Why the CEO of Best Buy should be on Undercover Boss

February 1, 2011

I have made a career out of fixing broken processes. I have a unique ability to look at a business or a business process and understand how it’s impacting the customer or end-user. This same ability has also developed what I sometimes consider to be a character flaw. That is, pretty much any time I walk into a business, whether it’s a hole in the wall bar or a major corporation, I evaluate how it runs. What would I change right way? What are some very little adjustments that would have an immediate impact?

Yesterday, I had another experience at Best Buy that would make most people’s blood boil. This is not my first rodeo with Best Buy, so I knew to be patient. I recognize that I am slightly (ok maybe more than slightly) jaded when it comes to pretty much any B2C (business to consumer) company’s ability to take care of their customers. But, it’s getting a little out of control. I will walk you through the process and then we’ll talk about how I would expect the CEO has no idea this stuff happens (and what he can do about it).

But before I walk you through yesterdays more minor process, let’s talk about Christmas Eve.

I had purchased a laptop a few days earlier for a very close friend. Having managed I/T (information technology) organizations, I don’t believe in having all that crap they pre-load on the machines, so my plan is to uninstall the junk and personalize it to fit her personality a bit. After about 3 hours and the 20th reboot (there’s a lot of rebooting involved in this type of thing) I notice the sound is crackling. I pop in a DVD, turn it up and yep, one of the speakers is blown. So, I pack it all back up and run down to Best Buy to exchange it. Of course, it’s the day before Christmas Eve so I fully expect the madhouse of people, but what I don’t expect is that Best Buy has fallen into the classic corporate trap.  They have so much process, you would think they have given up on the customer experience.  I walk in the door with a laptop in my hands, expecting one of the people at the door to stop me, put a sticker on the box, etc.  There are 3 people standing there, but they are uninterested in customers at the moment.  So, I walk over to the customer service line.  While I’m standing there, one of the “Geek Squad” girls comes over and asks me what’s wrong.  I explain the speaker is blown, she takes everything out of the box, pops the battery in, fires it up, gets the password from me (side note, if you are returning anything with a password you should reset the password to “admin” or make it blank so you don’t have to try to give some 12 character password that doesn’t make sense to anyone but you while 10 people around you are listening).  She verifies the sound problem and that the laptop is still in working order (I haven’t sabotaged it, stolen parts, memory, etc.)  She is super polite and knows what she’s doing, she was being proactive (probably trying to help expedite the process).  She packs everything up and I wait in line until I get to an actual “Customer Service” person (I will call them CSR).  When I get to the CSR, she asks me the problem.  I explain the speaker is blown and I need to exchange it so I can have it ready for Christmas.  She begins to unpack the box to verify everything, so I explain that the Geek Squad girl already did this.  Geek Squad girl is busy now, so we have to chase her down to verify.  (broken process number 1… communication between employees is pretty much non-existent)  Once we verify, she hands me my receipt and sends me back to the computer section to find the replacement. (broken process number 2… WHY am I doing the leg work?)  The girl working in the computer section informs me that they have sold out of this particular laptop.  I am going to call her the “skinny black girl” only as an identifier, because I don’t remember her name and it’s important that we recognize she is the only employee in the store with a capacity to think on her own, so we should commend her for that.  After debating a different laptop, we decide to check the inventory of the other stores for the original model I returned.  She calls the store and waits on hold forever (she has to call the same number as a consumer and wait on hold like everyone else – broken process number 3).  Once she gets through the hoops, she explains that she needs them to hold a laptop for me.  They oblige.  She walks back to the Customer Service desk with me and explains this to a CSR (not the same CSR I had the 1st time, of course).  I appreciate that skinny black girl is doing EVERYTHING in her power to try to resolve this situation and keep me happy.  Now, they have to call the store back and get a serial number (some garbage about the built-in aircard that will never get used).  So we wait on hold (again) and then try to explain this over the phone to the other store.  (They have to hold that SPECIFIC unit because it will be tied by serial number to my receipt).  Eventually, they grasp the concept.  (I’m not going to call this broken process number 4, yet – but it shouldn’t be this hard).  The CSR gives me a receipt and explains to show that and my id at the other store to pick up the laptop.  The short version once arriving at the other store is that they had no idea why they would be holding a specific laptop for me, so that took some explanation on my part before they looked a little harder and found it.  (again, not quite ready to call this broken process 4 because I think it goes back to broken process 1… internal communication in this place sucks).  Ultimately, I end up with the laptop (check it in the car to verify the sound is good) and the Christmas gift is a hit.  However, I think we have seen some really easy ways to streamline the process and improve customer satisfaction.  I believe I am one of the more patient consumers.  I can only imagine that someone who was frazzled by the holidays and unable or unwilling to partake in managing their own experience would not have survived.  It would have resulted in a refund at the very least.

You might be saying to yourself:  “it was the holidays, this was an exception, etc.” – which is why I chose to tell this story first.  Let’s move forward now, to yesterday.

I have a PS3 (PlayStation 3) controller which has stopped working.  I have “Black Tie Protection” on said controller, so I take it to the store.  With me, I take the agreement that has a receipt stapled to the top.  I walk in the door, look at the guy and say “do you want to put a sticker on this?”  (If I didn’t ask, he wouldn’t – so what is the POINT in this process?)
My next stop is the Customer Service desk.  Although, my gut tells me I should just go grab the replacement controller before I get in line.  (There’s a whole story of the gentleman in front of me who was there to pick up a TV… it was chaos and skinny black girl, who is apparently working in TV’s today, came to the rescue.)  When it’s my turn, the CSR asks me what’s wrong.  I explain and she starts typing into the computer.  I ask “should I grab the replacement while you do that?” she says, “no, I need to re-print your receipt first.”  So she hands me the receipt and says “ok, go grab the controller and bring that receipt back up here and we will process the exchange.” – really?  I would tie this into broken process number 2 from above, but I am also going to add in broken process number 4.  You would think you would want single incident resolution.  You can fix this through several means.  We’ll come back to this in the summary.  So, I go find the controller (turns out they have some hanging RIGHT behind where I was standing in line, but I didn’t know that until I walked to the PS3 section and back.  Clearly, neither did the CSR, or I suspect she might have said “grab one from behind you and we’ll process the exchange.”  So, I get back and now there are 10 people in line.  In fact, the guy in front of me this time ended up leaving because it was taking too long.  When I finally get back to a CSR (yep, you guessed it, a different CSR) he has to ask the original girl where we are in the process. (I now notice her badge says something like “operations leader” or something… and if she’s the leader, I understand why we’re broken – although I think this is bigger than her).  He begins to process the exchange.  (He can’t figure it out, so she comes over and helps him through some of the screens… not a BIG deal, but should be noted that I now have 2 people doing the job that the original should have done in the 1st place).  Now, the comedy begins.  He takes the receipt she gives me and has to call a special number for an “authorization” for this controller.  REALLY?  He’s not authorized to exchange the $40 controller?  You have to do your back office work in front of the customer, on the customer’s time?  broken process number 5?  While on the phone with them, he asks for my name and phone number and repeats everything I say to the person on the other end of the phone.  You couldn’t look this up in the computer?  It doesn’t pop up based on my receipt?  Broken process number 6.  He finally gets authorization and… drum roll, puts the full value of the original controller onto a gift card.  So, I have inferred that the original girl could have done ALL of this without sending me off to get the new controller.  I could have taken the gift card and checked out in the lines that had NO PEOPLE waiting.  Broken process number 7.  He then rings in the new controller, offers me the black tie protection, again.  Puts the whole order on the gift card and hands me the gift card because the price has dropped and I end up with $6 left over on the card.  Total time from start to finish for this entire process, 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Let’s summarize:
1st - The communication between people working the same “line” needs to be fixed.  Maybe they have a sticker that they slap on the product with their notes.  Maybe they have a slip of paper they hand to the customer that has some checkboxes and a place for notes…   the bottom line is the customer should not be managing their own experience.

When they MUST send you away and you have to come back, they should have NOTES… maybe even an incident number.  Something that tells the next CSR where we left off in the process.  This would also fix the issue when I get to the other store.  As well as the issue the gentleman who bought the $3,000 TV was having last night.

2nd – For the laptop, could the CSR not check the inventory to confirm it was in stock?  If we knew the answer was no, we could call the other store right then and skip a lot of time invested not only by the customer but by the additional workers.  (Although, I don’t think this would have been solved without the help of skinny black girl).  This would have saved me running around the store trying to find something that doesn’t exist, waiting in line for the computer girl and then waiting in line, AGAIN, for Customer Service.

3rd – There has to be a better method of communication between stores.  Even if there’s a prompt for store to store support, followed by “enter your agent id” – something!

4th – Single incident resolution.  No wonder customers are never happy in that line.  If it takes 2 trips to resolve every exchange, you have doubled their waiting time.  Why can’t you check the inventory, maybe even send someone to get the replacement, and process it all at once.  OR  if you are going to put it on a gift card and then deduct it anyway, just give me the damn gift card and send me to the register.  OR (as a last resort) when the guy at the door who isn’t paying attention gets a little more proactive and puts the sticker on your item, maybe he can suggest finding your replacement item before going to stand in line at the Customer Service desk to help expedite your experience.

5th – Why is this kid calling to authorize an exchange?  Empower your people.  Sure you will have some percentage of employees that cheat the system.  But those people will always exist and will always find a way to do so.  You are costing yourself more time and money and customer frustration than it’s worth.   Maybe set a price limit, or exclude certain items, but enable them to think.  And if there’s some 3rd party system that has to have data entered into it, have them do that at the end of the day or get them access to the system themselves so they can do it in real-time.  It should be embarassing that this takes place in front of the customer.

6th – Why is this kid asking me for information he should have?  This is as bad as entering my info into a phone system and then repeating it to the agent that answers my call.  the only difference (and it’s worse because of this) is this is in person.  The kid is standing RIGHT in front of me with my receipt in his hand!

7th – if you’re going to issue a gift card:  Just change the process.  Get people to the registers.  Get the CSRs out of the cashier business.  Get the customers to the shorter lines.
otherwise, get the gift card out of the middle.  You’re just adding time to every transaction and that’s not helpful to any of us.

If you’re not a Best Buy executive, you can still learn from this rant.  The reality is that so many companies spend so much time putting processes in place and never go back to check to understand the impact of those processes.  You have processed yourselves into a Customer Service FAIL.  When the biggest customer service companies begin to change these processes, expect more from their people, and enable people like the skinny black girl to think outside of the box to take care of their customers, you will see the ROI (return on investment).  It’s your people.  You are only as good as your people.  Lead them.

If you are a Best Buy executive, you probably have no idea the impact of your decisions on the guy at the bottom of the food chain and his interaction with the customers that pay your check.  Throw on some jeans and a baseball hat.  Go buy something from a Best Buy near you.  If they will recognize your name, use a relative or friend’s name.  Wait a week and go back to exchange it.  Experience the process as a consumer.  Then pose as a new hire or a transfer from another store.  Work behind the Customer Service desk for a week (and don’t take the EASY shifts).  If the CEO does this, I’ll bet you he changes processes and policies overnight.

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3 Responses to Why the CEO of Best Buy should be on Undercover Boss

  1. Jeff Schaap on February 3, 2011 at 1:44 PM

    Hey Joe,

    You could not be more right. I was a Best Buy employee for eight months and their processes are in need of a major overhaul. The having to call other stores on the same line as the customer being number one in my book. It took hours out of my life. I hated it, it angered customers and wasted tons of company time.

    I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to see their CEO on “Undercover Boss” because I think it would be a startling revelation as to how customers get completely run through the ringer in a company that constantly preaches that they are “all about customer service.”

    Jeff Schaap

  2. Alice on March 21, 2011 at 8:29 PM


    Very good article. I have worked at best buy for over 2 years in the Magnolia Home theater area and as a sales operator (the girl who answers phone at best buy). Maybe I can help explain some things.

    1st – The system that your information is stored in, it is SLOW. Granted, it is nice because we do track your purchases and your warranty info which most companies don’t do. Your experience on Christmas Eve is pretty much going to be a crazy experience no matter what you are trying to do. Unfortunately, employees are missing family events and not in the most spirited manner anyways.
    In the new system for purchases being made and picked up later or at another store, there is an opportunity to leave notes, so that should have been done.

    2nd – The CSR could not check and see if it is in stock, like most inventory systems, the information is not updated right at the second, so it could say 4 available, but in 20 minutes (especially at christmas) that inventory could be gone. At a non holiday time, the person should have radio’ed someone from the computer department to see if it was in stock. During Christmas, it would be crazy if people could pop in and out of the customer service line.

    3rd – Stores do not have the man power to dedicate one person for store to store calls. Messaging systems or skype is being integrated at a few locations to the sales operator. During Holidays, I could get 500 calls in one shift (7 hours or so)

    4th – Already explained this one. But the cards are done using store credit, and they didn’t wanna send you to another line without exchanging it exact product for product.

    5th – There is no way that a large number of employees can have overrides. It is hard to make business decisions regarding authorizations. If someone doesn’t understand policy (everchanging at that) then they can’t be empowered.

    6th – Your information is not distributed to every stinkin network of best buy. Be grateful. There are other avenues that must be used for exchanges now days. And your infomation might not have even been on there in the first place. People always use the wrong phone number for reward zone or other things.

    7th – I explained this earlier.

    Go in when the store is slower, and hopefully you can have a more personalized experience. I feel bad that you had two rough experiences, but I would LOVE to send our CEO undercover, but we see his face every 3 months for our meetings, so he wouldn’t be able to hide!

  3. Game Over on April 10, 2012 at 8:23 AM

    Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn resigns

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