Best Buy: Another Example of Customer Service Dilution of Marketing Efforts

by Marianne Richmond on March 10, 2007

AdAge announced that BestBuy has decided after 20 years to take their $170-$200 million brand advertising account into review. The roster of Best Buy agencies currently includes La Comunidad for Hispanic Advertising, Avenue A/RazorFish for interactive, Rapp Collins for direct and Ketchum PR.

That’s a lot of advertising dollars being spent and lots of talent creating advertising and marketing. It is a shame that BestBuy continues to disconnect the message between advertising, marketing and customer service. There is lots of negative buzz covering everything from poor customer service to the latest, a secret intranet site;There is even a web site devoted to chronicling customer’s Best Buy problems.

The disconnect between marketing and customer service s a frequent topic on this blog. I have personally experienced more than one less than satisfactory disconnect with Best Buy.

We have had the misleading explanations of their "extended service" contracts for laptops and IPods, their "sure we have it" response over the phone which is met with "who told you that" when upon arrival at the store the product is either a different price or not in stock. (I have told my kids to get the name of the clerk who answers any questions on the phone…instead of taking responsibility for their clerks, store managers consistently and gleefully discount what you say you were told if you can’t identify the clerk)

This latest, although not the worst, will be my last disconnect. In combination with the "Bait and Switch Website" described by Paul Kedrosky, this is enough data.

Earlier this week when I went on line to make a payment on my Best Buy account I noticed that the payment that I am reasonably sure I made last month had not been credited and there was a $35 charge (yes, $35!) for being late.

Since, I could have sworn I made an online payment last month  as I do every month, I first checked my bank account; no debit. Whoops.

Well, I thought I will give them a call and explain that there must have been some kind of glitch and would they please waive the late fee just this one time. The few times I have had a similar issue with other credit card companies I have always been told, "we will waive the fee as a one time courtesy." First, I made an online payment covering both months.

Here is what happened next with Best Buy customer service:

(Preface: Like many customers including the Durbins, I found the offer of buying with no interest for a year one I couldn’t refuse…the way this works for me is that you make ridiculously minimal payments for a year, and then when the offer expires you need to be prepared to pay off the balance in full or they charge you an entire years "deferred interest" which at 22% is significant. Of course, presumably they are hoping that you won’t pay it off…ok, cavaet emptor.)

I phoned the "contact us" customer service number and was told that the online payment that I had just made was not showing up either so there must be a problem and that I needed to call another number where they would "help" me. She said I should discuss the late fee credit with that department,

I dialed the number and punched in the number that seemed to be the correct choice for my problem. The person who came on the line told me that I was now talking to "collection" and needed to call back and choose "2". I told him that I had called the number that I had been given and thought I had chosen "2"…he not very nicely insisted that I had made a mistake and essentially said, call back, do it "right", your problem, not mine.

So, I called the same number again, hit "2" again and then waited on hold for quite some time. As I was just about deciding that this had taken up more than $35 of my time, Gladys came on the line. She insisted that no payment had been made last month. I conceeded that I realized no payment had been received but   since I had never missed a payment, couldn’t they just give me the benefit of the doubt and waive the $35. Gladys said, "No, we don’t do that." I asked for a supervisor.

After a long wait, the supervisor came on the line. She didn’t mince words. "We don’t do that, ever." You didn’t make a payment in February and you have to pay the late payment charge. I insisted that I believed that I had made a payment and that I always made payments every month and in fact paid off the balance each month except for the "promotion" balance. (That whole process of separating charges is another disconnect from the stated "customer centricity" policy…it is designed to confuse customers and to cause them to incur penalties…another post perhaps.) She persisted with a not very nice tone…you didn’t pay, we don’t waive fees, ’nuff said.

What, I had read about Best Buy’s stated strategy indicated that it was all about customer centricity. From Fortune,"Shifting the company’s focus from pushing gadgets to catering to customers" to their latest News Release:

"Best Buy’s business is growing as our employees continue to find ways to contribute their ideas and experiences in service to our customers….we know the better we listen to our customers, the better able we are able to privde the experiences that reflect their particular…prioirties….regardless of whether they interact with us in a store, in their home or business, online or on the phone."

Further, I kind of thought I was considered more of an Angel than a Demon.
Besides using the Best Buy credit card, we belong to the Rewards program and have made most of our electronic purchases at Best Buy which with two teenagers is fairly frequent.

"We don’t waive fees, even one time" is not what I would call a customer centric strategy. It is a disconnect between the talk and the walk.

Pete Blackshaw writes about the need for a new model, Listening-Centered Marketing. Peter Kim at Forrester speaks frequently on his research on Reinventing the Marketing Organization and the need to re-align resonsibilities and re-look at agency reelationships, metrics and P&L responsibilities.Peter found that "almost 80% of marketers don’t influence a critical customer interaction like customer service."

I believe that in this age of customer particpants and Citizen Marketers (great summary post of what Jackie and Ben mean by "citizen marketer."… for more buy the book and read the book!) that the businesses that don’t reinvent the way that they are organized and
their focus will see their marketing dollars go out the customer service window.

Advertising and marketing may get the consumer in the door but customer experience and customer service will either keep them there or require continued increasese in expenditures to replace their loss.

There are many metrics and ROI models that companies look at to measure the success of their strategic efforts. If a company came face to face with the number that told them that they were spending $200 in advertising and marketing and the dilution index for poor product quality or customer service, they might modify their infrastructure to align P&L responsibilities with all the consumer touchpoints that influence financial outcomes.

I don’t think you have to be a math major or a advertising genius to realize that Best Buy’s cost per customer acquisition is greater than $35. Yesterday my son and I purchased three items totalling $238…at Circuit City.

Toby Bloomberg has a great post about Social Media’s Positive Influence on Customer Service.

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