Why is COVID-19 still a valid excuse for poor customer service?

In addition to six wall-mounted TVs, the previous owners of our house left with us a $2,000 Wine Enthusiast wine cooler (there is a compressor inside, not a Peltier cooler). Since this isn’t made by LG or Samsung, of course it quickly failed (it looks brand new, but is presumably at least a year old). An email to the company’s customer service department yielded no response. So I called the company and the robot said that due to COVID-19, people were working from home and therefore wouldn’t be able to answer the phone quickly. I recognize that we’re still in Year 3 of our state of emergency, but how much longer will consumers fail to consider that it is just as easy for someone at home to answer the phone as it is for someone in an office?

Separately, I think this shows what a great business it is to sell stuff to people who drink a lot of wine. The sticker on the back says it is 6 cubic feet in volume and “Made in China”. Home Depot will sell you a 7.3 cu. ft. fridge, not designed for winos, for $275. Maybe the answer is to buy Wine Enthusiast products from Costco and get support from Costco? From the Costco site:

How did the Costco customers enjoy their Wine Enthusiast fridge combined with Costco support?

  • Nice looking but temperature controls and lights don’t work…out of the box!! Tried calling their warranty number but on hold for over an hour and cutoff twice.
  • we ordered one and we couldn’t get it to hold the temps and the blue back lights we not working / we figured well maybe it’s defective we will order a 2nd one. The 2nd one was more trouble than the first!
  • A beautiful, quiet wine refrigerator; however, the controls do not work and the lights do not work. Very disappointed.
  • Beyond junk. Can’t control temperature
  • Very disappointed to get this all set up in the location but then it didn’t cool and neither side got below 66 degrees. Called the manufacturer and after 2-3 minutes on the phone, they said that it was broken beyond repair.
  • Stopped working after 2 weeks.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, I need to give a shout-out to Baldwin Hardware. Our front door came with a 19-year-old Baldwin Prestige Pistoria handleset. The latch wasn’t working perfectly anymore so I called them up to see if I could buy a new latch mechanism. Baldwin answered the phone quickly, did not mention their inability to get off their sofas and put down their Xbox controllers due to COVID-19, and decided that the issue would be covered under their lifetime warranty. They sent out a brand new replacement that arrived within a few days of the call.

On the third hand, maybe I should be inspired by companies like Wine Enthusiast. I can say that COVID-19 is responsible for the low quality of my blog ideas!

[What ultimately happened once I got through to Wine Enthusiast (by phone; they never did answer the email)? They said that they couldn’t look up any information regarding the refrigerator based on the serial number. There was no way for them to determine whether the fridge was within warranty, for example, so they would refuse to honor their 1-year warranty. They gave me the name of a local appliance repair service. That company came out, said that the problem was “probably with the sealed system” and that it would cost $500 to do a test of the system, which would take about two hours, and after that another $1,000+ to perform a repair. The ultimate cost to fix the $2,000 fridge would therefore be about $1,700 and they recommended against it. I called Wine Enthusiast and they suggested buying a new one from them at full retail price, plus shipping… $2,200 (no cheaper than switching to a name brand such as LG or Samsung; who sticks with Wine Enthusiast after experiencing a failure like this one?) The good news is that we will be able to free up some space in the living room because we were not passionate about wine to begin with. Because of our Massachusetts heritage, we consider (“essential” during lockdown) cannabis to be far more important. And that raises the question of when we will be able to buy a $2,000+ stainless steel refrigerator to keep cannabis at the ideal temperature for consumption.]

24 thoughts on “Why is COVID-19 still a valid excuse for poor customer service?

  1. Due to experiences like this one I’ve almost stopped buying any appliances at all. My last purchase was a desk ventilator. I thought ventilators were a solved problem, but this one had straight blades that didn’t move any air at all.

    I’m thinking about buying professional appliances, example:


    It looks great, has no useless gadgets, probably won’t connect via 5G to the manufacturer to phone home and hopefully lasts longer. But it costs 7,000-8,000 EUR, so it is a big gamble (what if this breaks, too …).

  2. But how did you figure out the brand of the hardware? I have some fancy door handles in my house, but don’t know how to identify manufacturer to buy parts, etc.

  3. > Why is COVID-19 still a valid excuse…?

    My complete and detailed answer, full of insights and humor, is unfortunately unavailable due to supply chain issues and climate change.

  4. Highly recommend CraigsList for used appliances; often end up less expensive than a single service call on anything new. When I moved into my house in 2018, I needed a washer, dryer, and refrigerator. Inquiries to several folks (on CraigsList) yielded nothing, but then I found a washer and dryer only 2 mi. from my house (guy was renovating an apt. and wanted them gone). For $200, had a washer (basic, generic old top loader), dryer (10 year old fancy Maytag), and for another $50, he threw in a fridge (just needed a few hours of cleaning to be perfectly useful again). All are functional to this day. Sadly, I forgot to ask him if he also had a wine cooler! [I figure I will just repeat the process if any of them fail.]

    • He’s onto something. Also: if you buy a 20 year old appliance that still works, you can bet it’s going to keep working for a while

  5. Things are rough all over. I got thrown in FB mini-jail for a reply I made to a comment the other day, allegedly for “Violating Community Standards.” I protested and disagreed with their decision, followed the prompts and FB informed me that they were short on humans to review the situation because of COVID-19. Finally, after two days, FB is now giving me an alternate dispute resolution answer but I am still “on probation” and could have my account banned or blocked if I use the wrong words again.

    Separately, I received a modest-to-moderately priced digital watch as a birthday present. I think it’s a cool and unique watch that was designed, marketed and shipped by a company in California (the movement is made in China.) On the company’s website, you can choose from a wide variety of strap and case colors when you place your initial order. The strap is nice because it is affixed to the case with small Phillips-head screws, so it’s not difficult to remove, an easy 10 minute DIY project.

    The company offers replacement bands for many of their other watch models, so I chatted with their CS reps to find out if I could just order a strap or two in alternate color schemes for this model. Nope. No can do. I said: “What if the existing band breaks? What do I do then?”

    “Contact us and send the watch back and we will replace the band.”

    But apparently you cannot order JUST the band. I said: “You must be kidding me. You can order six or seven variants with different bands from the website. You will replace a band if it breaks. But you won’t sell me one by itself?”

    “Sorry, we’re working on that.”

    Must be supply chain problems at the Port of Los Angeles…

    • Alex (1.0?) One of the reasons I enjoy this blog is due to the comment moderation policy. Our fine host Phil personally moderates (censors) the comments and does not use artificial intelligence to do so. I am even allowed to call Mike a “dumb dumb” even though we aren’t supposed to make ad hominem comments. It’s a shame other platforms such as Face Book can’t moderate their content in a similar way. If you would like to start a go-fund-me campaign to raise capital so Phil can buy FaceBook I would contribute. In the mean time always hit your target.

    • Roger @Toucan Sam: I’ve probably taken a few liberties with the comment policy in the past couple of days. My post today, though, was to highlight the fact that even though Facebook (apparently!) has more money than we could ever hope to raise with GoFundMe, they still claim that they don’t have enough real humans to review the decisions of their algorithms before hiding or deleting people’s posts. You two folks are great, and I agree: Mike is a Dumb Dumb! But he is still allowed to post here because in his vigor to present his arguments, he is often unintentionally hilarious!

      Over and Out, and I will ratchet back some of my enthusiasm. I have to remember my training: Sight picture + breath control until the target moves in an approximate “infinity” symbol path. Time it carefully. SQUEEZE the trigger. Follow through. Call the shot before looking through the high-powered optics. Adjust your position and sight picture and mindset accordingly. Repeat.

    • Toucan Sam: this site is exactly the same. My replies to your useless drivel comments are often sent to the memory-hole.

  6. Also, the Baldwin folks make beautiful, high margin, lock hardware (and probably other things?). Rather than find “vintage” hardware that never operates just right, you can just get fancy Baldwin hardware that looks like period pieces. However, if just redoing locks and such on the cheap (and don’t need “front door looks”), you can probably stick with Schlage!

    Lastly, yes, I am getting tired of COVID as to why someone can’t get something done. Companies have now had 2+ years to learn how to operate remotely (for those that still are), so unless everyone quit (more likely the problem?), there’s really no good excuse. If you don’t like them, do the American thing: don’t buy their stuff. 😉

  7. i bought a Kalamera 80 Bottle Single Zone Freestanding Compressor Wine Cooler from home depot after a lot of research. About 800 bucks, works fine so far.My friends have had theirs for a lot of years. Home depot delivered in 2 weeks.

    • I am 3 for 4 on Home Depot appliances. One crapped out within 2 years; the other three are pushing a decade of full functionality.

  8. Given the disparity of answers here and on-line, it looks like someone who understands how to engineer things could manufacture a really good one and sell it for $1500. It sounds like there’s so much difference in various people’s experiences that there aren’t any really good ones being made.

    Do you have any friends who run restaurants? Maybe they’d have a good recommendation.

  9. In 2011, upon moving in to my newly purchased FL foreclosure (all appliances were stripped by previous owner who had ceased paying the mortgage in 2009), I purchased a basic, white, Kenmore refrigerator off Craigs List for $100 from a guy that kept it in his garage for beer. He had suffered a layoff during the Great Recession and was moving back to Massachusetts. I loaded, trailered, and moved the refrigerator myself. This 20+ year old, ice-cold, Kenmore refrigerator works great!

  10. Baldwin is great, I explained a problem I had by phone (pre-virus) and a new part showed up in my driveway the very next day!

    Phil you smoke pot? I am surprised.

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