Best Buy -- Or, When a Great Social Media Strategy Is Not Enough

As is always the case this time of year, I’ve been spending a lot of time pondering Best Buy. Most of the year, the superstore sits up on that hill near where I live, monolithic, and I don’t go near it. But as December and January contain both the holidays, and both of my children’s birthdays, it becomes, however briefly, a frequent stopping-off point for purchasing DVDs, games and, of course, electronics.

And that’s why I had time, the other day, to contemplate the disconnect between the store experience and the company’s social media experience, something that was amplified for me the very next day with this much more pointed story from Consumerist, which I’ll get into shortly.

The reason that I had all of this time on my hands was because I was standing in line at checkout, waiting for roughly 10 minutes to buy a single DVD while one couple completed their purchase. It was around 9 p.m. -- not exactly prime time at Best Buy -- and it wasn’t the store’s single cashier, or the couple, that was particularly at fault. Whatever this couple was buying seemed to involve all sorts of warranties, gift cards, and the like.

But the fault was clearly with how the store was managed. There were plenty of other employees around, to be sure, staffing the various departments where very few people were wandering, but no one on the case of ensuring that people who were actually on the verge of buying something might be helped.

What really got me, though, was that the soda machine, stationed strategically for impulse purchases next to the checkout line, was receiving more interest from the employees than the customers were. At one point, an employee walked toward checkout -- I gazed on him hopefully -- and then to the soda machine, pulled out a bottle, and then didn’t close the door. Yes, it was comic to see the customer behind me -- who was in the direct line of fire from the cool blast coming from the open refrigerator door -- actually be the one to close it.

Next, two employees pushed a hand truck by me -- stacked high with soda. It was time to fill the machine, but not to help the customers!

Of course, this minor story was completely at odds with Best Buy’s Twitter-based Twelpforce and other user-friendly customer interaction vehicles (pun!) like the VW Beetle-driving Geek Squad. It was all very …. not Twelpforce-like. 

And as The Consumerist post emphasizes, this disconnect between the store experience and some of the other good things Best Buy does is often more jarring than having to wait in line too long to buy a DVD. Long story short, a Consumerist reader told the site about his attempts to exchange a DVD-boxed set from Best Buy that was missing a DVD. Yes, his problem was made worse by a lost receipt, but he dutifully followed the instructions on Best Buy’s own site to get in touch with the Twelpforce, which told him the local store’s manager could handle it.

And handle it, the guy did. When the customer pulled out his iPhone and showed him the Twelpforce tweet, the manager, per Consumerist, described it, “as ‘just social media’ and said ‘that could be anybody.’"

We can rest assured that this particular manager was tone-deaf.  Any decent store manager would focus on the long-term relationship with that customer and simply replace the item, no questions asked. That aside, his comments betray that he had no knowledge of Best Buy’s own customer service Twitter feed, or its alleged role in the organization. And I don’t use the term alleged lightly. If the employees on the ground don’t know about the Twelpforce, how, then, can its role in the organization truly be fulfilled?

Yeah, to some extent, this is wonky social media stuff. On the other hand, if you look at what Best Buy -- and so many other retailers -- are truly up against, having a seamless customer service organization -- from the Twitter feed down to the store floor -- is not just a discussion for wonks. In case you haven’t noticed, we are in an increasingly commodity-driven world, and consumers, armed with some of the very same mobile tools you’ll find in the aisle at Best Buy, have pricing information at their fingertips.

That won’t change. And since it won’t, a retailer, online or off, known for great customer service could find that’s the difference between success and failure. It’s no longer viable to succeed in a social media channel and fail when the customer relationship is face-to-face.

(Hope to see you in two weeks at the Social Media Insider Summit!)

4 comments about "Best Buy -- Or, When a Great Social Media Strategy Is Not Enough".
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  1. Jeff Rutherford from Jeff Rutherford Media Relations, LLC, January 5, 2012 at 4:23 p.m.

    Have you seen the recent story - Best Busy Is Going Out of Business - Gradually?

    It articulates even more what you're discussing - the disjointed experience of Best and the bricks and mortar experience.

  2. Courtney Smith from National CineMedia, January 5, 2012 at 4:27 p.m.

    Such a good article. I feel like the "employees on the ground" as you call them are left caring less and less about each individual customer. You hit upon a big pet peeve of mine when shopping - if there are more employees than customers, there should be all hands on deck to answer questions, resolve problems, and check people out. So many times have I waited 5 minutes or more at Starbucks with easily 6 baristas behind the bar. I mean, I know everyone has their station, but instead of working zones - let's try man to man yeah? And no one ever knows the "rules" of the latest social media push from their company - I always have to show an email or tweet or whatever. It's crazy!

  3. Ira Kaufman from Entwine, January 5, 2012 at 4:51 p.m.

    BEST BUY will lose its loyal customers.

    I have have had the identical experience this week in trying to buy a telephone that was only sold online. I learned that the retail and the online operations are two separate companies. As a loyal customer , I felt the customer service went downhill. There were inflexible and didn't want to hear of my needs. After I tweeted CS they responded and promised to get back to me . They did not. Then I posted on the community forum and got called names by visitors and former employees.

    Finally I purchased the the product at the retail store. It took 50 minutes with the sales person apologizing every 20 minutes because the transaction took so long. At the end I still have to order a Geek Squad protection Plan online .

    Their treatment of customers doesn't match it reputation and rhetoric.

  4. Dorothy Frank from Ballooning Nest Eggs, January 6, 2012 at 1:04 p.m.

    I see this all the time that employees just don't care. They do only their job and nothing more. And management probably didn't articulate their social media strategy so that all employees were aware of it. You should post this on their Facebook site and post a comment on their Twitter feed. Include #fail.

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