All I needed was a replacement detergent drawer for our washing machine. And somehow I ended up at the Mountains of Madness with H.P. Lovecraft as my customer service rep.
We’ve got a front-loading stackable washer — that we don’t stack. The soap drawer pulls out of the control panel above the door; you pull out the drawer, pour in your soap (or other chemicals as well), and shove it back with a snap.
On Monday I pulled out the drawer and the handle came off. The drawer stayed inside the washing machine.
The machine’s not new, but we’d bought an extended warranty from the retailer. All I had to do was get a replacement plastic tray. So we got the serial number and warranty number together and called in. Should be easy — right?
I listened to ten minutes of high-quality on-hold music before someone picked up: an amiable person with a Southern accent. He was probably even in this country.
I explained: “I don’t actually need a repair. Just send me another drawer.”
“Let me look up that part,” he said. There was a very long pause. “I can see it (on his screen),” he said, “but the system won’t let me order it. It can only be ordered as part of the entire control panel assembly.”
“I don’t need the entire assembly: just the drawer.”
“I can’t do it.” What he could do was order an entire new control panel and try to set up a service call with some repair outfit who would install it.
I said, “I’m sorry, but that’s really stupid.” He didn’t say no. “You mean, someone actually has to replace the entire control panel just so I can get my tray?” In fact, he answered, there was no other way.
“Okay then,” I said in disbelief. “Sign me up.” He did. Somebody, he said, would contact me within a day with a schedule. He gave me a work order ID number.
In the meantime I could still get the wash done -- if I held the tray together with one hand while pulling it out with the other. A couple of pieces of duct tape could handle that if I cared to go that route. But no, let the warranty gods have it their way.
That night a piece of email came in from Manila. Why Manila, I have no idea. According to the email, no warranty repair would be made. We would reach an “alternate solution” — involving replacement. Call this number with your work order ID.
So I called the number; maybe they’d found a tray. But no.
The “alternate solution” was to give me a completely new washing machine — same model.
“That’s crazy,” I said. But this new customer service rep also tried to find the part, anywhere on the Internet, and couldn’t. To fulfill my warranty, the retailer would have to give me a completely new machine. And they were willing.
I didn’t actually tell her that I found this obscene, but I think I got the message across. I told her that I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do this, and she said that I had 90 days.
Our old machine works fine — or as fine as a front-loader can. They’re temperamental at best. But all that this corporate behemoth could do is replace it — for a $20 part. Madness. Complete madness — in a human sense.
But not in a corporate sense. A friend explained that the actual unit cost of the machine might be less than what the company would pay to hire some repair service to send someone out to install the dashboard at $150 an hour door to door. So, just send a new machine — for a $20 soap tray that somehow can’t be obtained any other way.
I get it. The washing machine was made in Italy (we were not aware of this originally) by a multi-national appliance company using many parts sourced from low-price bidders around the world. The plastic soap tray is stamped with a company name and logo that appears nowhere on the Internet: some supplier in East Asia, South Asia, Indonesia, any number of low-cost manufacturing destinations. Perhaps the entire assembly came from there.
At any rate, the washing machine came from Italy to the United States where it was sold to us. This is not like the old days where the retailer would call the distributor who’d call a plant somewhere in the midwest which would have all the parts on hand and somehow get hold of one. Or scrounge one off a dead return.
That doesn’t happen in today’s optimized-for-profit corporate world. Every process is optimized for lowest cost. Even if some parts had to be made 18,000 miles away — from East Asia to Italy to the East Coast and out to the West. That’s a lot of fuel burned, a lot of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. And a lot of waste, if the “optimized” solution is to junk a complicated piece of hardware and replace it with a brand new one.
That’s the kind of optimized thinking that sets the world on fire. And not in a good way, if you’re seeing smokey skies.
So I’m considering the duct tape solution, even though my friends are urging me to take the offer. Not like it’d cost nothing: I’d have to pay installation (and possibly disposal) and get a new extended warranty for the new machine: just to continue the madness.
Because it is madness, the kind that saves money for itself in extreme ways with no thought to the effect on the world as a whole. This kind of capitalism’s going down or we’re all going down together at the Mountains of Madness, where Cthulhu himself waits with waving tentacles and open maw.