Sunday, September 6, 2015

When American consumer expectations met Mexican customer service realities

Not to turn this into a complaining and kvetching post, but during the past eight weeks I came to appreciate Stew's observation about how ungodly convoluted, frustrating and time-consuming even simple transactions can become when you live in Mexico.

Take the oven in our six-year-old stove, which was manufactured in Celaya, a town about an hour from San Miguel, by a company called MABE. The oven and the broiler quit working about two months ago. We called the manufacturer which referred us to a manufacturer-owned service company called Serviplus, the latter based at an undisclosed bunker somewhere in Mexico.

We were told someone would come to look at the stove, at a charge of $250 pesos, to assess—not repair—whatever was wrong. The thermocouple needed to be replaced, we were told by the repairman, something that Stew and Félix—two whizbangs in household repair work, had already suspected. Six weeks after the initial assessment visit, we never heard a word from Serviplus until last Friday.

Meanwhile, we contacted Margarito Galván, who many local gringos tout as the appliance repair genius in town, even though even his most ardent fans will admit he has a chronic problem returning phone calls, showing up for appointments and occasionally walking off with money advanced to buy repair parts, never to be heard from again.

After several calls and no response, Félix and Stew loaded the stove in the trunk of the car and we took it to Margarito's workshop, which looked like what you'd find if you burrowed under a junkyard. We left the stove there, and waited for his expert diagnosis.

And waited. After several days we went back to the workshop and met his wife, who said Margarito had checked the stove and determined some parts were needed from a supplier in Queretaro, about an hour from here. That will be $200 pesos, please. The stove went back to our kitchen, the oven and broiler still not working. We're convinced Margarito didn't even look at it.

Indeed, we never laid eyes on the legendary Margarito, who after several calls from me, to inquire about the status of his search, either learned the sound of my voice or my caller ID and would promptly hang up.

Foolishly thinking he could outsmart both Serviplus and Margarito, Stew went to a parts supplier in town to look for the thermocouple. Stew was used to ordering replacement parts for power tools, cars and household appliances directly from the manufacturers in the U.S., which in most cases have exploded diagrams of their products on the internet, to help you pick out the correct parts.

What he found is that MABE parts are available only through its subsidiary Serviplus, which also gets to install them, and not to interlopers like Stew and Félix. In the U.S. I think that would be considered illegal—dunno, restraint of trade? anti-consumer practices?—but here in Mexico, that's just the way it is.

Enter our friend Doug, who gave us the name of another repairman, David Troncoso.

David actually arrived at the ranch on a wheezing scooter that stalled on our driveway, halfway between the gate and our house. He came with only a toolbox, attached to the back of the scooter with a bungee cord, and proceeded to dismantle the stove and methodically test all the components to pinpoint the malfunction.

If you guessed a faulty thermocouple, you get a prize. David said he'd have to find it in Celaya, through some secret contacts of his because, as we already had found out, MABE parts are not available to anyone outside the MABE-Serviplus circle.

Land o' Goshen! A week later David putt-putted back to our ranch with a thermocouple—not original MABE equipment, but one that works—and our stove is back in business.

Mexican ingenuity trumped Mexican inefficiency and anti-consumer practices.

More mysterious still was the problem with my Gateway computer, which suddenly developed a problem with the video. Hence, no postings to this blog for several weeks.

Our customary and very able computer repairman Charles Miller, a slow-talking East Texan who seems to never leave the house without his Stetson, was vacationing in Europe so we went to another person.

My computer, back in business. Keeping my fingers crossed. 
Bad idea. Should have waited for Uncle Charles to return.

The alternative repairman ordered a new, $200 (dollar) video card from Mexico City, installed it and that sent the computer into all sorts of unusual behavior. Like, "it works but you can't use Google Chrome." Indeed, the computer would fire up and promptly crash, with Google Chrome and a host of other applications, yielding only a gray screen.

Abandon all hope. Let's look for a new computer.

Emails to the manufacturer of the computer and the new video card, and several consultations online, yielded no fixes. The non-Charles repairman offered to refund my money, a nice gesture but hardly a solution.

Three or four weeks into this repair mini-drama, which was running concurrently with the stove debacle, and my having a root canal, a tooth extraction and an abscess in one of my molars, along with trying to get a replacement remote control key for our Ford Escape (that's another story), Charles came back.

Two or three weeks into his patient ministrations, which included cleaning up viruses and malware and tinkering with the new video card and the operating program, only led back to the ominous gray screen.

Charles came up with a final solution, final as in the only thing he could come up with, short of buying a new computer: Replace the new two-gigabyte video card with a one-gigabyte model that more closely matched the one that came with the computer.

That involved ordering a new video card from B&H Photo Video in New York, for $35 dollars plus $60 for expedited shipping via DHL and Mexican customs.

Let's now pause to praise all-American speed and hyper efficiency, albeit at a cost. We placed the internet order at one in the afternoon, it left the B&H warehouse at nine p.m. and it arrived in San Miguel, via Cincinnati and Querétaro, at about five p.m. the next day.

Our heads now filled with equal parts high expectations and doomsday resignation, we delivered the new video card to Charles who installed it along with Windows 10.

It's still working flawlessly. In fact the machine seems to be running faster than it did before.

Now let's pause again, this time for a brief but fervent prayer that nothing else breaks around here before we go on vacation two weeks from now.



  1. On stove repairs in general: The non digital ones are pretty basic machines. things like thermocouples are interchangeable, if the one you sacavage does not fit the old holes, dill some new ones. It is the same with the oven coils, they are resistance coils controlled by a rheostat (the knob) . Even if the pick-ups are different, it is just a matter of snipping off the mismatched ends and putting on new matching stake-ons. Talk to Fliex, he'll know someone who understands how stoves work and wants to work.

    1. I'll second this, as I'll bet that Mabe doesn't even manufacture thermocouples. More likely, they buy them from someone like Emerson Electric, or someone else.

    2. MABE, we found out, is a HUGE multinational that manufactures all sorts of appliances under different brands, like Whirlpool, formerly of Benton Harbor, Michigan. So I suspect MABE does manufacture thermocouples.

  2. I am all ears about the Escape replacement fob. Vested interests, you understand.

    1. Fobs cost about $350 US and you need to go to a dealer to have them "program" so your car can recognize the new fob.

  3. OY! My sympathies to you.

    Don Cuevas

  4. Interesting observations. My starter project with Mexican customer service is with Telcel. The comparisons between it and my last headache with AT&T so far make Mr. Slim's minions the winners.

  5. Fun read, with sympathy of course. Gotta love manana.

  6. No wonder the two of you looked so distraught when I saw you at Mega! Afterwards, since we hardly talked, I wondered if I had said something to upset both of I realize that you were already upset and rightly so. It's bad when everything goes haywire all at once...... Especially a computer! Maybe a backup laptop would be a good idea? Hope you get outta town with no more glitches........

  7. "Patience, Iago, patience" (Jafar talking to parrot in "Aladdin")

  8. Thanks for this post. If I ever move to Mexico, I will be certain to NOT buy any Mabe appliances. I'm a pretty handy guy, and I fix everything myself, and I simply don't have time for manufacturer pendejadas.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where yes, you're right, not selling parts to end-users is a violation of law.

    1. Ms. G: Unless you buy a super expensive stove, like a Viking, in Mexico City, you're probably going to get stuck with a MABE, because that's almost all they sell down here. Even other brands are made by MABE. There is no escape, I tell you.

    2. Did you notice that I wrote "pretty handy GUY?" (As in "man?")

  9. Did you try a new battery in your key fob? Second, to to youtube, and look for a video on re-programming the key. I bet you'll find several to check out.

  10. I just purchased a refurbished HP desktop from Staples for $99, less monitor. It has Windows 7 which I plan to update to 10 very soon. Came with a new keyboard and mouse.


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