Read the warranty before crying foul

Suitcase

A recent LA Times piece unfairly accuses luggage maker Victorinox of not living up to its lifetime warranty. But if the article’s author, or the aggrieved customer had only bothered to read the warranty, they’d have found that the company did “no such thing.”

The article begins with this:

It’s a lesson many of us learned in kindergarten:  Say what your mean and mean what you say.

So why do some companies offer what they term “lifetime warranties” – when in fact they offer no such thing?

This brings to mind another old saying:  “Know whereof you speak.” And maybe more to the point: “It is sometimes better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.”  Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh, but then again, maybe not.

The LAT piece tells the story of a frequent business traveler – 2 or 3 times per month – who had the zipper on his 12-year old Victorinox bag break. When he contacted the company about the broken zipper, he received an email response informing him that the lifetime warranty covers defects, but not failure caused by wear and tear. Inasmuch as the zipper functioned just fine for twelve years and over the course of some 288 to 432 business trips, its seems pretty clear that the zipper was not defective, but failed due wear and tear as the customer service representative suggested.

Still not satisfied, the traveler asked a wholly irrelevant question. He asked for the company’s definition of a lifetime warranty. The question he should have asked is: What are the terms of your company’s lifetime warranty. (This kinda gets us back to the “say what you mean and mean what you say” crack.)

What the Victorinox GLOBAL LIFETIME PLUS LIMITED WARRANTY, which is available online, says is:

Our most premium collections are accompanied by premier warranty coverage.  Should you experience functional damage of any kind during your first five years of ownership – even if caused by an airline, taxi, train or cruise ship – we will repair or replace your product as deemed appropriate.  Following the first five years of ownership, your product is still guaranteed against manufacturing defects.

Years One Through Five Total Protection

For five years from the date of original purchase, the Global Lifetime Plus Limited Warranty covers functional damage caused by common carriers such as airlines, taxis, trains and cruise ships, as well as defects in materials and workmanship.  Should a defect or damage appear under normal use during the first five years of ownership, we will repair your product or replace it, as appropriate and at our discretion, with the same or an equivalent model, free of charge.

Years Six and Beyond Quality Guarantee

For years six and beyond, this warranty guarantees your product to be free from defects in materials and workmanship.  Should a manufacturing defect appear under normal use, we will repair your product or replace it, as appropriate and at our discretion, with the same or an equivalent model, free of charge.  Damage caused by common carriers is not covered during years six and beyond.

This warranty is non-transferable and does not cover cosmetic damage, wear and tear, damage resulting from abuse, misuse, unauthorized repair or improper handling, loss of use, loss of time or damage to the contents of your bag.

So based on the warranty’s clearly stated terms, the customer service representative made the right call by denying the claim.

But when the LAT contacted the Victorinox about the zipper complaint, asking what kind of lifetime warranty doesn’t cover a broke zipper on a 12-year old extensively used piece of luggage, a spokeswoman reportedly “declined to answer,” but did say that the company wished to work with the customer to resolve the problem. The company, faced with unfair negative publicity and unreasonable customer expectations, caved, and in doing so set itself up for the LAT’s smear piece.

When the customer challenged the service representative’s decision to decline to cover the broken zipper under the lifetime warranty, she “stuck to her guns.” She is to be praised for doing so. The company’s lifetime warranty makes clear that it is not a blanket guarantee that a product won’t ever wear out or fail under any circumstances. It clearly “defines,” and so by definition limits the company’s obligations. In this case, the company should have stuck to its warranty promise; it should have meant what it said in its warranty.

In fact, the company should take the time and money it spends responding to unreasonable customers — like the one profiled in the LAT article — and invest in telling its side of the story and giving examples of the lengths to which it goes to take of care of customers that truly deserve it.

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Filed under Customer Experience, Warranty

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