My Problems With American Home Shield (AHS)
[Lisa and I recently bought a vacation rental property on the Mendocino Coast, which has put us in relationships with a new group of vendors–including some terrible ones. I’m sure many people have bad stories about home warranty programs, so I know my story is hardly unique. Still, I share it as a cautionary tale–and an indicator of the kinds of consumer problems regulators should be prioritizing instead of their efforts to take the Internet away from their constituents. I will eventually share my even more horrifying dealings with AmeriGas in a future post.]
* * *
To: American Home Shield
From: Eric Goldman, contract # [redacted]
Date: February 28, 2023
Re: Unsatisfactory Experience with American Home Shield
In mid-December 2022, we purchased a vacation home in Caspar, California, located between Mendocino and Fort Bragg. Our real estate agent provided us an American Home Shield (AHS) warranty as a courtesy. We had used AHS many years ago, but not recently.
The home has a “Bock” system for heating and hot water. On December 23, I learned the system was not working, and I tendered the claim to AHS. Without heat or hot water, the house was uninhabitable. That time period was surely busy for AHS, but even so, AHS’s response was unacceptable. What is the value of a home warranty that takes an unreasonably long time to fix critical outages?
Note: all calls were initiated in the 11am to 12pm Pacific timeframe, though the actual conversation time was usually later due to long wait times and automated callbacks.
December 23: I tendered the claim online to American Home Shield. Dispatch # [redacted]. I also called customer support to ensure they knew it was a critical outage.
December 27: I called customer support to check on the status. The Dispatch team had made no progress, so the matter was sent to Contractor Relations.
December 28. I called customer support to check on the status. Because I was getting unhelpful answers obviously read off of scripts, I asked for the first-line supervisor. He told me there’s nothing he can do, but he offered me 50% off our service fee. I asked to speak to his second-line supervisor, who he said would call me.
December 28: Immediately after speaking with the first-line supervisor, it was clear that AHS would not redress the problem on a timely basis, so I placed a service order with North Coast Plumbing in Fort Bragg (about 5 miles from the property).
December 29: The second-level supervisor called me and said that the matter was completely in the hands of Contractor Relations, so she could not expedite the matter or provide us with any relief. She said there were no vendors within a 50 mile radius who could help. She said she expected we would get an answer from Contractor Relations by January 2. She said she would not take any actions before then. I asked to speak to her supervisor and she denied the request. I also asked to speak directly to Contractor Relations, which she also denied. I told her that the situation was unacceptable and asked her to follow up by 5pm that day. She did indeed call us back a few hours later (which went directly to my voicemail due to cellphone coverage issues in Caspar) to tell me that nothing has changed.
December 29, 1:30pm. North Coast Plumbing arrived (about 24 hours after I initiated the service call) and fixed the problem at a cost of $105. This proved that vendors were available to help, but clearly no local vendors will work with AHS. I have some hypotheses why.
January 6. Despite the second-level supervisor’s representation that we would hear back by January 2, the next follow-up came on January 6. That day, Contractor Relations assigned a vendor, Mohin Inc. d/b/a Elephant Heating and Air. Kudos, I guess, to Contractor Relations for finding a contractor in what was clearly a difficult search. However, it’s hard to call this referral a success:
- It took two weeks to assign the vendor.
- Mohin scheduled the visit for January 13. All told, AHS’s “solution” would have arrived a full three weeks after I tendered the claim. Reminder: this was a critical outage—no heat in winter.
- Mohin is located in Concord, California, over 150 miles and 3 hours away from the property. Apparently, no vendor within 150 miles was willing to handle this project. I cannot believe that the costs of 6+ hours of drive time and 300+ miles of gas (assuming only one visit was required) are a better deal for AHS or the vendor than building relationships with local vendors.
January 10, 8 am. Your service department called to confirm that a vendor had been assigned. I explained that I made other arrangements due to the delay. I was promised a refund of my service fee (which I received), but I was told that my expenses would not be reimbursed. Given the small difference between AHS’s service fee and my actual expenses, I am not requesting coverage of that difference.
I have some suggestions for improved customer experiences:
- AHS should publish maximum time periods for Dispatch to assign a vendor or escalate the matter to Contractor Relations.
- Dispatch’s response time should be expedited for a critical outage like a heater failure in winter.
- AHS should provide customers with an option to stay on hold on its customer support line rather than be forcibly disconnected and await a callback. Cellphone reception in Caspar is flaky, and I miss incoming calls about half the time. A callback function is exasperating when I miss the callback and have to restart the entire process.
- Contractor Relations should have a maximum turnaround time so that customers aren’t left in limbo. Their turnaround time should not be 2 weeks for a critical outage like a heater in winter.
- Supervisors should be empowered to force a resolution with Contractor Relations or develop an alternative plan. It was a terrible customer experience to have the second-line supervisor say that (1) she couldn’t do anything until Contractor Relations acted, (2) Contractor Relations had no mandatory turnaround time, and (3) we could not contact Contractor Relations directly to escalate the matter.
I request a response detailing the specific steps AHS plans to take in response to this letter, or an acknowledgement that AHS thinks that I received adequate service.
* * *
AHS really, REALLY does not want emails. I tried multiple email addresses that bounced. Nevertheless, I spammed enough accounts that my email eventually landed on the desk of an “Executive Relations” representative.
She emailed me to say she “agree[s] they should not have made you wait so long. You should have been given outside authorization to have your own company out.” She offered to cover the expenses I incurred to North Coast Plumbing. She said she “will relay all your concerns with my superiors” and that someone would listen to the recordings (but I wouldn’t hear any response from that). She also gave me the super-secret email address to escalate my troubles in the future. I sure could have used that when the second-line supervisor improperly stonewalled me, but AHS goes to great lengths to obscure any contact options other than their standard CSR queue.
I received the reimbursement check for my North Coast Plumbing check soon thereafter. I’ve gotten no further response to my suggestions in the past 3 months, so at this point I don’t expect any. I’ll leave it to you to infer what that signals about their intentions.