Customer Experience Managers At Best Buy – A Bad Experience Turns Good

So we’re browsing around Best Buy yesterday and I see this 17″ Gateway machine that is on sale for $699. Jonna has needed a new machine for a while. The one she is using is one I bought her for her birthday about 4-5 years ago. Its a little slow, the screen is small, and the CDROM drive is on the blink, making it hard to rip music from CD to her MP3 player.

As we’re looking around, a young kid named Curt asks us if he can help us. We tell him we are just browsing, and he follows up with “if you need anything, my name is Curt, just yell if I can help you”. We nod in the affirmative and continue browsing.

There was quite a bit of debating back and forth. I was adamant that Jonna needed her own machine, that was just hers and not shared with the kids, and that actually was a little more up to date. She didn’t want to drop the money – even knowing it was on sale (a clincher for Jonna when things are in the low 2 figure ranges) wasn’t working.

So we left. We walked around the strip mall in McHenry, and I continued to persist that I wanted to get her this laptop. Finally, she relented and we walked back into the store.

I looked for Curt. He told us to grab him if we needed something. I like to grab the first person that talks to us when I have made a buying decision, so that they get credit or whatever for the sale. After about 5 minutes, I spot him across the store. I walk over to him and ask “So, do you want to sell me a laptop?”

His response floored me. It was, literally, “I don’t know, do I?”

Now, I’ve read a lot of sales books. I think the answer to this question should be “YES”. But, I guess he’s a kid and he doesn’t know any better, so I answer the question for him in the affirmative – “I think you do”.

We take him over to the laptop and I say “I want this one”. I’m one of those guys who doesn’t like a lot of cruft in the sales process. If I know what I want, you should give it to me with as little hassle as possible. Let me spend the money I’ve decided to spend, without a long conversation.

He starts to ask us what we are using it for. “School?” “No.” “Do you need MS Office”? “No, I need a laptop”. I think you can imagine how long this went on.

He disappears for a while after asking me to fill out a form. This is the first time I’ve ever been asked to fill out a form to buy a computer, but I comply. He’s gone for like, 10 minutes. He comes back and tells us that the store is out of these sale laptops, but there are 5 in Vernon Hills and other various locations. I ask him if they can reserve the inventory in the other stores, he says they can’t. Period. I guess we’re not buying a laptop. We begin to walk out.

I’m shocked that no one wants to work with me and take money that I have decided (and am adamant) to spend.

On our way out I see a guy with a name tag with the title “Customer Experience Manager”. I’ve read about these guys. Best Buy is putting them in all their stores to ensure a good customer experience. I haven’t had one so far, but I decide I’m going to give them another chance.

We go through a much abbreviated discussion with him. We find out the sale ends today, so he goes and gets next weeks flyer to see if there is anything comparable. I mention the inventory in the other stores and ask him if they can call and reserve one of them. He answers in the negative. It doesn’t work like that. We ask if they can have the inventory transferred to this store from the other one. They can, but it takes about 8 days, because the machine would go back to their distribution center and THEN to the McHenry store. I’m ready to just call it quits.

Then this guy brings up an idea. If you order it online for in store pickup, they will pull the inventory and have it waiting for you at the front when you get there. What a great idea! He takes us to their web site on one of their store kiosks, fills the cart for us, and allows me to log in and place the order. We now have the machine ordered (and the inventory reserved) and can go to Vernon Hills to pick it up.

This guy went out of his way to help us and present us with options. He didn’t try to sell us a bajillion options, he was just dealing with our problem. He was also able to think completely outside the box and came up with an idea that would get his customer what they wanted, and keep the money I wanted to spend in his store rather than have me walk out with it. More than that, I felt really good AND HELPED when I walked out to start our trek out to Vernon Hills.

Unfortunately, I don’t have this guys name – yet. I’ll be calling Best Buy today and finding this out, so that I can send a letter commending him for going the extra mile for us. I was very impressed. Not only did he solve my problem, but he did it with much less hassle than Curt did when I walked out with nothing.

So, Customer Experience Manager Guy, great job. Jonna now has a workable laptop and my wallet is a little lighter – and I feel good about my experience at your store.

Circuit City – “Advantage” Protection Plan?

Our son bought an MP3 player from Circuit City a year ago. With it, he bought a two year “extended warrantee” that the store offers called their “Advantage Protection Plan”.

A couple of months ago, the unit stopped working. He and Jonna went through all the rigamarole of pre-work they require before you have to send it in to have them take a look at it, and then they sent it in. Circuit City was unable to fix it so they sent him a gift card for the full price of the MP3 player.

Saturday we went to replace the unit. The boy decided to buy a 30G iPod, and before he bought it we inquired on the state of the extended warranty, specifically whether the two year warranty we bought applied to the replacement or whether we would get a refund for the remaining year.

The person at the counter quoted us this paragraph from their “Advantage Plan”, which appears on page 7 of their service guide:

Upon issuance of a Circuit City Gift Card, or if You are provided a rebuilt product as a replacement, the Contract for Your Electronics Product is deemed fully satisfied. The Contract shall not be transferable to any replacement product, unless otherwise required by state law.

So what does this mean to customers of Circuit City? If you buy electronics from them, buy a two year extended warranty and the merchandise ceases to work in a year and they cannot fix or replace it, you get the amount refunded by a Gift Card for the store and your warrantee is considered “satisfied”. So that remaining year you paid for – gone. You can’t use it on the new unit and have to purchase an additional “Advantage Plan” for a unit that might be faulty like the first one.

Worse, since they do not give cash back, you have to give them additional business. You cannot just get your money back and go somewhere else.


Circuit City really needs to learn a little about taking care of customers, rather than viewing them as something to take advantage of and “extract value from”. A company’s actions towards its customers shows a lot about its philosophy about business.

You can bet that from now on, all of our business will be with Best Buy.

First Trip To The Genius Bar

Since buying my Macbook in June, I’ve become extremely addicted. I’ve made an investment in repurchasing software where necessary and buying software that I’ve talked about on the blog and have converted over to it being my primary machine. I’ve been extremely impressed with the machine thus far and actually, at this point, find it torture to move back to Windows for any period of time.

I’ve had really no problems until recently. All of a sudden over the past four weeks or so, I’ve had issues with the magnetic AC adapter plug actually seating properly. At first, I would go into the living room unplugged, come back to plug in and would notice that the light on the AC adapter plug didn’t go on. A quick jiggle and the machine was charging again.

More recently, the light would just turn off randomly and the ‘jiggling’ became a more concerted effort to get the plug seated. So I decided on Saturday that it would be a good time to make my first trip to the Genius Bar over at the Apple store in Woodfield to see what they could do for me.

Once again, I have to hand it to Apple. I walked into the store and explained my problem and the person at the register kindly explained to me that I could walk to any machine in the store, hit the ‘Concierge’ button on any of them, and schedule time with a ‘Genius’. As soon as we registered, my name appeared on a screen above the bar, along with a ton of iPod and OS X tips that circulated on the screen so I knew exactly where I was in line and had something to do while I waited.

When my turn came, I went up to the bar, pulled the machine out of its original box and explained the problem. A quick test of another plug found the AC plug to be bad. A few minutes later I had a brand new AC adapter and was walking out of the store to have lunch with Jonna.

I like the environment that Apple has created in its stores. Its a marked difference from going to the ‘Geek Squad’ at Best Buy. Going with the same problem there would have been standing in line getting irritated because nothing was there to keep my head busy except watching the 4 people in front of me, only to get up to the counter to watch some kid fumble around with the machine (not the plug) until I had to direct him to what the actual problem was (I’ve had this happen, its rather irritating). Apple obviously realizes the problems with standing in line with a problem and has gone to the lengths to keep people occupied and interested in something as they wait.

I also found the staff to be extremely knowledgeable and polite as I watched the people in front of me get their problems solved with their iPods, which usually came down to a reboot, which while is documented in the manual, even I had issues with (I tend not to read manuals). The staff dealt with even these common sense (once you know them) questions politely and like it was the first time they had answered them.

I have to give major kudos to Apple for the concept of the Genius Bar. It made for yet another positive Apple experience for me.

“Real Life” Starbucks


Earlier this week I reviewed a book on Starbucks. Most of these books you get the “rosy view” of the world. I found this article today and was riveted by the comment thread that includes contributions by many Starbucks employees. Looks like Starbucks is, in many respects, like any other company. The thread is absolutely fascinating and worth spending the time to read every entry.

Customer Self Service

As a customer, I like to be in control.

Our family goes out to eat at least once a week (on weekends, mostly). Many times once we are seated we spend quite a bit of time waiting for our initial drink order to be taken, then for our actual order to be taken, then for the check to be presented, and finally for our payment to be taken by our server. I know, pretty normal scenario — what is there to complain about?

Well, I’m not complaining really, just thinking. How could you enable customers to order for themselves and pay when they are ready to leave? Would putting customers more in control of the things they have to participate in anyway increase their satisfaction with the service?

I’d love to see a restaurant in which you are handed a wireless device with a card swiper as you are seated (or it could even already be at the table). The device can be used to select your drinks, appetizer, and meals which is routed to the serving staff (haven’t figured out the specifics of this one yet) who can then fill the order and bring it to you. Once you have finished your meal, the device can present the charges for you, allow you to swipe your debit and / or credit card and pay for the meal. Absolutely no waiting involved except to have the actual things you order delivered to your table.

Tom the Architect has told me that they have something like this in Vegas. I can’t wait for it to get to the mainstream. As a customer, I like the idea of being able to take care of the things I’m able to take care of without waiting on someone else to act first. I like to be in control — and I’m guessing that most people feel that way. I’m more satisfied when I feel like I’m more in control of the situation.

I think the one area that would have to be worked out is the security of the system. As we were sitting in a restaurant one day, I decided that I would enlighten my wife, Jonna, about these ideas. The first thing she hit me with was the opportunity for credit card fraud (she has the innate ability to point out flaws in the utopian ideas I come up with).

She brought the same thing up a couple of weeks ago when I was complaining about having to wait on someone to come over to the Jewel self-service checkout aisle to press a button to allow us to buy a six pack of beer. I started railing on as to why friction had to be added to the transaction, since the bank that we have the credit/debit card knows how old I am and can verify my age electronically. Jonna brought up that it would be quite easy for kids to take their parents credit cards and just go buy alcohol if age verification was done from the credit card (see, I told you she was good — I didn’t think of that).

Ok, thats a problem. What if in these situations you could get the benefits of “frictionless shopping” if you transacted with your debit card only and kept the PIN away from your kids? Then I could have my “lack of friction” and we could ensure that the kids weren’t off buying Tequila on my identity.

These are just a few things that I think about every now and again when I have to wait around for things that I know technology can solve. I love the idea that we are getting to the point where we can automate the friction out of a lot of the transactions we perform in daily life. Now and again, I’m disappointed that we haven’t removed all of the friction that we could out of the process.

As a customer, I just really like being in control.

The Self Checkout Line at The Grocery Store

We went to Jewel tonight to pick up a few things before coming home from Christmas shopping. We had only a couple of things and wanted to go through the self checkout line. The lines were full and the Jewel person that was assigned to watch the lines was extremely busy helping a woman check out her full cart of groceries.

This is the second time that I’ve seen this. If you have a full cart, go into a regular line. The self checkout line is for people who want to get in and out of the store quickly. If you are going grocery shopping for a week, stay out of the self checkout line so that those of us in a hurry can get into the store and get out.

The Cluetrain Manifesto – Still Reading it, but WOW.

I’m still working my way through The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business As Usual (also available on and I’m finding it an extremely exciting text to read.

The book does a really great job of explaining what the web means to business culture as a whole. Unfortunately, as I look at it I see that while its first publication was in 2000, companies are obviously still stuck in their ruts as to how they think they should be run.

Last night while dinner was cooking I was reading the chapter by David Weinberger entitled The Hyperlinked Organization. In it, David outlines ten bullet points in which the “Company” does in order to accomplish certain things while the reality is that the company produces the exact opposite result. This section hit me really hard, because it strikes me as absolutely true. I’m hoping that my reproducing these isn’t a problem, because I think that the text deserves the additional exposure.

Here are the ten bullets outlined in The Hyperlinked Organization:

  • The company communicates with me through a newsletter and company meetings meant to lift up my morale. In fact, I know from my e-mail pen pals that it’s telling me happy-talk lies, and I find that quite depressing.
  • The company org chart shows me who does what so I know how to get things done. In fact, the org chart is an expression of a power structure. It is red tape. It is a map of whom to avoid.
  • The company manages my work to make sure that all tasks are coordinated and the company is operating efficiently. In fact, the inflexible goals imposed from on high keep me from following what my craft expertise tells me I really ought to be doing.
  • The company provides me with a career path so I’ll see a productive future in the business. In fact, I’ve figured out that because the org chart narrows at the top, most career paths necessarily have to be dead ends.
  • The company provides me with all the information I need to make good decisions. In fact, this information is selected to support a decision (or worldview) in which I have no investment. Statistics and industry surveys are lobbed like anti-aircraft fire to disguise the fact that while we have lots of data, we have no understanding.
  • The company is goal-oriented so that the path from here to there is broken into small, well-marked steps that can be tracked and managed. In fact, if I keep my head down and accomplish my goals, I won’t add the type of value I’m capable of. I need to browse. I even need to play. Without play, only Shit Happens. With play, Serendipity Happens.
  • The company gives me deadlines so that we ship product on time, maintaining our integrity. In fact, working to arbitrary deadlines makes me ship poor-quality content. My management doesn’t have to use a club to get me to do my job. Where’s the trust, baby?
  • The company looks at customers as adversaries who must be won over. In fact, the ones I’ve been exchanging e-mail with are very cool and enthusiastic about exactly the same thing that got me into this company. You know, I’d rather talk with them than with my manager.
  • The company works in an office building in order to bring together all of the things I need to get my job done and to avoid distracting me. In fact, more and more of what I need is outside the corporate walls. And when I really want to get something done, I go home.
  • The company rewards me for being a professional who acts and behaves in a, well, professional manner, following certain unwritten rules about the coefficient of permitted variation in dress, politics, shoe style, expression of religion, and the relating of humorous stories. In fact, I learn who to trust — whom I can work with creatively and productively — only by getting past the professional act.

This very accurately describes the corporate environment as I have experienced it, and its a sad, sad thing. As a matter of fact, I still remember the look of puzzlement I received at one company when I had asserted in a meeting that for development teams to be productive they have to have space to “play and make mistakes” without consequences. I received a look like I was from another planet. This was in response to a request to begin measuring defects on work in progress (pre-integration or QA) in order to measure developer productivity. Yes, that’s right, measuring defects on work that is still in major development. I never put this into action.

I’ve worked for some companies that I hated, due to their “factory” mentality of software development. One company that I despised working for I have a new respect for nowadays, because they actually had a newsgroup on UUNET (back in the 90’s) in which the development and technical support staff were allowed to contribute freely to. The lowly development staff were actually allowed to interact freely with customers. I always thought that that was a really cool thing for a customer – to have a problem with a piece of software that I had written and get answered by the guy who wrote it to either receive a way to work around it or be notified as soon as a patch made it to the tech support area of the web site. I haven’t worked for a company that understood the importance of this concept since then.

So what am I getting out of this book? I am getting confirmation, first and foremost, that I am not some nut with unrealistic ideas about the effects that the internet has on business and customers reactions to them. I am getting affirmation of the belief that if you just think about the experience you want on the internet as a customer, you can completely change the way your customers think about you.

And I’m learning that its the little things that create revenue opportunity, many of which you don’t make money with, but because they are base expectations. They are a barrier to entry for customers if you do not have them. One of these, I believe, is the conversations with real people rather than a corporate entity.

One thing this book obviously does is make you think — at least enough to brain dump some very disconnected but long dwelled upon concepts into your Labor Day Sunday blog entry.

Reaching “Norm” Status – The Ultimate in Customer Service

An interesting thing happened to me in the local Starbucks the other day. I reached “Norm” status.

“Norm” status is what I call the point when dealing with a vendor (like a Starbucks, a local restaurant, a local bar, or even a web site) when you walk into the establishment and your order is started before you are asked what you are there for. They know you well enough to give you what you need with no effort on your part.

I coined the name from the TV show Cheers, where Norm would walk into the bar, everyone would yell “Norm!”, and by the time he sat down he had his beer in front of him – and his stool was always open and ready for him.

“Norm” status is the ultimate in customer service. It’s the point in the vendor/customer relationship where the customer feels they are important enough to pay attention to and they don’t have to work to get exactly what they want.

In a conversation with Tom the Architect yesterday talking about good web sites, I realized that one of the reasons I like so much is that I have reached “Norm” status with them. As soon as I log in, they tell me what they recommend. If I need to find something, I can find it in a matter of minutes. I never spend more then ten minutes on Amazon without finding exactly what I need and the status of where my order is with them. I never walk away disappointed or with unmet expectations – and I rarely log out without having placed an order for exactly what I want, and knowing approximately when I’ll get it.

“Norm” status is the ultimate in customer service. It is personalization at its finest and it makes the customer feel important. The more the customer feels important and gets what he wants (or at least knows he can’t get it), the more he or she will return because you’ve treated them well.

After reading Jason Kottke’s My Business Influences I started thinking about the things that I think make businesses great. I came up with three things:

  • Values – Running business according to your values rather than making revenue the primary value. This is a lot of what Jason was talking about
  • “Norm” status – Making the customer feel wanted and important. Personalization of experience and the customer walking out of your business thinking you “know” them is very important to repeat business
  • Integrating into the customers life, rather than making them work to integrate you. Amazon does this really well. Not only do they become part of my buying life because they treat me well, but because of their service enabled system, I have the ability to reuse their store at the application level. I can integrate them into things like WordPress that I use in every day life. Because they integrate into my every day life so invisibly, I automatically default to using them because they are there – not because I have to think “Gee, maybe I’ll check Amazon”. This integration into my every day life and tools creates opportunity for them to receive referral business from me when I find a book or product I like and want to recommend it to others. This effects their overall revenue numbers.

I believe these three principles are a few of the keys to a businesses success. The core values must be centered around the customer. The customer has to feel important. Finally, you have to be present in their lives without them having to think about it, by integrating into the things they do every day.

These three things should be what goals are built around. Revenue should never be the primary goal of a business, because in my opinion it is a natural side effect, or by-product, of satisfying these three core principles.

Now … if you’ll excuse me, I can use a Venti-triple-shot-skim-no-whip-mocha now.