August 20, 2014

Kenmore’s Talking Appliances

Last February, Mel Bonner, 63, of Tinley Park, Ill., noticed water beneath his washing machine. He couldn’t find a leak, so he dialed the manufacturer’s customer service number. Then he held the receiver up and let the machine do the “talking.”

The washer was “beeping, and lights [were] flashing” as it transmitted self-diagnostic data, says Bonner, a retired electrician. When the telephone representative couldn’t figure out the problem, a technician was dispatched to Bonner’s home. The technician “didn’t know what was wrong” when he arrived, says Bonner, “but he knew what wasn’t wrong.” The washing machine was working properly again in less than half an hour. “It was just so simple,” says Bonner. “I don’t know why everybody doesn’t have this.”

Kenmore has unveiled a set of washers and dryers that can speak to technicians, at least over the phone. The appliances, called the Kenmore Elite washer and dryer series, use a technology called Kenmore Connect to speak. Through Kenmore Connect, a machine will send real time diagnostic information to a technician over a phone line.

Once this information is received, the technician can help the consumer fix the problem. The machines don’t speak via a conventional speech synthesizer; the sounds are digitally coded and come out as beeps and something that sounds like noise.

Kenmore said technicians use 100 different data points derived from the Kenmore Connect transmission. This includes air and water temperatures, cycle times and spin speeds. The data points can point to the status of certain electrical and mechanical sub-systems or reveal the mechanical issue with the error code.

The talking appliance is not only convenient for the user, but for Kenmore as well. It allows the company to reduce the amount of time it spends fixing appliances in someone’s house.

“The majority of service calls during the first year of ownership can be rectified by educating new owners over the phone once we have a deep understanding of the question at hand thanks to the information being sent from their Kenmore appliance directly to our experts via the phone.”

Kenmore said it conducted field testing earlier in the year. The initial results from these tests showed the talking significantly reduced the number of customers that needed an in-home repair.

Bonner was one of several thousand customers in a pilot program to test the remote-servicing technology.  LG plans to add the feature to many of its top-of-the-line laundry appliances in the U.S.