This seemed like an ill-advised approach to P.R. for any company. It seemed even ill-er advised for Conn’s, given that in 2009 it had resolved a complaint by the Texas attorney general, who had charged the company with “failing to honor product warranties, misleading customers about the nature of its products, false advertising” and more, as the A.G.’s office wrote in a news release. At the time, the company paid $4.5 million in restitution to customers and promised reforms.
By the fall of last year, the Haggler had moved on.
In September 2015, Conn’s appointed a new chief executive, a guy from outside the company named Norman Miller. Was it possible that new leadership would take a different, more diplomatic tack?
On a whim last week, the Haggler sent an email to Mr. Miller, guessing his address. He replied in under an hour, with a few lines that included these startling words: “I am happy to speak with you.”
Well, look who’s talking!
A P.R. rep set up a phone call, which occurred on Wednesday afternoon. To summarize, it was a pleasure. Mr. Miller — who insisted that the Haggler call him “Norm,” to the Haggler’s delight — heard about this column’s Conn’s-centric focus when he arrived at the company. He quickly upended his predecessor’s ignore-the-media approach, though whether that had anything to do with the Haggler, he did not say.
“I’m not commenting on the way that the company dealt with you, because I wasn’t involved at the time,” he said. “I can say that from my own experience, it is better to have open communication with the press, especially if there is an issue.”
Of course, what matters most is how Conn’s treats its customers. And it was on this subject that Mr. Miller sounded most passionate.
“North of 60 percent of our customers are repeat business,” he said. “People who have been buying from us for two or three generations. I want to stress that we didn’t get where we are today” — Conn’s has a market cap of $395 million — “without good customer service. I make sure that’s reinforced on a daily basis. I get involved when we do make mistakes. We have regular communication with the Better Business Bureau. Because ultimately, at the end of the day, the only way to grow our business is to have a great name and a great reputation.”
Sounds good, of course. But the Haggler was curious about whether the company had changed its practices, too. So he sent Conn’s the following complaint:
Q. In late August, I bought a 75-inch Samsung television from Conn’s in Corpus Christi. The next morning, it was turning itself on and off, over and over.
I was told the company had a 48-hour return policy on TVs. When I could not get my salesman on the phone, I called Conn’s main number, and a woman named Rita told me not to worry. A technician would be dispatched, and if I wasn’t happy with the results, I could swap the TV for one that worked.
The repairman came on Thursday, and he said that in all likelihood the main power board needed to be replaced. But he didn’t have that item on hand.
Rita told me that she would speak to the manager of the store in Corpus Christi so I could return the TV on Friday. She said she would get on the phone with the manager when I was at the store, to ensure that all went well.
But the manager of the Corpus Christi store would not take back the TV without charging a 15 percent restocking fee, because of the 48-hour rule. When I called Rita, in front of the manager, she was not around to take my call.
So I’m out $375 — that’s 15 percent of the $2,500 sticker price. That seems like a lot of money to spend for a TV I owned for four days and that did not work.
A. One day after the Haggler sent this email, a company spokesman, John Feld, wrote back. Mr. Balli had 24 hours, not 48, to return the TV without being charged a restocking fee, under company policy. (This was news to Mr. Balli, who insists that he heard “48 hours” from both the salesman and Rita.) But because the repairman didn’t have the needed parts during that home visit, Conn’s decided to refund Mr. Balli’s $375 and throw in a $100 gift card.
Is this just great P.R. on the cheap? Sure. But it could also signal that Conn’s is ready to join the International Brotherhood of Companies That Take Calls From Reporters. Which is progress.