Sorry, I’ve been so craptastic at posting regular – but this sorta fits, as life in China, in EVERY way, is not regular (yes, that was potty humour, laugh damnit).
Anyway… the reason is I’ve been working on a couple new “projects” – don’t you love that term, so vague, yet so official sounding. Bah. By projects I sorta mean sites, which really means business, and as I’m out of a job come the end of June, I’ve been scrambling to get my ducks in a row (ducks, I’ll have you know, are an entirely uncooperative bunch of fowl).
One thing I’ve wanted to write about for the last few days, and realized that if I didn’t sit down an do it now I’d just not get it done, was my recent experience with China’s largest electronic appliances producer – Haier.
Ultimately this is a story about commonality and redemption, but I’ve some bitching to do first – so sit tight.
When I first moved to China I had planned to only stay for eight months. I arrived to an apartment with only a dusty VCD player (that purported karaoke abilities, though I never tested it). I burned through the VCDs left by those laowai that had come before me, but soon craved more. My trips to the DVD shop were painful. Having to buy the Asian equivalent of VHS tapes while cheap DVDs were staring me in the face was too much.
I bought a DVD player. I went out and found the cheapest DVD player to be found. When asked if an extended warranty was important, I said it need only last eight months – then I’m gone.
Well, turns out we both lasted a lot longer than expected. I stayed in China and it kept working until this past Spring Festival. Around January/February it began to fade, and as I was newly wed, I made the executive decision that nice new DVD players are just the type of thing newlyweds buy.
So, off to the four-floor home appliance market; past the fridge-size air cons, the TV-sized fridges, the dish sterilizers, the clothes washers/spinners, the roof-top solar-heated water warmers, and the three coffee makers, I arrived in the hi-fi section.
After some wandering and some debate we settled on a mid-level (570 RMB) model from Haier. It was neat looking, had cool blue LED lighting in the front and featured a way for me to plug my MP3 player directly into it via USB (that feature that sells ya, but that you’ll never use).
The H682 was a nice little machine and did exactly what I told it to do (in stark contrast to my old player). Despite Maggie’s premonitory comments about Haier not making good DVD players, I was happy. It wasn’t Sony or RCA, but for a Chinese brand it seemed pretty good. Hell, it even had a sticker to put on the remote that made it all English – putting an end to my late-night games of remote roulette.
Then it went retro on my ass
One day, about a month and a half into owning it, the colour blipped, fizzled and died.
I tried different cables, a different TV, but nothing. The video out (that yellow one) just stopped working. If I used the monitor output, no problem, and I daresay if I used the hi-fi multi-coloured, ultra-digital, super-surround, ‘slap you in the face with movie magic’ quality cables… it’d probably have worked to. Alas my circa 1996 TV just can’t swing it.
So, as this box was completely under warranty still, we simply called the Haier support line and they happily hooked us up with their local repair depot. Maggie dropped our still-smells-new machine off with them and we went back to using the old “I’ll work when I wanna” player.
A week went by and nothing. We called and they said they needed to wait for the part to arrive. Fair enough. Another week, nothing. We called and they said they’re still waiting (we could sympathize), but offered to just exchange it with another model (as our model was apparently last year’s, and not available). Meh, alright.
With the new player in hand, I get curious. I mean, most companies back home (for the sake of good customer service and for the reason that it costs them virtually nothing) will make sure they give you a model that’s at least as good as the one they’re replacing, but… well… I’m not back home. So, quick search of the net, and sure enough they’d given us the lowest end model they could. Fuckers.
So, angry phone call later and we’re back on the waiting list for a transplant.
Week goes by. Nothing. Another week, another phone call, and still nothing. Finally our fifth or six call in they offer yet another replacement machine. Before accepting it, I did my handy dandy search of the net and found that it was just a newer version of the same cheap-ass model they tried to pawn off on us last time.
They played coy and said they didn’t know the pricing for the models (which makes one wonder about their competence with anything more complicated than a mop – as I figured out the pricing scheme/model number bit in about five seconds).
So finally, with Maggie now reaching new volumes with her otherwise quite soft-spokenness, they dredge the city and find a comparable model to our original – the DVD-H680A. They, having learned of my craftiness with the Internet, call and make sure it’s ok. I work my magic, see that it has all the features our old one does and even looks a bit slicker – a give my consent for the exchange (I like to play Godfather when it comes to dealing with Chinese customer service agencies… it’s a small flaw I have).
Twenty minutes later Mags’ cell rings. There’s a 20 RMB price difference between what we paid for our old one and what the new one sells for in some (unnamed) shop. We need to pay this to make things happen.
Well folks, I could do nothing but laugh. I couldn’t believe that this “customer service/repair” (two things they had yet to offer up) office was actually asking us to pay the retail difference of 20 RMB after dicking us around for nearly two months.
In hindsight our next step should have been taken at the outset, but the kindly staff always seemed to be doing their best and were always very congenial, even if utterly useless.
We called their boss.
The Suzhou operation is all handled out of Wuxi, and Wuxi then likely reports up to Nanjing, and Nanjing onto the head office in Qingdao. And typical of so many chains of command, the Wuxi guy was not eager for our complaint about service to go any further than him. Five minutes later, problem solved, machine was ours.
Like I said, happy ending.
I notice more and more that frustrating experiences in China don’t lend themselves to the same system of recourse as they do back home. Bad service back home would lead me to just never deal with the offending company again, switching my loyalty to a different brand. However, to switch brands here in China means untangling the “how to do it” all over again, and giving up the small amount of gūanxi we now have with the company – as well as sacrificing the even smaller feeling of knowing what’s going on.
The Brothers Haier