As the Christmas season winds down, Best Buy’s abject failure to fill thousands of orders for its most important two months of the year caught the attention of Forbes contributor Larry Downes.

He writes about his abysmal experiences dealing with the big-box retailer.  As he shops, an employee approaches him in an attempt to upsell an Internet service, but does so in an irritating, obstructive tone. “As a sometime business school professor, I could just imagine the conversation with the TV department manager the day before.  “Corporate says we have to work on what’s called up-selling and cross-selling,” the clerk was informed in lieu of actual training on either the products or effective sales.  “Whenever you aren’t with a customer, you need to be roaming the floor pushing our deal with CinemaNow. At the end of the day, I want to know how many people you’ve approached.”

But this is hardly customer service.  It’s actually getting in the way of a customer who’s trying to self-service because there’s no one around who can answer a basic question about the store’s confusing layout.  It’s anti-service.”

From my perspective, and the perspective of those who commented on this article, the training practices at Best Buy, well, stink.  I remember the years leading up to Circuit City’s ultimate downfall: friends of mine employed by the electronics giant would tell us about the slashing of hours, emphasis on upselling and not on keeping the stores clean, the removal of good and knowledgeable employees to be replaced with high school kids.

Training and retaining talent obviously isn’t Best Buy’s #1 issue.  But how many times have you gone into a Best Buy only to be given lackluster customer service because of uninformed employees?  I can tell you my own story.

I purchased a TV for my husband’s birthday during Black Friday weekend.  Unfortunately, the day after we set it up, the thing died (blown capacitor, if I recall).  I’d had to borrow a truck to pick up the TV, so I called the store’s Geek Squad line to get information about how I should return or at least bring the TV in to be repaired.  “No problem,” the guy on the phone helpfully told me.  “Just bring in your receipt to the store and we’ll arrange pickup.” Great!  I wouldn’t have to bother my aunt to use her truck again — they’ll pick it up!

Receipt in hand, I go into the Best Buy and wait in the customer service line.  A woman at the counter listens to me explain what I’d heard on the phone, then turns to another associate to figure out how to enter this into the computer.  The associate turns to me and tells me I have to call their 1-800 number to arrange pickup.  I explained that I’d called Geek Squad before, and that I wouldn’t have driven to the store on my lunch break if I’d known I could just call.  He shrugs and tells me the number again.

Lo and behold, after 20 minutes on hold in the Best Buy parking lot, the phone representative tells me what I’d first heard: bring the receipt to the store and have them arrange it; they don’t set up pickups over the phone.  I tell her that they don’t believe me, so she insists I ask a manager.  I hang up with her and end up getting in touch with a manager.

This starts an entirely new debacle because I picked up my TV and they didn’t deliver it, he couldn’t arrange for it to be picked up.  If I’d have known there was a delivery option to start with, I’d have done that! (I asked the girl who sold me the TV initially if Best Buy does delivery; she conferred with another associate who told me they don’t).

In this case, a total of four frontline customer service representatives gave me conflicting and false information.  Perhaps these employees were purely seasonal for the holidays, but shouldn’t they still be able to execute basic policies and procedures?

This ended up longer than I anticipated.  But it just shows that effective, meaningful training is essential for any company, even one as large as Best Buy.

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