BestBuy’s Blogging CEO Sparks Criticism from Customers and Employees

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Best Buy’s CEO, Brian Dunn, blogged a rebuttal to a critical Forbes article in early January. He took responsibility for a number of screw ups during the holiday season, but pointed out that Best Buy was a strong, profitable retailer and was working hard to create an even “more seamless experience between our stores, web sites, call centers and services teams.”

The real news was the candor of the hundreds of comments that piled on within hours of Dunn’s post, including detailed critiques of operations from employees and former employees and criticism from customers. Here are two examples:

Example of Customer Feedback:

“I should not have to wait 45 minutes, go through 3 associates, and be bombarded by repeated attempts to sell me a credit card, extended warranties, and service protection to buy a laptop … I can’t even walk out of an empty Best Buy store with a video game in 5 minutes. …At a crowded Apple Store, I grab what I want and the employee in that section checks out my order – out in 3 minutes.

As CEO, you can IMMEDIATELY improve the customer experience by not requiring employees to hound customers with warranties, credit cards, protection plans, and etc. If I wanted them, I’d ask. This will seriously fix the majority of negative customer experiences.”

~ Comment by Simon — January 6, 2012 @ 7:13 pm

Example of Employee Feedback:

“The reason everybody… gleefully piles on Best Buy at the first hint of trouble is simple: the store absolutely wreaks of its lack of honest value to the customer. [Customers] go to Best Buy because … they want the stuff in it; Best Buy … adds as much hassle as they can cram into the experience. HEY, BUY THIS SERVICE PLAN! OK, WHAT ABOUT A CREDIT CARD?! NO? DO YOU WANT TO PAY $50 A MONTH FOR MOBILE INTERNET? NO?? HEY, HOW ABOUT YOU PAY US TO MAYBE BUY THIS THING BACK FROM YOU FOR A SMALL AMOUNT OF STORE CREDIT LATER? NO?! ARE YOU SURE?

And all this new training you speak of isn’t actual knowledge that could be of use to the customer. It’s how to smooth-talk the above offers. The actual product training is brief, cursory and incomplete “e-learnings,” while the almost weekly training sessions and videos are all about getting your low-paid, non-commission sales staff to act more like commissioned professionals you’d actually have to pay decent money.

Best Buy is all scheming, no innovation and you’ve only treated your employees worse as your fortunes have slid. It’s no wonder customers hate the place.”

~ Comment by G. Robert Ludden, Store 1158 — January 6, 2012 @ 6:41 pm

What struck me was the number of very explicit employees’ comments interleaved with the customers’ comments. BestBuy’s CEO just received a very valuable and very public gift of constructive feedback. What do you think about the dangers of CEOs blogging? What damage has the public employee and customer criticism done to the brand? And the real question is this: will Dunn take prompt actions to correct these and much of the other dirty laundry that has now been aired in public?

7 COMMENTS

  1. Patty, I think it’s great that the Best Buy CEO is blogging. I wish more senior executives did.

    3 years ago I wrote Top 10 Dumb Excuses for CEOs Not to Be Leaders in the Social Web because:

    If you’re one of those who are staying on the sidelines during this most important phenomenon, you’re missing a unique opportunity to engage on a personal level with all your stakeholders: customers, employees and partners.

    That said, there’s danger if Brian Dunn doesn’t listen and take time to respond and engage.

    I hope he does, because Best Buy is a company I admire. But its “big box” business model has come under pressure by Amazon.com, and it seems all is not well with customers or employees. I’m betting they’ll figure it out and survive.

    Bob

  2. Bob,
    I agree that blogging CEOs are refreshing, particularly when they are relatively candid. I hope that the many employees who have gone out on a limb speaking their mind don’t get fired! I found it interesting that so many employees are speaking up. It looks as if BestBuy needs to really work on WHAT employees are motivated to do and why. They’ve obviously erred way too far in telling them to upsell and cross-sell and spent much too little emphasis on helping their customers be successful and walk out with what they really need.

    I’m not sure the “Big Box” format is the problem at all. But I find it telling that several customers’ comments referenced Apple’s retail experience as setting the bar in terms of how quick and easy it is to walk in, get what you need, and walk out again. Apple is the ONLY retailer I walk into with my credit card already out of my wallet and in my hand. Really!

    Wouldn’t ANY retailer drool to be in that position??

  3. Patricia –

    Your post raises the important point of the dual stakeholder disconnect – with employees/culture and customers – that senior executives can often have. The delusion that Brian Dunn represents is the belief that he knew better about what goes in in the stores than these key constituent groups. Clearly, he’s significantly out of touch. Though the negative employee and customer feedback is anecdotal, one can sniff out a lack of customer centricity at BestBuy.

    Some years ago, I was working with a major worldwide auto manaufacturer at its U.S. headquarters in California. A key part of my assignment was to identify the level of customer centricity within the core organization, and the extended dealer network. I found the company to be extremely dysfunctional, with siloed communication, and outright dislike and distrust between groups. The CEO was blissfully unaware of this. In fact, he felt that all was well. His ‘recipe’ for staying close to the culture was having weekly catered debriefing lunches with ten randomly selected employees in his palatial, enormous office. Because he rarely went into the field, his disconnect with the dealer network was even more profound.

    There’s evidence of more senior executives engaging in blogging, and I definitely agree with you and Bob that, overall, this is a good thing. Blogging can be a two-edged reputation and image builder, however; and, if a company isn’t culturally customer-focused and customer-centric, inside and out and top to bottom, it is vulnerable to the kind of exposure and response Brian Dunn received. Hopefully, as Bob notes, this will be a wake-up call for BestBuy.

    Michael

  4. I read through the comments in the BB blog post, and most were anonymous from former employees. Hard to say based on that whether BB has a serious problem in employee morale, or is just hearing from a few vocal employees.

    Glassdoor shows that BB received the following awards in 2010 (see http://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Best-Buy-Reviews-E97.htm)

    Employees' Choice -50 Best Places to Work, Glassdoor, 2010
    Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality, Human Rights Campaign, 2010
    #4 Public Company to Work For, #12 in Top 100, StarTribune’s Top Work Places 2010, 2010

    But things can change quickly, and especially so in retail. The current BB rating is a tepid 3.3 (Employees say it’s “OK”) and 77% approve of Dunn. That leaves plenty of room for improvement, and lots of people to vent their issues.

    Didn’t see much from customers, although some talked about the impact on the customer experience due to too much selling. Goes to show that it’s not necessarily commissions that cause aggressive sales tactics (BB’s reps are paid a salary).

    I don’t know if Apple’s employees are on commission, but when I’ve visited I’ve never felt pressured to buy.

    CEO Dunn is up-from-the-trenches in the store, so he’s hardly some unapproachable chieftain that doesn’t understand the store operations. After watching the recent CNBC special “Best Buy: The Big Box Fights Back,” I felt he was executing a decent strategy in light of stiff competition from Amazon.com and other e-commerce sellers. Only BestBuy can support a multi-channel experience, but not if employees lose their motivation.

    In the end, I fear that BB will lose its customer-centric approach as it fights for sales in a world where more and more people are buying electronics online. To fight back means selling harder and/or cutting staff, and if not handled right it could take down the brand.

    See http://www.cnbc.com/id/45986486 for more on the BB story. It will be fun to watch it unfold!

  5. I’ve been following the BB debate since it started. My interest is as an expert customer experience consultant. BB has been very public about its efforts to focus on the customer experience. However, I for one, haven’t noticed much improvement or change. This one area where lip service won’t cut it. In a recently completed research study for a BB competitor (in the computer space), many of those shoppers who “walked” from BB did so because of the customer experience, specifically with respect to the sales associate experience. SAs were viewed as not being sincere, genuine or reassuring. This is an area that BB must pay attention to…it could have resulted in actual sales conversions rather than non-sales.

    I like BB and hope that CEO Brian Dunn takes note, acknowledges that the customer experience must be improved with real transformational change, and actually does something about it. We live in a new age where the experience IS important. There are some great examples that provide real proof.

  6. I agree, the BB customer experience is troubling. It’s a store I dislike going into, simply because it doesn’t allow, much less encourage me to shop – instead it pushes people to buy or leave. But this is not my point. If we go back the past couple of years, BB did at least one round of management buyouts – guess what – the best people took the buyout. At the same time, they totally changed their compensation plans for their SAs, encouraging many of their most knowledgable SAs to leave. And let’s not forget the implementation of ROWE – their results only work environment. While good on paper – I’ve had many long term concerns about ROWE in organizations. In fact its this last one that I believe is having the greatest impact on Best Buy’s business today. And I’m not talking for the better. ROWE may be great for employees, however, I’m convinced its creating some gaping holes in their business model.

  7. When Best Buy started, the in-store experience was terrifically annoying because the sales reps hounded you to purchase ‘product protection’. A long, long time ago I purchased a $24 Sony Walkman and the sales associate tried selling me a plan. I said, “you must be kidding”.

    BB then did some research, got a new CEO and cleaned up their act. They dropped ‘sales’ from the ‘sales associate’ title (not actually) — the store personnel where now product experts to help customers.

    In the fall, I purchased a new receiver and DVD player. First the sales person said that I could get HDMI cables for 20% off. The regular price was $49.99 so with the discount I could get them for $39.99. I told him I can get them at Amazon for under $10. He said, oh… but these are Razorfish to which I said, so are theirs. I also told him that most experts will tell you there is little to no difference in brands. He looked embarrassed. The point is that BB is trying to ‘hose’ their customers, not offer true value.

    Next the sales associate gave me a fully court press to sign up for protection to which I declined. When we got to the register, he boss tried another close on their protection product (and card). I told him if the unit breaks after warranty, I’ll simply replace it with an upgraded model that will likely cost less.

    It is a well known fact that product warranties are a very poor value with the exception of a few products like laptops.

    In summary, Best Buy is back at it – hounding customers and working in Best Buys best interest, not the customers. With Circuit City gone, they have changed, for the worse.

    This is why I authored the customer service book titled Negotiate Anything! Secrets to Make Businesses Treat You Fairly. You can find it where ever books (printed and ebooks) are sold.

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