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As the Screw Turns: A Story of Failure in Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration

The BrainYard - Where collaborative minds congregate.
It started with an ordinary Electrolux vacuum cleaner, a year or so out of warranty.  A part - small but critical - failed.  A call to the company's call center yielded the response "Your machine is no longer under warranty. We cannot assist you."

Over the past two to three years, I've slowly come to the realization that many a call center rep will take the easiest way out to end a call - regardless of consequences.  And I've also come to realize that, in companies where this occurs, it is not an isolated instance.

So my new policy is to try normal channels once - and if that fails, to call the CEO of the company.

In the case of Electrolux, the CEO is John Case, and his assistant is Susan.  I called and Susan answered, and she immediately got Jackie, the customer service manager, on the line.

Jackie told me that the original response ("we cannost assist  you") was something I should not have heard.  The CSR should have at the very least offered to sell me the part.  Jackie took notes, shipped me a replacement part advising that the installation was very simple and I thought I was done.

That was 4 weeks ago.The part arrived - and close examination revealed that it did not simply snap on.  A screw held a retaining plate over the part. But it was not an ordinary screw, I called back to find out what type of screw this was and the person at the call center had absolutely no idea.  He pulled out the same vacuum to look - and advised that the screw was "stripped."

He promised to find out - and call the next day.

We never heard from him again.

I called again a few days later.  I didn't want to buy the wrong screwdriver, and wasn't anxious to lug the vacuum cleaner around to a hardware store in search for the appropriate tool.  

So I called Susan again.  Ten minutes later, someone else from Jackie's office called.  She didn't know either.  But she promised to find out.  In the meantime, to make up for the inconvenience, she offered to send me a few accessories - an offer which I readily accepted.

Eventually Susan called back.  It was a TORX 20 screw, she explained very apologetically.  I asked her if this information was to be added to a knowledge base somewhere so that her colleagues in the call center would have this information available in the future.  She wasn't sure but she would bring it up.

I would estimate that the handling of my enquiry cost Electrolux at least $160 (consisting of three hours of people's time, the accessories, and shipping costs).  It also made me question whether purchasing from Electrolux was the right decision.  Admittedly, aside from the first person in the call center, everyone was very nice but they were also rather ineffectual.

What's more worrisome is that there is a high likelihood that the next person who calls and enquires about the same screw will not get his question answered.