Best Buy's Social Service: All Style and No Substance?

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Twitter and other social media are great for fostering closer customer relationships, but not if you don't back up all of those chummy conversations with solid good service. When I interviewed Lionel Menchaca, Dell's (cool title alert) Chief Blogger, he told me:

You can be as transparent and conversational as possible, but if you don't get the right people and processes in place that are committed to actually helping customers, it won't do you a bit of good.

Are you listening, Best Buy?


The electronics retailer is often hailed for its savvy use of Twitter and other social media. In July I wrote about a blog post by Best Buy's chief marketing officer in which he directed folks to visit a Web site and help create a job description for Best Buy's senior manager of emerging media marketing. Site visitors could then vote on which description they liked best, in a process similar to one used to vet ideas on Dell's IdeaStorm site.


In the same month, Best Buy launched a Twitter service called Twelpforce, with the idea that customers could use Twitter to get their questions answered by Best Buy sales staff and members of the Geek Squad. Now Best Buy's advertising agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, is building a major media campaign around Twelpforce, with TV ads showing a stadium of blue-shirted Best Buy employees fielding customer questions. The ads feature a Twitter address, which of course means nothing to those not on Twitter. (Much as Web site addresses at one time seemed like Cyrillic to a healthy chunk of the population.)


Among a passel of other new social initiatives mentioned in a New York Times story:

  • Best Buy tweaked its Facebook page to make it easier for users to seek product advice from friends. (Taking a page from Intuit's 2.0 playbook.)
  • Plans to record videos of 25 Christmas songs, reworded to talk about high-tech gift ideas, linked from shortened URLs that Best Buy hopes will go viral via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter.
  • A social (and kind of crass) gift card service called "Pitch In" that invites folks to e-mail friends and family asking them to contribute to a fund they will use to buy electronics.
  • A "Hint Helper" feature on its Web site that will allow folks to e-mail gift suggestions to friends and family. (Or be bold, complete strangers!) If they accept the suggestions, their PCs will get a cookie that displays ads saying something like "Ann would like a new laptop!"


All very cool stuff. Imagine how surprised I was to find, when gushing to colleague Susan Hall about it, that Best Buy declined to be interviewed for her recent story on Twitter as a customer service tool (which I linked to in my first paragraph). Now maybe its folks are just too busy to field all of their media inquiries, and IT Business Edge ain't The New York Times. Still, it doesn't seem very "open" or "transparent."


Not only that, but Susan related a pretty horrible experience she had with Best Buy's in-store pickup service. The idea, successfully used by Walmart and other retailers, is you get to order stuff online and save yourself shipping costs by having it sent to a nearby physical store. Susan ordered a set of headphones online, got notification from Best Buy that they were at her store of choice and didn't get them after two trips to pick them up. And as Susan said via IM: "They had too few people working the customer-service counter. I wasted my lunch hour and didn't get them." (That was the first time.) On her second visit: "Store manager took a phone call at the counter, saw this gigantic line and walked away rather than pitching in." When she finally got to her turn at the service counter, the headphones were not at the store. Susan was given a different, more expensive set of headphones at the same price, but was ticked off nevertheless.


Lest you think Susan is an anomaly, a quick Google search turned up plenty of other people who experienced similar problems with the service. Like Jeff Keller, and this guy, who calls himself the Chief Gizmateer.


I have to give Best Buy props for Twelpforce and other social service initiatives. They are certainly not United Airlines, which botches customer service in both the physical and virtual worlds. But Best Buy is falling into the trap of providing far <strong>better service on Twitter than it</strong> <strong>does anywhere else</strong>, a problem I wrote about last week. In that post, I cited some suggestions from Web Strategy blogger Jeremiah Owyang. One of them: Bolster your traditional customer support channels.


About that in-store pickup, I know bridging the virtual and physical worlds can be tricky. I found some fine tips for retailers that want to offer in-store pickup on a site called Get Elastic. Among them: Make sure your pick-up station is always staffed and staff understand how to handle pick-up, returns and exchanges. (Are you listening, Best Buy?) State how long merchandise will be held at the store. Make shipping free, but offer express shipping for a premium.