What I would do if I were Brian Dunn: 3 ways to reshape customer experience at Best Buy


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In case you missed it, Larry Downes wrote a Forbes article in January titled, “Why Best Buy Is Going Out of Business…Gradually.” He caused quite a stir.

Downes shares, in painful detail, a recent and unsuccessful experience in a Best Buy store. After he and a friend encountered a sales person who couldn’t answer their questions but did try to push a TV service on them, Downes concluded:

[This is] actually getting in the way of a customer whos trying to self-service because theres no one around who can answer a basic question about the stores confusing layout.  Its anti-service. We left the store, my friend having made his purchase but both of us fuming. I was reminded of a line from Ernest Hemingways The Sun Also Rises. One character asks another how he went bankrupt. “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.” Best Buy, I thought, is doing the same, just as many big box retailers have done in the last decade.

After Downes’ five-page article attracted more than a thousand comments. Best Buy’s CEO, Brian Dunn, posted a response on his blog:

As CEO, I know that criticism goes with the job, and Im well aware we have some challenges. I also know that errors we make often translate into a poor experience for our customers, and that is simply unacceptable.

Dunn went on to cite examples where Best Buy can and needs to do better, namely the cancellation of some Internet orders right before Christmas and the company’s ongoing business model shift, which he admits needs to happen more quickly.  

3-way misalignment

But rising above the product and holiday and staff issues, I see a larger issue for Brian Dunn: the misalignment of needs and goals between customers, employees and senior leadership at Best Buy.

Dunn acknowledges the fact that poor customer experience is unacceptable, so we know he sees the gap between the experience customers want and the one they have.

I imagine this short saga has shown him another gap – this one a misalignment between the experience store employees have each day when they go to work and the staff experience Best Buy executives want or believe is happening at the store level.

This gap is revealed in the 284 comments made on his blog post. Best Buy employees, ex-employees, customers and ex-customers implored Dunn to step into one of his stores and judge things for himself. One example:

I am a current Best Buy employee. I work at store 452 Clackamas Oregon. I love my store and the people I work with are amazing and caring. However, when I went from an appliance specialist back to a Rep 1 it was because policies changed and I felt as though I was a used car saleswoman instead of treating the customer with respect and making sure there needs were met. Then policies changed again and my position as a Rep 1 became a selling position. Selling Geek Squad protection and services. Pushing and I do mean pushing additional items that the customer does not want or need. It has become absolutely ridiculous. Here is one that gets me, why are we offering accidental protection on bluray discs? Customers laugh at me when I offer it. If things keep going the way they are I don’t see us being around for much longer. Jennifer Marcum 809776

Comment by Anonymous – January 6, 2012 @ 4:58pm

One of the toughest CEO challenges

The misalignment of customer, front line, and executive experiences can be one of the toughest things a CEO can face. Since top performance is found when operating actions align with what customers value, is Mr. Dunn faced with the need for a clear customer experience strategy? Execution to align actions to the strategy? Both?

I have three tips for Dunn and his team:

1 See the system–not a set of discrete problems. 

Best Buy seems to be caught in the mindset of thinking functionally. Supply chain. Service. Merchandising. Brand. Instead, how about thinking about the performance chain as a system of ins and outs that have to work well and align to an effective customer experience? Said differently, Best Buy should look at the complete picture, analyzing what’s happening from the moment it triggers demand until there is cash in the bank. Where are the gaps that cause “pain points” in the customer experience on stores?

2Be crystal clear about the target experience.

More important than what it sells (and it sells a lot) are the needs, problems and desires that Best Buy solves for its customers. I’ll be the first to say that Best Buy solves many needs for many different kinds of people. Yet as a major retailer, its brand reaches many and promises to solve one need that triggers people to seek out his company. I wonder what Mr. Dunn would say that is?

A clear customer experience is designed to solve a need. It includes a vision for what should happen and how customers should feel at every step along the journey. Clear enough that leaders across the company can see the actions they must take to make it happen. I wish for Best Buy a clearly defined experience, owned and understood across the company.

3Leverage the alignment of needs across stakeholder groups.

Customers, employees and shareholders each have different needs a company solves for them. Yet top performing organizations find, then leverage, the overlaps. For example, while customers may want a “clean” in-store experience free of sales pitches and hassles, employees may want an experience that allows them to demonstrate their product expertise and spend more time with customers. There is a healthy financial performance in the overlap.

So, tell me: If you were counseling Mr. Dunn and Best Buy, what would you tell them about how to reshape the customer experience, and better align needs of executives, staff and customers?

Note: Id also encourage you to read the Forbes.com article on Best Buy, Brian Dunn’s blog post, Forbes.com’s follow-up article and the comments on all three (warning: it might take you a while). Its a fascinating case study.

Note: photo by Ian Muttoo via FlickR Creative Commons

Republished with author’s permission from original post.

Linda Ireland
Linda Ireland is co-owner and partner of Aveus LLC, a global strategy and operational change firm that helps leaders find money in the business performance chain while improving customer experiences. As author of Domino: How to Use Customer Experience to Tip Everything in Your Business toward Better Financial Performance, Linda built on work done at Aveus and aims to deliver real-life, actionable, how-to help for leaders of any organization.


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