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A Displeased Whirlpool Customer, a Logistics Lesson, and a Warranty

Here is a brief recap of my continuing Whirlpool Customer Experience (so far):

  • DAY 1 – (April 4th) Our washing machine stops working properly. I unplug it and leave it a day, hoping this might reset it.
  • DAY 2 – (April 5th) I plug it back in. It still doesn’t work right. It’s less than a year old, so I call Whirlpool to honor their 1-year warranty. They say they’ll send someone ASAP, which will be in five days.
  • DAY 7 – (April 13th) The promised repair technician fails to arrive. I call the service company. They say Whirlpool never contacted them. I call Whirlpool to ask WTF is going on. They apologize and again tell me they’ll send someone ASAP, which will be in another six days. This time, they send a confirmation email.
  • DAY 13 – (April 19th) A repair technician arrives and identifies the faulty component. It’s a control board. These are “special order,” so he cannot say when they can get the part. He accidentally broke another part when diagnosing the original problem, so this will need to be replaced, too. He say’s they’ll call when they get the parts.
  • DAY 15 – (April 21st) I email Whirlpool asking if they can replace the washer rather than repair it.
  • DAY 16 – (April 22nd) Whirlpool sends an email reply that says, “Our warranty is for repair rather than replacement.”
  • DAY 22 – (April 28th) I email the service company for an update on parts availability. They email back, saying they cannot ask Whirlpool for an update until the order is 21 days old.
  • DAY 34 – (May 10th) I email the service company again since it’s now been 21 days since their service guy was here. They email back to say they’re still waiting for the tub (which is the part the technician broke while figuring out the control board needed replacement).
  • DAY 37 – (May 13th) The service company emails me to let me know the parts have arrived! I call them and schedule another service appointment. The next one available is in a week.
  • DAY 43 – (May 19th) A service technician arrives with the needed parts, but he cannot install the tub because a part needed to remove the old one won’t come loose. He’ll need to break it to get it off, which means he’ll need to replace it. They don’t have one on hand, so it and a few more parts will need to be ordered. He can’t estimate when they might arrive, but they’ll contact me when they get them.

It is now DAY 45, and we still don’t have a working washer. What is especially irksome about all this is that it makes no sense. According the Whirlpool parts website, the things now needed to fix my machine cost around $2,000, which is about $1,200 more than I paid for the new washer a year ago. Why is Whirlpool willing to spend more than the appliance is worth and inconvenience their customers this way? The only thing I can think of is that they want to discourage people from fixing their broken appliances. They want to offer the warranty as an incentive to buy their products, but it’s clear that they didn’t design my washer to be repairable.

There a couple concepts in logistics engineering (a field I worked in before retiring) that apply to this. The military calls the first one MEL, for Maintenance Expenditure Limit. Basically, the idea is that you don’t spend more to fix something than it’s worth. Normally, the MEL for an item is based on its replacement cost and goes down as the thing ages, so that something with a life expectancy of 10 years will have a MEL of 90% of the replacement cost during its first year in service, 80% during its second, and so on. The MEL is what you can spend to fix something. If the cost of repair exceeds the MEL, you replace it. This is an oversimplification, of course, but it gets the point across.

The second logistics concept pertaining to this is called RAM for Reliability, Availability, Maintainability, and it is why I place the primary blame on my washer problem with Whirlpool and not with the service technicians. Yes, the first technician made the problem worse by breaking a second part, but he did not design the machine. The people who did should have applied basic RAM principles to ensure that the thing was maintainable, that it could be repaired easily with as few steps and as few tools are possible. Obviously, they failed at this. The machine clearly was not reliable, replacement parts were not readily available, and judging by how a trained service technician could accidentally break something while doing a routine diagnostic procedure, it certainly was not maintainable. This points to a flaw in the washer’s design, and the responsibility for that lies solely with Whirlpool.

This raises a second question. Is the poor design of my washer an anomaly, or could the design flaws be intentional? Now, at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy nut, I’m going to speculate they may be intentional. Not just the basic design (which makes access to and removal of components difficult), but also the lack of parts availability and their slowness in responding to a warranty claim, may all be ways to discourage customers from repairing their old appliances and to instead buy new ones. If that is the case, the one-year warranty is a marketing strategy. Its main intent is to make buyers believe that Whirlpool has more confidence in the reliability of their appliances than is warranted (no pun intended).

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