Best Buy, the worst buy: Lessons from the field and online

Best Buy, a company that I've shopped at and admired for years, showed me signs of systemic issues and some truly bad decision making. What the problems are and how to fix the company to make this a "Best Buy" once again. Read on.

Please forgive me: First, for not having finished a post on the Humanization of Salesforce, which is the post that will be coming next in lieu of my normal Dreamforce post; Second, for even writing a "service experience" problem post, but once in a great while my personal pique, which is what usually keeps me from writing posts like this, since more often than not it's particular to me, is outweighed by my professional concerns at the mess that a company's procedures and process are and how they contribute to a bad customer experience. And thus, a post like this is born. It seems to be the kind of thing that goes beyond me, though to be fair, others have reported good to very good experiences with Best Buy at different times. Maybe I got a perfect storm, but from what I am able to ascertain are some procedures, processes, and practices that Best Buy has that will need some serious fixing.

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This post is also kind of sad for me to write. Those of you who know me know that I'm a bit of a geek when it comes to tech, and I tend to be an early adopter, which at some level means that I'm willing to buy and try anything I think will be cool and that I can make up a use case for. For that reason, I've been a customer of Best Buy for as long as I've known it exists. To be honest, I do most of my shopping via Amazon for tech, and they have never given me a reason to not continue to do it with them, but Best Buy has always been my go to retailer on tech. I liked it for its convenience, which is the No. 1 reason to go to a store or in fact to shop with a company at all. I also liked it for its foresight in revamping the entire chain around clearly dialed in smart home and smart "work" digital tech rather than just be a computer store. To facilitate that, they wisely became an Apple products provider. They made these moves ahead of the retail electronics market in general and thus managed to survive -- and while I won't say they've grown a lot -- their revenues have been consistent for over a decade at around $40 billion a year, and they've maintained 1,509 stores (according to statista.com). My experience with them had always been at least pleasant if not terribly exceptional. But that's all I needed. First rule of customer engagement club is to keep the ordinary, ordinary -- meaning minimally make it easy to fulfill the utilitarian reasons that the customer is shopping with you. The rest -- the delightful part -- is a bonus, not an absolute continuous necessity. They did what they had to do with me, and I presume other customers, given their continued success in the face of Amazon.

That is until now --and this perfect storm of a problem that I had with them, which showed me that the chassis of their let's call it Toyota Camry of an experience (which is a compliment) was cracked.

One final thing: While these problems were particularly bothersome for me, they weren't world shaking. But what they pointed out to me, as someone who does what I do for a living, they are going to be bitten over time by these kinds of problems, because the problems are showing up and providing no means of repair for what are ordinary things. Delivery of a package, visibility of transactions, accommodation of a customer that the breakdown causes an issue for, paying attention to the customer -- not a one of these a gasp of horror over the problem. But as any customer would have in this case -- my expectations for these ordinary thing issues are that they would have a means to solve them. They didn't. And thus achieving what I have warned about for many years in these words:

"When the ordinary fails, the impact is greater on the experience than when the extraordinary fails, because there is no expectation of possible failure of the ordinary."

The story starts in early November.

The setup

To reiterate, I liked (note the past tense) Best Buy, and thus, because I needed to order some things that I could get more conveniently than via Amazon, and I like the Manassas store. I decided to give them some business -- ultimately close to $5,000 worth of business in the last week and a half -- both at the store and online.

Also: Best Buy acquires GreatCall for $800 million, adds 900,000 paying customers, subscriptions

Here are the purchases and how I purchased them. This is important to this tale of woe.

  1. Ring Video Doorbell 2 - Store visit No. 1
  2. Kwikset Kevo 2 Smart lock - Store visit No. 1
  3. iMac 27" (best available in store) - Store visit No. 2
  4. Smart Folio Keyboard for iPad Pro 12.9" - Best Buy Online Purchase No. 1
  5. Apple Pencil 2 - Best Buy Online Purchase No. 1
  6. Various USB-C adapters - Best Buy Online Purchase No. 1
  7. B&W PX Wireless Headset - Best Buy Online Purchase No. 1
  8. 12.9" iPad Pro - 256GB Wireless etc. - Best Buy Online Purchase No. 2

OK, you get the picture. These are, for the most part, somewhat high-ticket items.

Context

  • I have been a devout Amazon buyer for years and was a very early Prime subscriber. As a result, and as a result of research I did for my upcoming book, The Commonwealth of Self-Interest, I know the logistics/delivery system like the back(end) of my hand. Thus, I have something to compare it to. And it #FAIL(s). Broken badly.
  • I ordered it specifically with the idea that it would be here on Friday and needed the iPad Pro at least prior to Monday for reasons that I can't (and won't) go into here. To be clear, everything both the iPad Pro and the accessories for separate reasons with different culprits arrived (too) late for what I had to do on Monday.
  • I had just decided to spend a lot of money with Best Buy that I would have ordinarily spent at the Apple Store and on Amazon combined, but for both convenience's sake and because I liked Best Buy, I decided to spend the money with them. Start up the relationship again, with an expensive first date.

Caveats

  1. The customer services reps I dealt with -- two of them -- were both nice and, at least the first one was utterly blameless in this. The second, as it turns out, in post-conversation investigation had more than one issue. But both to their credit tried hard to rectify these issues but ran into "no exceptions" and "the procedure" as roadblocks nonstop. I spent two-plus hours on the phone trying to get these things taken care of, and they worked with me but ultimately couldn't do anything at level one or what I think was level two (though wasn't ever identified as such).
  2. There is going to be some discussion of UPS and their failure -- more of a poor service rep, some ancillary issues, etc. Make no mistake about it, UPS performed very badly, but they are being used in this post to not only point out their failure but to make a point on the impact of emotions on an ecosystem (personal value chain) that each of us as individuals have. So, I'm dissecting my anger with UPS, which is both right at one level and misplaced at another.

The Saga

Store Visit No. 1

This all begins several weeks ago. My wife and I due to front door rot, literally were replacing the front door to our house. Because we had a Ring Video Doorbell and a Kwikset Kevo 2 lock -- both with brass fittings -- we had to replace them with Satin Nickel versions for it to look right. Style mattered (and matters -- see my post reprint on ZDNet in 2017). Due to the appointment, it was more convenient for me to go to the Best Buy store and buy the two items for the several hundred dollars they cost. According to what I saw online when I was checking store inventory availability, I was to be getting a free third-generation Echo Dot. Nothing online said it was online only. So, I went to the store, waited a bit for someone to take care of me (I had to seek someone out to make it happen), and bought the items. I didn't get the Echo Dot, which I realized when I got home, but it didn't really matter frankly since I have more than enough Echo everythings around the house.

Also: I went to Best Buy and the salesman tried to break a MacBook

If had to qualify the experience in any way, I'd say it was nothing special -- a bit annoying due to time I had to wait in combination post-sale with not receiving what was supposed to be offered. But nothing that rose to anything beyond that. Certainly not bad enough to stop me from doing things with Best Buy in the future. So I thought.

Store Visit No. 2

A week or so later, I realized that my old iMac (2013) was pretty much not going to do the trick when it came to what I needed for production of a podcast and a few other things that are related to a major launch (for me at least) in 2019. So, I decided to buy a new iMac (right after Apple's announcements didn't include an upgraded version). Back to Best Buy, and I spent well over $2,000 for an iMac 2018 with the same annoyance of no one bothering to ask me if I needed help at all, nor could I even find someone to help me for about 10 minutes. Finally, when I found someone willing to help they did, though annoyingly kept trying to cross sell me -- despite me telling her that I didn't want anything but this particular Mac. I went home again, thinking, well, "Best Buy was understaffed, so that's why it was so difficult both times." And, to be fair, that may be true. I ignored the incessant cross-sell attempt -- chalking it up to very young eager store associate enthusiasm and lack of experience.

Best Buy Online Purchase No. 1 and No. 2

This is where things began to go south and where I realized that there are systemic issues that Best Buy has that are either due to a lack of focus on customers and thus process/procedure design that is genuinely detrimental to the customer or just plain stupidity and lack of thought.

The story starts with another decision I had to make to replace my iPad Pro with one of the new ones announced. I had been waiting for them to announce an iPad Pro/iPad that didn't use the home button and instead was similar to the iPhone X/XR/XS with gestures and facial recognition. Apple's announcement of its rather remarkable improvements to the iPad Pro for me sealed the deal. I use it for both entertainment and work purposes and it travels with me everywhere I go. It's an important device, and again, due to the 2019 launch I was alluding to before, I was ready to purchase a new one and -- since it was a USB-C unit -- the accessories (adapters, keyboard, wireless headset etc) that I needed to make it work for me and travel.

The Online Order

I was in the middle of a lot of work, so I decided to order iPad Pro via Best Buy online and -- bad, bad mistake -- not pick it up at the Manassas store. Also, the accessories needed to be ordered online since they weren't available What made this work was that if I ordered the accessories Nov. 14, they would be at my house by Nov. 16. If I ordered the iPad the next day, it would be at my house on Nov. 16 -- next day delivery according to the site and according to the post-order information I had. So, on Nov. 14, I put in the order for all the accessories and Nov. 15 the iPad Pro. I was OK. I had to have it, so I could do something with it on Nov. 19 (again, I'll leave out what required that). Suffice to say, the three-day cushion worked. I could set things up. etc. But the game plan was that it would all arrive converging nicely on Nov. 16.

The nightmare begins

Within three hours or so of ordering the iPad Pro, I got a notification that it would be delayed -- and there was no indication online as to when delivery would be. I figured that given my tight calendar on this one that I would call and see what I could do to pick it up in store. I checked and the nearest store that carried was still within driving distance -- just not my local store. So, I thought, I'll talk to the service rep and cancel the shipment and then go pick it up in store. I didn't want to cancel the order, just the shipment. After all, when you order, you can choose to pick it up in store or have it delivered. My laziness, that said, stay home, work, and it will be there on Friday (the next day) had me choosing shipment to my house. My stupid choice.

Also: Best Buy delivers solid Q3 ahead of Black Friday, Cyber Monday push

So, I started out by looking for the customer service number at BestBuy.com. After about four minutes I found a number that was for technical support buried on a page somewhere on their website. I didn't want technical support. I wanted customer service. I couldn't find a number. So finally, I searched "Best Buy, Customer Service," and a number came on a site I will be using in the future (Get Human). It was the same number as the one listed for only technical support.

Problem No. 1: No easy way to find customer service number, which is not wise because there is a reasonable chance that the customer calling you is already frustrated about something. "Easy, convenient," should be the mantra of a customer-engaged or even just customer-centric company.

Problem No. 2: Once you find the customer service number (it is listed as technical support, not customer service -- two different things), you need someone who can handle an issue with an order -- not a tech person to fix a device or help with a service. Mislabeling makes things even more difficult and more irritating once you find out that the number was already the right general customer service number.

The Customer Service Rep (CSR) Calls

I started uncovering the shattered shards of the onion skin when I called to find out why the iPad Pro order (not the accessories) was delayed just hours after a promise to deliver it on the following day. I thought what I could do since there was no indication of it being a weather delay, that I could just then cancel the shipment (not the order) and go pick it up in a store which would thus easily solve the problem.

Not a chance.

I went online to see about cancelling the order, but the cancel button was rendered inoperative with a note saying that I couldn't cancel it because the order was in progress and another note that said that they (Best Buy) had until Dec. 16 to try and get it to me, and if they couldn't, then it would be cancelled. A month? They had to be kidding! Even under ordinary circumstances with no deadlines involved that was an outrageous amount of time to grant yourself to solve a problem without consideration or consent of the customer. And, again, the customer had no control over the cancellation. This combination sends a message of: "Hey we (Best Buy) own this. You can't cancel, we won't let you. And we have as long as we want to do what we want with it -- whether that's good for you, customer-who-purchased-the-item, or not."

Problem No. 3: The combination of the inoperative cancellation button (for an order that hasn't even shipped yet, but was just simply packed and gotten into the queue) and the Dec. 16 date only fosters a sense of -- at worst -- the powerlessness of the customer in this situation and -- at best -- a bit of an outrage around their decision to keep the customer's money for a month before they return it without really caring about the customer, regardless of the customer's purpose in buying the product, or what the customer thought or wanted.

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Even though at first I thought perhaps it had been picked up by FedEx, which certainly would make it difficult, at that point to cancel the shipment, I found out it had only been removed from inventory and prepared for shipping -- meaning, as it turned out, put in a padded envelope, but would be delayed for no reason other than it would. Even though it hadn't been picked up by FedEx yet, I couldn't cancel the order online or even get the shipping of the order cancelled so I could pursue another avenue such as picking it up in a store. They didn't have the means to communicate a cancelled shipment request to FedEx or to take it out of the padded envelope apparently.

Problem No. 4: Best Buy exacerbated the customer's inability to cancel an order with an actual insanely long period of time of their choosing for the resolution of the issue without any concern for the customer at all or what they needed. The customer literally had no option but to read what Best Buy decided it wanted to do without any way for the customer to have any input on that at the point of decision -- meaning on the order page.

The saga continued. Even though the CSR couldn't cancel it, I mentioned to him that maybe he could have it routed to the store, and the store could be notified, and in the meantime, I would go and pick up a different unit that would be replaced by the one that I ordered. He made a call to the store in addition to someone else and found out there was no way to do that at all for two reasons ultimately (though in this case I'm condensing a longer pair of segments of the conversation into one). One reason: The online orders that were being shipped to something other than the store couldn't be rerouted to a store. And the second reason: The stores had no visibility into the online orders. Keep in mind, this is what the CSR is telling me with a constant "I'm so sorry" and "I'm just being candid/honest." I commend him for telling me since he could have made something up but he didn't.

Problem No. 5: The first reason for the inability to reroute to a store is that it was against procedure. Meaning that they had no way to make any exceptions to procedure defining the distinct separation of the store's orders even those online ordered for pickup and those online for shipping to other than the store. (Note the bold text.)

Problem No. 6: The reason for all that is that the store management (according to the CSR's conversation with one of the stores) had no visibility into the online order system, so they couldn't verify the order even if they wanted to. No visibility between online and store. None. Nordstrom's would throw up if they heard this. As would any sane company who was focused around the needs of the customer -- and I mean just the ordinary needs -- deliver the product in the way that the customer asks for it and have a procedure that allows for problems in the ordering process at times. Neither the philosophy nor the procedure exists at Best Buy, and, again, this will come back to bite them. (Note the bold text.)

I wish I could say it ended here, but it didn't. At this point, it was evident that there was nothing that the CSR could do for me to help me facilitate the change in the how I received the order despite the fact the order hadn't even shipped yet. He wanted to escalate it, which I agreed to, even though I honestly thought that a supervisor couldn't do anything either. But he was an earnest guy and seemed to really want this to happen, so I said yes. He said hold the line. I did. About two minutes later, I was apparently transferred somewhere and, wherever that was, the phone began to ring for over five minutes and no one picked up the phone.

I hung up.

Problem No. 7: If you are going to escalate to a supervisor or someone of greater authority, have that individual (supervisor) show the courtesy of answering the call they presumably were expecting after having been contacted in person by the CSR. The customer is already very unhappy. Not picking up the phone compounds that with how disrespectful that actually is. The assumption here is that the CSR had spoken with a supervisor. Normally there is a handoff. There was not in this case.

At this point, I was irate even though I didn't start out that way. Upset in the beginning but not irate. However, the combination of roadblocks and disrespectful behavior from the still unknown supervisor had me furious.

So, I called back in to simply reach a CSR again to help me get to the escalation. I presumed that the prior conversation I had just had with the other CSR was recorded in my customer record.

I reached a new CSR and asked to be escalated. A nice kid -- but she wanted to know why. I gave her information and said that I wouldn't repeat myself again (I was already on the phone for about 75 minutes or so by that time) and it should be in my record. Apparently it wasn't since she wanted to get the details again. She decided that she would try to help me.

First, she attempted to cancel the order herself so that I could then go to a store and order the iPad Pro again. I told her that at that point I would do that at an Apple Store. Interestingly, while I was on with her and she had just made the attempt. I got a system-generated email saying that the order had been cancelled. I thought, "Wow she did it." Nope. What she managed to was cancel the one free benefit that I was offered: A Webroot Internet Security subscription for six months, but not the order for the iPad Pro. So, the one freebie (remember, the Echo Dot I wasn't given at the store) associated with this purchase was lost in the bargain. Honestly, I wasn't going to use that anyway. I use other security software -- but once again, the "gift" was not received despite me fulfilling the requirements for receiving it.

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Problem No. 8: She acknowledged cancelling the gift in her attempt to cancel the order, but never offered to restore it. It was just lost for good. Again, of no personal consequence for me, but an oversight that can't routinely go ignored.

In the course of my conversation with her, I was explaining how this should be working -- my advisory hat on -- and I mentioned that when you're this far down the road, with an apparently unsolvable problem, you should at least offer some form of compensation. She then offered me $50, which I turned down, explaining that I wasn't looking for anything at all and wasn't prone to accepting an offer made only because I mentioned that an offer should be made.

Problem No. 9: I had to raise the issue of compensation when that should have been an obvious part of the Best Buy CSR playbook. I have to presume she's empowered to offer compensation since she offered the $50 without consultation, but if I hadn't prompted her to, she wouldn't have. Bad training somewhere in there. I presume the bad training rather than just an operator error only because of the clear problems that Best Buy with their system. But operator error is a possible reason for the problem.

She insisted that we escalate the call again, and I warned her a second go-round like the first would be a really bad problem. While we were "chatting," I was online looking at my order status for the iPad Pro and saw that it hadn't even changed from the Dec. 16 window Best Buy so generously awarded itself. I also noticed I had, ironically, an email that awarded me Elite status in their Rewards program, which meant an expenditure of at least $1,500. Peculiar. The reason it was peculiar was that I had spent $5,000, and the Elite Plus status was when you spent $3,500 or more. So, I went to the site and reviewed my purchases and didn't see the purchases (see above) that were made at the store via my credit card despite the cashier asking for and entering my phone number to identify me when I purchased items No. 1-3 above at the store prior to all this online mishegas. Asking for the phone number was one of the ways that purchases were recorded to my customer record -- and associated with my rewards number.

I told CSR No. 2 that there was clearly a mistake and that the store purchases were not showing in my rewards program purchases. Her response? I kid you not, "Oh no, only the online purchases count for your rewards, not what you buy in the store." Wait, what? I repeatedly asked her to corroborate this because I couldn't believe and she repeatedly did.

Which, as it turned out was actually wrong information. When @BestBuySupport finally reached me (see below), they confirmed first that you can get rewards points for in store purchases and that the reason that I wasn't seeing it is that I inexplicably had two accounts, and it probably was registered to the one that I wasn't seeing, even though I gave my phone number at the store as I always do to register the purchases to my rewards account and my customer record. This raises the question: Why didn't the CSR know that you could get rewards at the store? How could you not?

However, @BestBuySupport also told me that it takes 20 days or, if you make a Pacific Magnolia (their custom lux entertainment systems work) purchase, up to 35 days to appear on your account. Not the rewards points -- the actual in store transactions, which is made even stranger when the online transactions appear right away.

Also: FBI paid Best Buy staff to check broken computers for illegal activity

Problem No. 10 : If you are focused on the customer, the customer has to access their transactions (in case a return needs to occur or there is some other reason to see the transaction, in store or online as quickly as the fastest recording of it, which in this case means that the in store transaction should show up in the customer's record as fast as the online transaction, which is close to immediate, not a bizarrely long 20 days. Or more).

She forgot (luckily for her and me) to escalate, and I think that it was because I really didn't want to talk to anyone. I was reconciled to the fact that it would show up on Monday. which meant that it would create more work for me over the weekend -- again, I can't go into why, but you'll have to trust me on this. It did.

But we aren't done yet.

I began to tweet out some of this, having decided that was is clearly a systemic issue and a possible cultural issue needs to be written about as a lesson in what not to do. As I was tweeting late Friday I added the @BestBuySupport ID as a test to see if they would contact me about my dilemma. I heard nothing until Nov. 20, well after the problem was "over" not resolved. I remember when Frank Eliason did his revolutionary work at Comcast and created what is now SOP -- Twitter customer support. He and his team, with all of Comcast's problems, answered tweets in one to three hours. And did so long after it scaled. Hang in there, because I'm going to capture the response I got on Nov. 20 and show you what was sent to me, which had a serious red flag that my working hypothesis about systemic and procedural issues was right.

But before I do that, on Friday, I got notification that my order had shipped (the day that it should have been delivered) and that Friday night it got to Herndon, Virginia -- 15 miles from my house. So, I called UPS and asked them if I can pick it up on Saturday at one of their facilities. Their answer? No. The reason? It would remain in the container until Monday because Best Buy hadn't paid for Saturday delivery.

Problem No. 11: Given that I already turned down a $50 gift certificate and that it actually hadn't shipped yet while I was talking to the CSRs, and that I had told the CSRs that if I got it Saturday I could mitigate some of my problem, you would think they would make an exception and be smart enough and customer-centric enough to pay for Saturday delivery, which would cost them less than the $50 I had turned down. But no. (Note the bold text.)

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Now back to the tweet -- and please remember the highlight in the body in problem No. 11. Here is what I received on Tuesday -- long after the problem was over (not resolved) -- just past its due date. Best Buy had done nothing to resolve anything other than throw up roadblocks to no matter what I offered. There were a couple of other ideas I had had that wouldn't have hurt them in the slightest even operationally and their procedure and problems prevented them from doing them.

bestbuysupport.jpg

Problem No. 12: One note: I eliminated the name of the Best Buy Twitter support rep from the screen capture. But read this. There seems to be either no particular interest in the urgency of all my prior tweets and the clear anger, and/or they are so bound to the formal procedure they have in the name of "ensuring customers the high level of care we strive to provide" that they have no system to prioritize urgency -- meaning once again, no way or no desire to make exceptions. I could understand if they had a different perspective than I did about the urgency of the situation. I clearly am more invested in this emotionally than they are, but it's the quote that says "...work to respond to tweets in the order received" that strikes the warning bell for me. And is indicative as you will see as we sum up soon what the deepest problem they do have. And it's one that is deadly to all companies that have it. (Note the bold text. Starting to see the pattern and point yet?)

That said, to the defense of @BestBuySupport, once they did actually contact me - though it was much too late to do anything -- they were unfailingly consistent in working to at least understand what was going on. In fact, they were the ones who discovered the two accounts and they were the ones who corrected the incorrect information I had got from No. CSR 2. This is still ongoing but not germane to this discussion.

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Collateral damage

I'm bringing UPS into this, somewhat reluctantly, though they are part of the highly imperfect storm. It's not meant to be angry at them, but more to see the impact on a different company when there is a disruption of the personal value chain of each individual. Here is a diagram that I often use in my speeches when I am speaking of the personal ecosystem we all have and how it intersects with the business ecosystem of each company.

personalecosystem.jpg

What it purports to show is that while the companies all have their own ecosystems, their own matrices that consist of multiple internal and external elements -- so does each individual customer that they deal with. It's called the customer's life. What this diagram rather poorly (my bad -- I'm graphically challenged) points out implicitly is that events in the individual's life that had nothing to do with their specific interactions with a particular company can impact how they interact with that company. And the company, which is on the receiving end of this "influenced" interaction, has no idea what caused whatever the level of the customer's ire or love is other than "something" and probably thinks that the cause was isolated to them. And, as often as not, they would be wrong. The damage to them is actually somewhat collateral -- except for the triggering of the reaction.

Thus the (much abbreviated) story of UPS here. They are part of it, so you can see how what happened with Best Buy impacted my reaction to UPS in the now cold, clinical light of day.

UPS messed up their delivery of the accessories that were supposed to arrive on Nov. 16. This was not Best Buy's problem, since the shipment actually went out in a timely fashion on Nov.14. But due to a severe weather delay, not UPS's fault, the order tracking told me that it had arrived Ohio somewhere but wouldn't be delivered on the Nov. 16. By the evening of Nov. 16, the shipment appeared in Chantilly, Virginia, which is 10 miles from my house -- not even really. So, I called UPS that same evening and asked them about delivery. The UPS CSR said it would be delivered on Nov. 17, the next day.

OK. No big deal. Acts of nature happen, and the accessories weren't necessary to do the work I had to do with the iPad Pro.

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However, Nov. 17 came, and by late in the afternoon, it still was, according to order tracking it, was still in Chantilly. So I called and I found out not only couldn't I pick it up but that there was never any way that it could be delivered Saturday. First, Best Buy hadn't paid for Saturday delivery -- understandable in this case, though stupidly not in the other. Second, there was no one even working to get it out on the weekend, which struck me oddly, but what I realized is that either the CSR the day before was woefully ignorant of the practices of UPS or she out and out lied to me. It didn't matter.

I blew up.

Oddly, though as irate as I was, I managed to be rational enough to let the CSR I was yelling at know that most of the ire I was directing at him was due to what had happened with Best Buy and not UPS. What UPS did egregiously wrong was that CSR the day before misinforming me and thus wasting my time -- but the real anger was still reserved for Best Buy. Seriously. I was yelling that explanation at him. Always the professional. Yeah, right.

This was what I mean by collateral damage. My outrage was far greater than the problem truly merited, since I didn't really even need the accessories on Saturday. But it was the frustration with Best Buy that impacted my relationship with UPS, which I normally hold in high regard that triggered this outsized reaction to what was a further waste of my time and effort. See the diagram above to see how what happens elsewhere can impact a customer's reaction to and interaction with another company.

The outcomes

But here are the difference between Best Buy, the originator of the problem and their systemic issues, Best Buy and UPS, which screwed up but was mostly collateral damage. Keep in mind, I was a long-time customer and admirer of both companies.

With UPS -- I'll continue to use them and still more so than I use FedEx or other carriers -- they have a lot of positive capital built up with me. I can forgive an occasional what is likely to be an operator error or deliberate misdirection. And good over time outweighs the bad. So this is the exception to the rule. This doesn't seem to be a systemic issue or a cultural one, thus it's not likely to be repeated.

With Best Buy -- unless something that, as of yet I'm unaware of happens -- I will probably not shop with them again due to my previous experiences, which as I said have been adequate but not exceptional, and the fact that they fulfilled what is the most fundamental need of most customers (convenience) for me, I regret saying that but it's likely the case. I have shopped with them for many years, probably more than a decade if they've been around that long but see no reason to continue unless they fix a system that will make the same errors and create the same problems over and over again. No remedies, no customer. The only question is whether or not to use them as an example of how complex customer service can be damaged due to rigid adherence to a flawed set of procedures, processes, and policies. Though most likely, out of my prior regard, with the exception of this blog post, I won't.

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So, what are Best Buy's systemic problems and how do they solve their errors?

Let's talk about that.

The systemic problems and the fixes

There are two systemic problems that Best Buy have that also reflect something that might be an even bigger problem.

The systemic problems are:

They have no exceptions policy: This can be a company killer. Several years ago, I wrote a piece on procurement departments and their slavish commitment to procedure and their disconnection with customers and often even their own companies, and how this damages customer relationships. While by no means do I expect a company like Best Buy to pull back something after it is shipped -- that would be absurd even if they were wrong -- this wasn't shipped and what I was asking for was essentially that they break down the package and let me get it at a store from the store's inventory. But I was told that they had no procedure for that, and there was no way to establish exceptions. They need a policy to handle exceptions to their procedures when their procedures either break or are outside the expectation that the customer has as provided by the company. An exceptions handling policy should be standard there. The exceptions policy can be as procedural and process-driven as the procedures and processes that are standard. For example, rather than Twitter Support answering the tweets in the order they are received, which means of course seen, since they aren't really "sent," have a policy that allows prioritization and even triage so that those that are urgent, emotionally charged, possible PR concerns, time, and date deadline driven -- whatever -- can be taken out of the standard queue and acted on in a timely and productive way. That's just one example. There are many others. Don't get me wrong. There is a lot of value in the creation and execution of procedures, policies, and processes to make sure that the ordinary remains ordinary. But when they break, there has to be a means to solve the breakage and that requires a different set of procedures, policies and processes designed to handle those problems.

The seeming lack of interoperability between retail stores and online orders: The comments about no visibility by store personnel into the online orders of a customer and the inability to change from a ship to (prior to shipping) to store pickup and the unbelievable "not counting" the products bought directly in the store with the rewards program, which is strictly for transactions over the web, even if it is picked up in the store, are clear indications of that lack of interoperability. This is both a policy issue (e.g. the inability of store managers to do anything about online orders that are related to customers in their geographies and I presume systems that can't talk to each other).

These big and small issues combined indicate a company that is thinking more about itself operationally than they are about the need to value its customers. A genuinely customer-centric if not a customer-engaged company (here is a post detailing this distinction I wrote in 2017) would be working with the customer both to ensure that their overall customer experience is at least good enough to make them want to continue the relationship with the company and their engagements with the company are convenient and as tension free as possible. And, finally, perhaps most importantly, a customer focused company makes sure that the customers feel valued, rather than in this case being assured in all ways that the procedure is more important than the customer.

Also: Amazon adds new Business Prime benefits, including a credit card

The smaller problems: Answers

Problems No. 1 and No. 2: Make the customer service phone number easy to find on the landing page or one obvious click away and call it customer service, not just technical support.

Problems No. 3 and No. 4: I know this isn't as simple to implement as it sounds, but if the order hasn't shipped, make it possible to cancel or to redirect it to a store for pickup. Create options for change if the item remains in the warehouse so to speak. If it's shipped, well, it shipped. Also, don't provide yourself with an outrageous amount of time to resolve an issue you created without any regard for the customer's side of the story. No self-chosen timeline in this case is better shoving a long outrageous date in the customer's face. "We are working as quickly as we can to resolve this issue and will be in contact with you shortly" is a better answer, and then, get in contact, if they aren't with you already.

Problems No. 5 and No. 6 - This is where one of the big fixes has to be applied. Interoperability between the retail stores and the online "store" has to be put into place. I don't know enough about how their systems or practices work to give great detail here.

Problem No. 7: If you are going to escalate, make sure that someone actually is there to pick up the phone. This isn't a place to take a random chance that a supervisor or level two tech or whoever the call is being escalated to, might or might not pick up. A physical connection between the level one and level two person has to be made prior to the phone transfer.

Problem No. 8: If a CSR makes a mistake, fix the damned mistake. Not a big deal. Reinstate what needs to be reinstated or find a substitute to compensate for the error. But don't just let it go. Ever. This was operator error and the operator needs to be empowered to the extent that they can resolve the problem of their making.

Problem No. 9: If the customer's problem is unresolvable, make sure that the last employee speaking to the customer has the ability to compensate the customer and that it's something that is proactively done.

Problem No. 10: A purchase, wherever it occurs, should with a rare exception or two count toward the rewards points offered in a rewards program. Loyalty points are typically awarded based on the value of the transaction, not the location that the transaction occurred. I found this one to be one of the outright dumbest decisions I have ever dealt with and I would love to hear from Best Buy why they do this -- or at least how they justify it. Or from a reader who knows.

Problem No. 11: If there is an opportunity to mitigate the late delivery by spending a little more to make sure that it gets delivered less late, do it. Write it into the processes and policies. Which again, means a formal well-defined exceptions handling procedure so that CSRs are aware that they can order that and that Best Buy has allocated for that.

Problem No. 12: As stated earlier, with an exceptions policy, Twitter support can prioritize the tweets not blindly follow the order they are received in. Nothing wrong with following the order they are "received' in unless there is something wrong. Be ready for when there is by prioritizing the responses.

Benefit?

Emarketer reports that Navar in late 2018 did a study that shows that "96 percent said they would give a retailer repeat business based on a good returns experience."

That's for those of you who like data to prove the point.

OK, time to wrap it up.

If my few posts over the years are any indicator, there may be some comments and they will be of three types:

  1. Those who accuse me of whining. And then will whine about me.
  2. Those who use this to tell their woeful customer service story
  3. Those who get what I'm trying to do here and that is show what are possible solutions to fix what is broken.

In 2007, I did the same thing as I've done here with DirecTV on my prior blog, PGreenblog. My intention wasn't to get anything out of them, and as I did here, I turned down any "compensation" but to get them to examine their direction, their policies, their procedures, and processes - and maybe their culture. After some weeks, with DirecTV, I got an email from their then newly minted (now retired) SVP of Customer Care, the wonderful Ellen Filipiak, which led to this and this. Ultimately, because of the extensive changes they did make, I invited her to speak at CRM Evolution that she graciously took me up on. I was, until this experience, a big fan of Best Buy, and now I no longer am. I would hope that they do what Ellen did and take to heart what I wrote and actually make some changes. Until that time, I'm no longer a customer. That's no great loss to them I'm sure, but it is to me. So, Best Buy, pay attention. And, please, make yourself better. What I would like to see is a public response, which I would be happy to reproduce here.

Also: How Amazon and Microsoft will oust Google to become our next Android overlords

Peace out. Amazon, here I (continue to) come and buy.

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