Consumer 'hot lines' answer customer appliance questions

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Customers for electrical appliances have changed. They don't have time for leisurely comparative shopping, or time to read lengthy spec sheets and product descriptions. They want to know quickly what specific appliances are best suited to their particular needs and space requirements.

With an increase in the number of homes where husbands and wives both work, it has become difficult to schedule times when repairmen can come to fix nonworking appliances. Customers want more information about quicker repairs. And they're looking for more instructions for do-it-yourself repairs that save money and often get the job done sooner. They want to know how to operate their appliances more efficiently and how to save on energy costs.

Two appliance manufacturers are going to make sure that consumers get some of the help they need.

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General Electric has set up the GE Answer Center in Louisville, Ky., where a staff of 60 consumer representatives answer questions and give information about GE products. The toll-free number is 800-626-2000. Calls will be answered 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

During the past year, while the system has been tested in Baltimore; New Orleans; Denver; and Portland, Ore., questions ranged from how to cook a souffle in a microwave oven to how to obtain best dishwashing results and how a heat pump works. On-hand specialists can answer most of the technical questions. It is estimated that about 84 percent of all questions can be answered while the caller is on the line. Most questions so far have fallen into five categories: where to buy, where to get service, what to buy, how to use a product, and how to repair a product. If research is required, the consumer is called back within 24 to 48 hours.

Less than a year ago, General Electric also announced its Quick Fix System for do-it-yourself repair of five of the company's major appliances - ranges, refrigerator-freezers, dishwashers, washers, and dryers. Step-by-step repair manuals were made available at $6.95 each, with diagnostic charts, easy-to-follow instructions, and photographs. GE estimated then that nearly 40 percent of major appliance repairs are now performed by do-it-yourselfers (many of them women), and the percentage is expected to increase substantially.

Meanwhile, Whirlpool Corporation in Benton Harbor, Mich., has announced a new Appliance Information Service to help educate consumers about the design and performance aspects of major household appliances. Projects will be generic in nature, the company claims, and will be designed to help all consumers be wiser buyers and users of appliances.

The company is preparing a series of brochures, in English and Spanish, on many aspects of appliance use. A free listing of available brochures, ''Nice Things to Know About Appliance Information Publications,'' is available from the Appliance Information Service, Whirlpool Corporation, Administrative Center, Benton Harbor, Mich. 49022. Fact sheets are also available to meet growing consumer interest in do-it-yourself repairs.

For several years, Whirlpool has maintained its own toll-free Cool-Line, 800- 253-1301, which handles about 200,000 consumer calls a year regarding right choice and correct use of appliances.

The National Appliance Parts Suppliers Association has reported a marked increase in the sale of appliance parts to do-it-yourselfers, as well as a growing market for rebuilt appliances.

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