back,” he continued, “but I didn’t want to call him again because I don’t think he knew what in the hell he was doing!”

“Really?” I replied. “What did he work on?”

“He did something to my Sub-Zero and since then it’s been running too long.”

Now this was a rare opportunity to get a glimpse into the mind of a customer. He obviously didn’t remember me but, oh, how I remember him. I was there twice, once to diagnose and then returned with the fan motor to do the repair. Each time I had one of my kids with me (I usually take one of my kids with me on service calls). They still shudder when the they think of walking in that house. How to describe it; let’s see, ever been in the back room of a mortuary, where they embalm the bodies? That’s what this house felt like. We were all a little creeped out by it.

“Running too long?” I queried. “Well, why didn’t you call me back to see if it was something related to the repair I did, which was to replace the condenser fan motor?”

After a bit of a pause…

“That wasn’t you, was it?” he asked, sounding a little unsure of himself. “We were very upset with you!”

“It certainly was,” I replied. “I remember the job vividly. You called me out because your refrigerator was making a loud vibrating noise. I found the condenser fan to be bad and replaced it. Are you telling me that the refrigerator is making noise again?”

“No,” he replied, “it just seems to run too long.”

“‘Seems to run too long?’ And so rather than call me to even ask me about it, you just stewed on it and bad-mouthed me to everyone you know. That about right?”

“Well, everytime you come over you charge us just to walk in the door,” he exclaimed, sounding defensive.

And he should be defensive because now he was flat-out lying.

“Mr. Stanley, you know that’s not true,” I declared. “I charge one flat fee for any repair that’s completed to your satisfaction and I tell people that fee right on the phone, when they call for service. The only thing added to that fee is the cost of parts. And I warranty my work for one year, parts and labor, with a lifetime warranty on workmanship.”

A longer pause…

“So, what about my wall oven?” he finally asked.

“I’m afraid you’ll need to call someone else to take care of that for you,” I replied. “You’re obviously a customer who can’t be pleased. And I’m not going to give you another thing to bad-mouth me about. At least this way, the worst you can say about me is that I refused to come out. But I’m telling you that straight up instead of weaseling out. Most appliance techs have been so abused by customers like you who put them under the witch hunt the moment they walk in your house that they no longer have enough self-respect to just say ‘no’ to customers like you. So they’ll either grovel in a futile attempt to please you or tell you they’ll show up, but don’t, and then not answer the phone when you call to find out where they were. Have a nice day.”

And I hung up.

This conversation reveals everything that’s wrong with the appliance repair trade. Appliance techs are already behind the eight ball the moment they walk in the customer’s house. Most people have been conditioned by 60 Minutes and other tabloid TV shows to view appliance repair techs as morally deficient cretins whose main objective in a service call is to screw the customer.

Granted, there are lots of charlatans and cretins out there, like this jive-turkey from Sears A&E. I get horror stories everyday by email or in the repair forum. But most independent appliance servicers are conscientious and highly skilled tradesmen who’ve invested thousands of hours learning the basic skills, keeping up with the new models, and honing their craft in the field. In fact, to be good at appliance repair, you need both excellent mechanical and electrical skills. To do it right, you need a more diverse and technically demanding set of skills for appliance repair than you do for any of the other skilled trades.

But the problem is one of perception; some of it self-inflicted, but most of it just a cultural thing. Plumbing and household electrical wiring are all hidden behind walls and so are mysterious, almost magical things. But people work with their appliances everyday and so acquire the false sense that they must be easy to fix. They don’t know what they don’t know. Think about that: most people don’t know what they don’t know, but think they know it all.

The other factor working against appliance repair as a viable trade is the “how much is a new one?” syndrome. People look at what it costs to buy a new appliance and, in their muddled little brains, use that as the measure for what it should cost to fix it. Any ‘tard can see that banging out a washer in a prison-camp factory in China has nothing to do with what it costs to have a skilled and trained appliance technician drive to your home and fix it. Ah, but facts are stupid things, as the Gipper used to say.

But perception is reality and it’s that perception, along with the super cheap appliances available today, that have doomed the appliance repair trade. I said “have doomed” because it’s already done; the rest is just a long, slow swan song. I’m going on record here and now to declare that the appliance repair trade is dead.

The next mega-trend in appliance repair is do-it-yourself. The Internet has made this possible. Sites like this one and excellent online parts houses, like RepairClinic empower almost anyone with a pulse with the know-how to repair their own appliances. But even this do-it-yourself trend will extinguish at some point. Without skilled and experienced techs, you wouldn’t have do-it-yourself websites– how could you? Who’s gonna be around to write pearls of wisdom or answer questions from grasshoppers in the repair forum?

But, dontchoo go frettin’ none– as long the fermented nectar is flowin’, I’ll keep right on goin’. Yee haw!

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

jamraqui December 4, 2005 at 9:57 pm

Dear Wise One;

I applaud your story about the “customer who could not be satisfied”, and how you dealt with him. I have been a professional vehicle technician and service manager for many years, and I have come to nearly deplore the public. It takes huge investments in time, training, and tooling to become (and stay) professionally competant. Then all the helpless, ignorant bastards want to do is bitch and distrust you. It’s hardly worth it any more.

Bravo to you for leaving a problem customer with just what he deserves…. problems. 😉

Take care, do well-


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