If you're expecting a good customer service experience when you need a repair on a major appliance, don't hold your breath.

A recent Consumer Reports National Research Center survey of more than 36,000 subscribers revealed lots of lackluster experiences when it came to customer service on major appliance repairs: “The American consumer has every reason to be discouraged about the prospects of responsive service from those in the business of providing it," our report concluded.

But our survey did reveal many ways to improve your chances of being satisfied, including making smart decisions about where you buy your appliance; the information you need to keep on hand; how you go about getting necessary repairs; and more. Here are the details.  

Register Your Appliance
By taking the time to register your fridge or range, the rep will have all the essential facts in front of them, starting with the model number, when you contact customer service. “This will help in prediagnosing issues before the technician arrives and identifying potential parts that may be needed,” says Mark Shirkness, general manager of Distribution & Services at GE Appliances.

Registering your appliance will also make it easy for manufacturers to contact you if the appliance is recalled for safety reasons, or if they discover some other issue with the product.      

Appliances usually come with a registration card for you to fill out and mail to the company, or you can register on the manufacturer’s website or by phone. You can provide only your name and contact information and the model number, which should cut down on the print and email spam you receive. 

Consider Mom-and-Pop Repair Shops
When a major appliance breaks, the odds of it being repaired right the first time are not particularly reassuring—58 percent, to be exact, based on our survey. The percentage ticks up to 63 percent for independent repair shops, compared with 51 percent for factory-authorized ones. Retailers land in the middle, with a 56 percent first-time repair rate.

Think Twice About Ordering Parts From Manufacturers or Retailers
If you’re an industrious DIYer in need of a new drive belt for your washing machine or a thermal fuse for your dryer, you’re better off ordering the part from an independent shop or website. Manufacturers and retailers are in the business of making and selling appliances, but not necessarily the parts that go into them.

In our survey, independent parts companies had a 75 percent success rate, compared with 56 percent for retailers and 47 percent for manufacturers. The majority of respondents used an online form to submit the order with the independent company, with very high success rates, so it seems these business are set up for this type of transaction. 

Even if you don’t plan to do the repair yourself, ordering the parts yourself might make sense. “If you are a little too apprehensive about doing the repair yourself, you can still buy the part to save money,” says Douglas Mott, the president of RepairClinic.com. “Often, buying a part from [us] will cost less than buying from the service technician, who may mark up the price.”

Plus having the part on hand could eliminate the need for a return visit. That’s because, by Mott’s estimate, “30 to 35 percent of the time [a repair technician] will not have the part needed on the first visit, and will need to schedule another time to return to do the repair.”   

Look Beyond Manufacturers for Product Information
What’s the blinking message on the oven display? Is that sound coming from my refrigerator normal? These are the types of questions you’d expect the manufacturer of the appliance to answer. And in fact, manufacturers received more than half of all such contacts in our survey, compared with 34 percent for retailers and 13 percent for independents.

But our survey findings suggest that manufacturers aren’t the best source of product information. To be fair, some manufacturers are better than others. GE was rated excellent or very good by 52 percent of respondents, compared with 39 percent for Whirlpool. But until manufacturers as a whole up their game, you’re better off directing product inquiries to retailers and independent repair shops.


Important Tips for Delivery and Installation

Our appliance repair survey also looked at “start-to-finish success,” whereby an appliance delivery is scheduled successfully, delivery goes off without any hitches, and the unit is installed correctly the first time. That’s a tough trifecta for many retailers to achieve. Home Depot, with a 78 percent start-to-finish success rate, and Lowe’s (77 percent) fared best, followed by Best Buy (73 percent) and Sears (71 percent).

No matter which retailer you choose, a few measures will make the process go more smoothly:

• First, schedule the delivery by phone, the method with the highest success rate; skip the online chat, which has the lowest.

• Second, be extra vigilant during the delivery so that you can spot any damage—the most common delivery problem.

• Third, make sure the appliance is working properly after installation; that’s not the case 10 percent of the time, according to our survey. And as other parts of our survey found, once that installer leaves, you’re at the mercy of an often complicated process.

One more tip from the Consumer Reports shoppers who oversee hundreds of appliance deliveries every year: Insist that the delivery service calls you on your mobile phone—not your home phone—at least one hour before delivery. That way you can at least get something else done while you’re waiting for the appliance to show up.