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.

Starbucks Green Apron Book

Photo by rbieber

Did you know that you could just walk into your local Starbucks and request a "Green Apron Book", that outlines the principles of Starbucks? I heard about this little booklet from a recent book I had read about the company and went in to my local Starbucks and asked for a copy. I was a tad surprised when the employees were extremely happy to give one to me. There’s something to be said about a company that is not afraid to share their core principles with their customers. There’s much more to say when they do it so enthusiastically.

I was totally impressed with being able to walk into my local Starbucks and get a copy of their “Green Apron book” after reading The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary.

I did find another review of the book and it was really cool to me that the reviewer offered the same observation that I did around the structure of the Starbucks principles:

After reading it that afternoon, what impressed me the most was the absence of rules. In their place were suggestions, goals, and the empowerment to make every customer’s experience a memorable one. It was at that moment that I realized the significance of Starbucks’ philosophy—not only for business, but for life in general.

This really parallels my thoughts on what I had read:

One thing that comes out fairly strong in most of the books I read about Starbucks (and Toyota as of late) is the acknowledgment of senior managements importance in setting the culture, ideals, and principles of the overall business while giving the “people doing the work” the ability to act within the framework of the principles.

Another cool thing I noticed. When you dig down into the detail of the Be Welcoming principle, you find the following:

Get to know your customer by drink or name.

This completely impressed me – because I experienced it. As a matter of fact, it impressed me so much that I wrote about the experience in the post “ Reaching “Norm” Status – The Ultimate in Customer Service” back in March of 2005.

“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.

MacIntosh: The Chimes of Death

The Chimes of Death. I had never heard this term until last night.

Don’t worry, the new Mac Book Pro is running fine. I wish I could say the same for my wife’s iBook.

Jonna asked me for some help last night installing the Cisco VPN client on her work machine, a G4 iBook. As she turned the machine on, the fan started running and we heard three tones – and then nothing.

We tried everything. Remove the battery, remove the plug, insert the AC without the battery, insert the AC with the battery, hard reboot, reset the PMU (with some Vulcan key stroke that would make the most hardcore Emacs user cringe) – you name it, we found it on Google and tried it.

This is where, for me, the Mac fell down in usability. There is NO message on the screen whatsoever in this scenario. No clue as to whats wrong – just the three tones and the light on the front blinking. I wonder if this is something they got from the old Altairs?

In any event, it looks like the machine is dead. I’m sure that she will have to have her IT department send or take it somewhere to get the problem resolved. Most of what I read mentioned either bad RAM or a bad logic board. The RAM is doubtful, as the machine has been running fine for months and no memory upgrades have been done.

Apple definitely needs to work on the customer experience when these types of problems occur. These machines are brilliant until you have a problem. Then it seems that there is nothing you can do, including diagnosing the problem. You get literally NO information, just three chimes and a dark screen.

I can tell you, when something like this happens and you Google around for some answers, you find some pretty pissed off Mac users out there.

DreamHost Sets The Bar For Corporate Blogging

I’ve seen this blog entry from DreamHost (my web hosting provider) referenced a few times on the network. I finally got a chance this morning to sit down and read it. I have to say, I’m impressed with both the honesty and the transparency that DreamHost provides to their customers.

I’ve been a DreamHost customer since 2001. I’ve had only a few issues during this time, all of which were resolved in timely manner by their friendly staff. The last three weeks for them sounds like they were pretty challenging, but to see a blog entry detailing every event is an extremely refreshing thing.

Wouldn’t it be great if every company were this honest with their customers? I know I get pretty frustrated when I know that the site is unavailable (you know, because of all the indispensable value it provides to you, the reader ;)), but actually hearing an honest account of what happened rather than vague excuses or blame just increases my loyalty as a customer.

Good job DreamHost! Keep up the great work. This is just one of many reasons I’ve been here so long.

Its the little things you notice …

Now that I have a few days on the Mac using it full time, I figured I’d post up some first impressions from a new user. More than that, observations from a new user who resisted the Mac when all his friends told him to go that way in the first place.

  1. When the light in the room gets too low, the keyboard lights up. At first glance this seems completely insignificant, but again, one of those little things that shows the care that goes into the design. It was definitely a pleasant surprise. In a normal company, something this “frilly” would have been cut to remove costs – but as a customer I was absolutely delighted by it.
  2. I like not having a key on the keyboard for every little thing. The modifier key thing is totally working for me for page up / down, etc. Its extremely intuitive once you figure it out (and it doesn’t take long to figure it out).
  3. Using two fingers to scroll with the mouse. Tom the Architect told me about this one. Much more intuitive than a touchpad with the right side dedicated to scrolling.
  4. For years I’ve been irritated with people turning auto hide on the Windows taskbar. For some reason, auto hide makes sense to me with the dock bar. Not sure why, but the whole metaphor of the docking bar works for me on levels that I couldn’t get with Windows
  5. I love the idea of one menu at the top of the screen, rather than a menu in every application. This also works for me on a number of levels.
  6. The overall look of things on the screen is beautiful compared to my Gateway box. Same applications, completely different feeling when looking at them.
  7. Installing software is really a brain dead process. Its the way software should work. On the other hand, I’m going to have to get used to not needing so much detail to get something working. I think I’m finally at the point where I’m ok with this. Must be a sign of getting old.
  8. There is absolutely no need for a “View Full Screen” option on any of these applications. I have enough of the application visible whenever I need it. I can even collapse the top of the window to get more room. Its a little thing, but another one of those “Wow” moments.

Overall, I’m completely impressed. While my initial resistance to going Mac had a lot to do with the price, there are so many little things that I’m finding that are valuable enough to make me feel better about the purchase price. You get what you pay for and I’m quite happy with the new purchase.

The Labs Adds A Mac

MacBook Pro

Your looking at the first post to this web site completely written on a Mac.

Yep, thats right. A Mac.

Since the release of OS X I’ve wanted to make the leap to the Mac. The idea of a Unix based system with the useability of a Mac intrigued me to no end. I also have a couple of friends that have used Macs from what seems like day one, and have always told me that I was missing out on something cool. I just haven’t been able to justify getting one in my own head.

I think the clincher for me that a Mac was in my future was when Jonna started bringing one home for her testing work and I was watching her use it. It just looked so cool! Its been on my mind for a couple of weeks now, so yesterday we decided to take a road trip out to the Apple store and “just look” at the Intel based MacBooks to see whether it might be something I want to commit to as my next machine.

Well, I wound up walking out with one with the voice of an Apple customer from the store ringing through my head, echoing softly, “Once you make the move, you will never go back …”.

I got the machine home and booted it up. Within literally 15 minutes or so, I was hooked to our wireless network here at the Labs. Another 25 minutes or so and all of the software updates were downloaded. A few trips to grab the software I use most, like FireFox, the Flickr uploader, etc. and I already felt like I was home.

Of course, being a developer at heart, there are a few things I just had to do as soon as I got the base software like my favorite browser installed. I had to dive to the Terminal window and see what was out there.

  • Perl? – Check.
  • Python? – Check.
  • Ruby? – Check.
  • Java? – Check
  • Subversion? – Nope, but a few clicks and it was installed.
  • Screen Capture Tool? Kind of – only supports TIFFS. I need JPG for Flickr. A quick Google search got me to Snap N Drag, a free screen capture utility that supports JPG files.
  • iTunes – Check.
  • Office Suite? Nope – not there. Have to install OpenOffice, which requires X11. I’ll do that tomorrow.

Here’s the great thing about the whole experience. Every scripting language I use for every day work is on the machine from the moment I opened the box, even my old familiar friend, the bash shell. The important software I use day to day is at least available for me to install.

My email, calendar and news reader? I use Google, for all of that, so there was no setup or importing of data required. I just log in and feel at home.

The loose ends I have to tie off at this point is moving all of my iTunes stuff to the new machine. I’ve found a few articles on this around the NET, but the volume of data I have to transfer is becoming prohibitive. For some reason, rsync just stops part way through the sync — but I’ll get this worked out.

I’m extremely impressed with the machine so far. It has all of the utility of Unix and all the beauty of a Mac. I’m really not sure what else anyone could ask for.

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.