In my last article, The Value of a Brand Lies in its Service, I wrote about an icon of the American retail environment, Sears, and its lack of customer service.

As the saying careful what you wish for. Since the publication of that piece, Sears has indeed sat up and taken notice of me. And many, many readers chimed in with feedback of their own.

Apparently, my Sears experience is not an isolated (or even unusual) experience. It isn't a problem limited to online orders, but it also spans in-store, phone order, pickup, and delivery issues.

In many ways, as a marketer, I find this sad. Sears was a behemoth in the direct marketing industry, and I don't think it is an exaggeration to say it truly helped make America what it is. In the 20th century, for many people—especially those in rural areas—the Sears Catalog was their one lifeline to many products they couldn't get any other way, and helped craft America's vision of what it aspired to be.

I once read where a woman in the Midwest called it her “window on the world.” I recall waiting for the Wish Book when I was little so I could pick out what toys I wanted Santa to bring to me, and help me figure out what I would get my parents if I had money!

After the article came out I was contacted by a Senior Manager at Sears' National Customer Relations department. To quote part of an email sent to me:

“I was saddened to read of your disappointing experience after your appliance purchase. Despite my years in customer service, I still feel a ‘personal hurt' when I hear about an instance where we frustrated or angered a customer.

“I would like to look into the situation further, both to see what we might do to attempt to ‘rebuild' a positive relationship with you personally, but also to investigate and correct some of the ‘process problems' that you experienced in this situation. We know that there are instances when our operations hit bumps and do not go smoothly, but we are constantly trying to find those process or systems ‘glitches' and improve our responsiveness and our effectiveness to benefit our ‘customer partners.'”

I was heartened to hear from someone from Sears: the easiest thing in the world is to ignore a disgruntled customer! It is also, in my opinion, one of the most foolish things to do.

Dissatisfied customers are far more apt to tell people about a negative experience than a positive one. So I was pleased to see Sears react so quickly, within a day of the article being published here.

Since then, I have emailed back and forth with the Senior Manager several times more, I have received a phone call from the customer service department to personally tell me how upset they were to hear of the circumstances of my transaction, and how they would be sending a small check to compensate for the lack of installation, and to reimburse us for the installation materials we had to buy.

Then just today, I received a call from the regional logistics office that handles delivery. Clearly, they don't have all the answers, and even if they did they probably don't have the money or ability to remedy some of the serious problems—many of them system related—quickly.

But, with that said, it seems to me that Sears wants to truly get to the bottom of my problem, and use it as a learning experience to better their company, and their customer relationships.

So, Sears isn't perfect. But unlike many retailers, they are working at improving their customer's experiences. And that, in my book, is what a company needs to do to engender loyal customers and repeat purchases.

Sears wrote to me after I responded with more details of my situation:

“Thank you for getting back to me. I hope that I can at least provide you with the satisfaction of knowing that your concern and disappointment matters very much to our company. We really do intend to eliminate situations that cause frustrations like you experienced.”

If they keep listening to their customers, hopefully they can eliminate frustrations and mend fences with the American consumer to ensure they make it through another century.

So, while this is my last word—for now—on this topic, I wait with some uncertainty to see if Sears can truly walk the talk.

Let's hope for their sake they can!

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Kristine Kirby Webster is Principal of The Canterbury Group, a direct-marketing consultancy specializing in branding and relationship marketing. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Direct Marketing at Mercy College in NY. She can be reached at