As a Which? undercover investigation reveals multiple failings by Whirlpool in dealing with customers affected by safety issues, the consumer champion calls on Whirlpool to clean up its act and treat affected customers fairly.
Following reports of 5.3 million customers potentially affected by tumble dryer fires and some customers having to wait up to a year for their machine to be repaired, Which? made undercover calls to the Whirlpool call centre, surveyed over 800 affected owners and heard in-depth experiences from 40 case studies.
Our research found:
- DELAYS: We were consistently told it would take 8-12 weeks to get a customer ID before anything can happen – something that should be done at the push of a button. Waiting times for repairs are still very long – a third (32%) of people surveyed who opted for a repair were told they would have to wait six months or more.
- CONFUSION: We found that consumers are being pushed from pillar to post. On our mystery shop calls when posing as a consumer with a nine month old dryer, we were repeatedly told to take up a claim for a replacement with the retailer. Many of our 40 case studies tried this route and were told to take this up with Whirlpool. Whirlpool told us that they will investigate this issue.
- WITHHOLDING INFORMATION: Whirlpool has still not published a complete list of the affected models – at least 127 – leaving the burden on the consumer to find out if their machine is affected. Which? has now been able to obtain the details of affected models and has for the first time published all of these model numbers on its website. Whirlpool maintains its position that they will not publish the affected model numbers. They say consumers can use the model checker on their website to find out if their machine is affected.
- SAFETY: Six in ten (62%) affected customers told us they were concerned about using their dryer whilst waiting for a repair; yet numerous call handlers on our undercover calls told us there was “nothing to worry about” when using our machine, as long as we followed safety instructions.
- LIMITED OPTIONS: Consumers are stuck between a rock and hard place – faced with a decision between lengthy delays for a repair, or paying for a reduced priced replacement. One in five (20%) Whirlpool customers who opted for a replacement felt they had no choice but to pay for a new machine and a third (33%) said that, given the option, they would rather pay for a replacement than wait so long for a repair.
- DISSATISFACTION: Consumers overwhelmingly feel that Whirlpool is failing them. More than half (54%) of the affected customers we surveyed felt dissatisfied with the way Whirlpool has handled this situation. This rises to eight in ten (80%) among those who had to wait six months or more for a repair.
- OPPORTUNISM: Whirlpool is using the dryer safety process as an opportunity to sign customers up for marketing materials. Our undercover calls revealed that Whirlpool’s recorded opening message automatically opts callers in to receive future marketing unless they ask to opt out. Whirlpool says that consumer data collected as part of the dryer modification campaign is not used for cross-marketing purposes unless a consumer has already registered their interest elsewhere.
In light of clear evidence of confusion and poor practice, Whirlpool must take urgent action to put things right for their customers who are being left with faulty – and potentially dangerous – goods in their homes.
Which? is calling on Whirlpool to commit to:
- Clearly list all 127 affected model numbers on the front page of its website with details of how customers can get help.
- Speed up the process by making it quicker to generate a customer ID number when consumers first make contact with the call centre.
- Train its call centre staff to offer better advice to affected customers and stop directing them to retailers, who are in turn directing people back to Whirlpool, simply delaying the process.
The failings in this case highlight major issues with the current product safety regulations. Which? has submitted this evidence to the Government’s new steering group, established after Lynn Faulds Wood’s review, and is asking it to review the Whirlpool case, look at how existing law applies in these situations and make practical recommendations to improve the product recall system within the next month.
Alex Neill, Which? Director of Policy and Campaigns said:
“Whirlpool customers rightly feel dissatisfied with how they’ve been treated, being faced with delays, confusion and a lack of information. Whirlpool must clean up their act and sort this mess out.
“This case, affecting millions, clearly highlights the problems with the current product safety regulations. The Government must act swiftly to simplify the system and close the loopholes that allow companies to leave consumers without the basic information and advice they need.”
Bronwen McWilliams, from Farnham, Buckinghamshire, had her Indesit dryer delivered a day after the issue was first raised and discovered that her model was affected. She said:
“Despite numerous calls to the retailer and Whirlpool they’re saying I cannot have a new machine. They’ve told me it is only a modification required but I am yet to get a confirmed date for when this will be completed.”
When we asked Whirlpool to comment on our findings, they said:
“The safety of our customers is our number one priority. We are committed to doing everything we can to ensure that the modification programme is being carried out in a safe and timely manner. The scale of this modification programme is considerable and we’re continually looking into alternative options which will allow us to progress the programme at a faster pace. As a result, we continue to recruit extra engineers and call-centre staff to speed up the modification programme.”
Notes to editors:
- Which? completed 30 calls to the Whirlpool call centre between 19 April and 12 May 2016 for the investigation. 15 calls were made as a consumer with a machine under one year old; 15 calls were made as a consumer with a machine that was two years old.
- 820 Which? members, who have been affected by Whirlpool’s fire-risk dryers, were surveyed between 29th April and 5th May 2016. In total, 20 questions were asked ranging from timeframe given for repairs, brand of faulty dryer, confidence in Whirlpool and information provided, safety concerns relating to dryer, pressure to take reduced priced replacement and much more
- Which? received 43 case studies in response to our May magazine article on Whirlpool’s fire risk dryers. Similarly to our mystery calls and research, feedback from case studies was varied with many getting inconsistent feedback.
- The affected brands include Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Proline and Swan tumble dryers
- For advice on what to do if you’re in possession of a faulty dryer, visit http://whi.ch/1OGbogZ