As part of our upcoming Customer Appreciation Sale, we decided to take an inside look at two of the most essential parts of our business, areas which often don’t get the thanks they deserve: The Abt Service Departments. Abt’s commitment to our customers goes beyond just the in-store or online purchase process. We’re here with you for the long haul, providing service and support well after you receive your new TV or kitchen appliances. One of the things that sets Abt apart from other retailers is the fact that we are an authorized service center for every brand we sell. If it breaks, we can fix it. In fact, our service departments are one of the main reasons a certain leading consumer info magazine has voted us a top appliance retailer in the country four years in a row.
The Abt service departments are split into two sections: Electronics and Appliances. Each department has its own team of in-store technicians with a dedicated workshop area in our Glenview, IL store, as well as road-going technicians and phone service reps. Altogether, the service departments contain hundreds of employees, tens of thousands of spare parts and countless years of collective repair know-how.
I popped into the electronics shop to get the inside scoop from Rey, our Electronics Service Manager, who’s been with Abt for 12 years. The Electronics Service department handles repairs on everything from blown-out subwoofers to computers with fried motherboards. Around the shop are carts and tables holding products in various states of assembly. In the corner, a trio of LCD TVs play the day’s news as they go through a test-run to verify proper repairs.
Abt has seven inside electronics technicians and six that make house calls, and altogether, they handle about 500-550 “shop processes” a week. According to Rey, the most-serviced item is the television, which also happens to be the single item we sell the most of (Abt Trivia: At various points in our history, we were known as “Abt Television & Appliance Company” or simply “Abt TV”). After TVs, the next most-serviced items are audio receivers and vacuum cleaners.
For the most part, TV repairs tend to be because one of the following issues: a computer board or the entire TV panel goes bad and needs replacement, or the actual screen gets damaged—usually by a flying Wii-mote or children’s toy. Depending on what the issue is, many repairs can be completed in the customer’s home in a single visit. More complicated repairs, or problems that can’t be easily diagnosed need to be handled in the shop.
Most of the problems the electronics techs deal with could have been easily avoided, Rey tells me. We get a lot of laptops with water damage, either from a jostled cup of coffee or a full-on dip in the tub. Sometimes, the problems we get calls for turn out to not be problems at all. It’s a pretty common occurrence for a customer’s broken TV or computer to have very simple fix: it wasn’t plugged in. That’s one of the first things our phone reps have the customer check. Most folks would rather hurt their pride than their wallet, and end up relieved.
Aside from phantom unpluggings, what’s the one way customers can easily avoid costly repairs on their electronic devices? “Use a surge protector.” Power spikes are unpredictable, but for under $20 you can protect the sensitive insides of your computer or TV by plugging it into a surge protector.. Rey also suggests considering the Extended Protection Plans for items over $300, especially things you plan on keeping for years. The plans often pay for themselves after just a single repair.
Hidden way back in the north end of our warehouse, I found the Abt Appliance Service shop, where all of the in-store appliance testing and repairs are performed, and where new appliance technicians do their training. As you might imagine, it’s more difficult to bring a refrigerator or oven in for service than a TV, so most of our appliance repairs are done in customers homes. To that end, we’ve got over 50 traveling appliance techs, all with various specialties—refrigeration, washer/dryer, general appliance, HVAC and vent cleaning.
The goal for our appliance service team is always to get a customer’s appliance fixed as quickly as possible, with as few visits possible. To help facilitate that, we stock thousands of the more commonly needed parts, like rubber seals, hoses and switches. Some modern appliances have a way of self-diagnosing their problems, much like a modern car, by displaying an error code on a their control panel This lets us know what parts our techs are likely to need for the service call and increases the odds that we can get in and get it fixed with a single visit. Unfortunately, much of the time a tech needs to go out to diagnose the problem himself, and then return to the store and order parts for the return visit.
In the most complicated scenarios, the entire appliance has to be returned to the store. The department averages between 4-500 service appointments a day, so they pretty regularly encounter a problem that requires complete removal of the appliance. Most of the time, it’s because the unit needs extensive disassembly, which can’t safely or conveniently be done in a customer’s home. It’s these instances when the in-store service techs shine.
Handling the in-store repairs are a half-dozen veteran techs, each with over ten years of service at Abt. In addition to in-store repairs of customer units, this expert crew also helps train new technicians, and handles the testing and certification of returned goods. If you ever purchase a discounted, returned item from Abt, you’ll find a seal on the back stating that it was checked by our technicians.
I pulled two of the techs, Bob and Brian, away from their workstations to pick their brains about appliance repairs. These guys have seen it all, from an auto-defroster that malfunctioned and completely melted the interior of a freezer, to a mysteriously leaking washer drain hose. The culprit? It was punctured by the underwire that had come loose from a customer’s bra and got wedged in the hose until it broke through. They may have even solved one of the great laundry mysteries of all time. I asked Brian for a funny repair story:
“I once pulled seven pair of women’s underwear out of a washer drain hose.” It’s quite possible that next time a sock goes missing in your laundry cycle, it’s stuck in your drain hose, or has been completely flushed out.
What singular mistake causes the most easily-avoidable service appointments? “Putting too much soap into washing machines and dishwashers.” Besides creating an inconvenient mess, the heavy suds can overwhelm the seals on the insides of the machines, getting into places where the electronics are and frying control boards and sensors. To be safe, check your owner’s manual and don’t use more soap than is recommended!
Every day, thousands of products leave Abt on our own trucks, via UPS and third party carriers, on their way to customers around the country. Unfortunately, some percentage of those are going to end up malfunctioning due to a manufacturer’s defect. But one of the great things about buying from Abt is that if there’s a problem with your product, we’ll make sure it gets fixed. And while we can’t do repairs across the country (wouldn’t mind a trip to Florida right now, though) we can point you to repair centers across the country, run either by manufacturers themselves, or by trusted partners like SquareTrade.
We hope you enjoyed this look behind the curtain at Abt. If you have ever have any service questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to call us!