My Office Chair, Customer Service, and Expense Control

 It’s a nice leather chair. I’ve had it less than two years.   So I wasn’t happy when it started tilting side to side as much as it rocked from front to back. It felt like it was going to leave me on the floor any day and, besides, it was practically making me seasick.

The nice people at Staples, where I bought it, gave me a copy of my receipt, the five year warranty, and the number of the Sealy company to call. I figured I was screwed. “Sorry to hear about your chair,” I could hear them saying. “Just package it up, ship it back, and in a couple of months we’ll send it back fixed, though the freight cost will be more than you paid for the chair and we have no idea what you’ll sit on until then.”
But determined to go through the motions, I called them anyway and told my story, then waited for the ax to drop. I’d already picked out my new chair.
“Sounds like you’ve got a broken weld in the pneumatic cylinder assembly. We’ll send you new parts and some instructions.”
I waited for the bad news. “You don’t want proof that the chair’s under warranty?” “No.” “You don’t need to see the chair first to confirm that it’s a manufacturing issue?” “No.” “How much do I have to pay for shipping and handling?”  “Nothing.”
I was pretty flummoxed, but I hung up and sure enough, ten days later (Christmas was in there) the parts showed up. I wouldn’t say the instructions were written perfectly, and there did turn out to be a sledge hammer involved, but here I sit in my repaired chair writing this and not swaying side to side.
Sealy’s has made a friend, and I’ll probably look for their chairs the next time I need one. But they’ve also saved themselves some money. They didn’t spend long on the phone with me. They didn’t have to manage a chair coming back or forth. They didn’t have to do the repair themselves. There was no administrative warranty management cost, and damned little accounting and tracking. Somebody threw some stock parts in a box and shipped them to me and they were done. They got me to do the work for them, and I was basically thrilled to do it and solve my problem.
From time to time I suppose they get had, and send somebody some parts who doesn’t have a valid warranty claim. But they don’t care, and I’m guessing not that many people want chair parts if they don’t have a broken chair. Sealy’s has calculated that the cost of those parts and shipping pale in comparison to the cost of carefully evaluating each claim, making repairs themselves, and making sure nobody gets parts they don’t deserve.   So their process makes sense even ignoring the customer service benefits.
It’s not easy to figure out what warranty claims cost you. The expense is hidden in and divided among customer service, cost of goods, freight and shipping, general and administrative, salaries and probably other categories depending on your particular accounting set up. Maybe that’s why more companies, as far as I know, don’t take Sealy’s approach to warranty claims.
There are some characteristics of Sealy’s business model that make their approach to warranty claims viable. I’m not suggesting every brand or retailer can honor every warranty claim for snowboards, skate shoes or board shorts that’s made. But I suspect that if you do the hard work of estimating what your warranty service costs really are, you’ll find you can save some money and make some customers happy at the same time.