The average consumer’s home is filled with products containing complex electronic parts. Of course, most consumers have no idea what is found inside their televisions, appliances, computers and other products. But what consumers do know is if a key internal part stops working, they have little choice but to either get the broken part replaced or dump the whole product and buy something new. For expensive products, customers are especially interested in an option to replace parts. If replacements parts are not available, and a customer’s only option is to shell out big money to purchase another product, customers may not be happy.
A good example of this can be found with an issue now facing KitchenAid, one of several appliance brands sold by Whirlpool. A number of customers, who have purchased refrigerators, are experiencing internal parts failure. For many customers, the failure is associated with an electronic control board that essentially runs the refrigerator. Normally, replacing this control board is not that difficult nor very expensive, especially when compared to the cost of purchasing a new refrigerator. For instance, KitchenAid’s built-in refrigerators sell for over $6,000 while the control board that is failing probably costs KitchenAid less than $100 to manufacture (or more likely acquire from a contract supplier).
So why are customers complaining? Because the replacement control board is not available, and no one at KitchenAid knows if it will ever be produced again. Thus, an expensive appliance, which otherwise is working fine, may need to be disposed of because an inexpensive part is not readily available. As expected, customers are not happy.
The marketing lesson here may seem to be an easy one: to avoid upsetting customers make sure parts are always available. However, in this case, it is unclear if this is a fair statement. Maybe there is a good reason this control board is not available. Unfortunately, KitchenAid is not fully disclosing what is happening with this part. So a better lesson is that companies need to be upfront with customers as to what is happening. For KitchenAid, the people who connect directly with customers (i.e. customer service representatives) need to know what is going on so they can interact honestly with customers. Not being forthright with customers can only lead to a negative image for the brand.
On the brighter side, a problem not addressed by one company can often be a good opportunity for someone else. And that seems to be happening here as several companies are now offering fixes for the control board problem.
Writer’s Comment. For purposes of full disclosure, the reason I am aware of this issue is from personal experience. While I am not happy with the situation, my intent in writing this post is not to release my frustrations but to point out what is amounting to an important marketing lesson.