Hundreds of Sears customers are claiming that the company's home services division is in shambles.
The department, which is responsible for home repairs, is failing to fix faulty or broken appliances in a timely manner or at all, leaving many people without hot water, heat, or functioning refrigerators for several weeks at a time, according to hundreds of customer reviews written over the last six months.
On top of the long waits for repairs, customers have complained about myriad chronic problems, including service technicians not showing up for scheduled appointments or arriving many hours late, and then failing to fix or diagnose problems.
Many people have also said it's nearly impossible to reach a customer service representative over the phone, and that calls to the service phone line are frequently and inexplicably disconnected.
"Our members' satisfaction is a top priority, and we are constantly innovating to improve the customer service experience," said Larry Costello, a Sears spokesman. He said most customers rate Sears Home Services "very favorably, giving us an average of 4.4 out of 5 stars based on their experiences."
Customers like MaryEllen Humphrey of Lake Ariel, Pennsylvania, say otherwise.
Humphrey told Business Insider she spent nearly $8,000 on a boiler and warranty package from Sears last year that stopped working this month, leaving Humphrey without heat in her home.
This was a grave problem for Humphrey — she has two young children, one of whom has a health condition that makes it dangerous for him to be in cold environments.
"My son is deaf and has severe lung issues (bronchopulmonary dysplasia) from being very premature and on a ventilator for six weeks," Humphrey said. "He is very prone to respiratory infections. Being in a cold environment is bad for him. I had to leave the house and stay with my cousin."
After 47 phone calls in two weeks with Sears' customer service department, as well as recurring issues with a Sears repair technician who said he was unable to fix the boiler, Humphrey said she still had no heat.
She was ultimately forced to hire an outside repair technician to fix the boiler. He was able to diagnose and repair the issue within 10 minutes, according to Humphrey.
Humphrey said the entire process was infuriating and that she will never again buy anything from Sears. She has encouraged others to avoid the company as well.
Humphrey isn't alone. Hundreds of other customers have told similar stories of multiple mysteriously dropped phone calls with the service department, lengthy waits for repairs, and "incompetent" service technicians on the Sears Home Services Facebook page. Within the last month, there have been more than 80 negative reviews of Sears' repair business and zero positive reviews.
"Do not — I repeat — do not use Sears Home Services for any of your repairs," Stefanie Strike Breuer wrote on Facebook on November 17. "I had to wait a month to get my washing machine 'repaired' and now it is worse than before."
Heather Hammann LaMarca says she also had to wait a month for repairs to a washing machine.
"What a disappointment Sears has become," she wrote on November 24. "Horrible customer service and terrible consumer experience. ... I have been a loyal Sears appliance purchaser for years, not anymore."
Jesse Petersen of Prescott, Arizona, told Business Insider that her refrigerator stopped working on November 21, several hours after a visit from a Sears' technician who was supposed to fix a problem with the machine's ice maker.
She says she called Sears Home Services to report the issue and that the company said it couldn't send anyone to her house to diagnose the problem for at least another 10 days.
In the meantime, she has had to purchase a minifridge.
"Sears could care less," she said. "It's horrible."
Costello said the company understands it's "extremely frustrating when a major household appliance is not functioning properly, which is why we make it easy for customers to contact us through a variety of channels, including 24/7 call center, live chat, social media, and more."
He also said that it's not uncommon in the repair business to require a couple of technician visits to fix appliance problems.
"Our goal is to solve our customers' issues on the first home visit, but that's not always possible because appliances are complicated and unique replacement parts may need to be ordered, a problem not unique to Sears," he said.
The service division is a vital business for Sears, bringing in an estimated $3 billion in revenue annually. Sears' annual revenue in 2015 was $25.1 billion.
Sears is the No. 1 provider of appliance services in the US, with more than 6,000 service technicians making nearly 7 million services calls each year, according to Costello.
It's also making some changes to the repair business that could be affecting customer service.
For example, in October Sears ended Saturday service calls, meaning technicians are now available for repairs only on business days.
Costello said this was in response to low demand for service on weekends.
"Saturdays are our least busy day ... while Mondays are our busiest day for in-bound calls to schedule service," he said. "Shifting our capacity to Monday through Friday ensures that our full support organization is available to assist members and technicians, produces more efficient schedules for our technicians, and enables us to run more service calls on Mondays for our members."
The company is also shutting down some customer service call centers in the US, including one in West Des Moines, Iowa, that employed more than 100 people, which closed in June, and one in High Point, North Carolina, that apparently employs more than 350 people. The North Carolina call center will close in February 2017.
Costello says this won't affect customer service, however.
"The work performed at the location will be transitioned to other Sears facilities between now and the anticipated closure date," Costello said. "The closure of this location is part of our strategy to optimize our call center operations to align with our forecasted call volumes."
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