To hear Best Buy's (BBY) team of new and interim leaders address their shareholders this month at the company's annual meeting, you would have thought that Best Buy's executives are all loyal readers of my blog. One by one the new Best Buy leaders who have taken power in the wake of the Big Brian Dunn Affair talked about the employee and customer-related renaissance that they want to create, using words and strategies that could have been lifted from the pages of this website. So it is no surprise that I think Best Buy's renaissance plan, however vague and general it may be, is brilliant.
When interim CEO Mike Mikan talked about making Best Buy "more relevant" and getting in-store employees to "connect with the customer in a deeper way," he must have been recalling my "Death of the Big Box Mentality" blog, which included the story of my experience at another consumer electronics store where employees took my transaction personally, got involved, and gave me a solution instead of selling me a product.
When president Mike Vitelli talked about the "induction" approach to employee orientation and training, he must have paid particular attention to the last six paragraphs of my "Service Tips" blog on September 25, 2010.
When Stephen Gillett, new executive VP and president of digital and global business services stated that "in-stock, right now, near me with the right-trained personnel" should be able to beat Amazon (AMZN), he must have been paraphrasing the assertion from my "Best Buy Bought Its Troubles" blog from March, 2012 which was, "With a customer experience that is at least equal to the online experience, brick-and-mortar stores have the advantage because they have instant gratification on their side."
While it's a nice fantasy that the musings of the About.com Retail Industry blogger are entered into the minutes of the Best Buy board minutes each week, it's more likely that the current Best Buy leaders are aligned with a customer-centric culture because of their own career paths. Stephen Gillett, the new Executive VP and President of Digital and Global Business Services might have picked up one or two good ideas about customer satisfaction while working in the Starbucks (SBUX) organization. Mike Mikan's background is with United Healthcare (UNH), which has been ranked best for satisfaction by its employer customers, according to J.D. Power & Associates, and second highest for health insurance customer service by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). Mike Vitelli comes from SONY (SNE), which has a mixed reputation for customer service, but a pretty good one overall prior to the Playstation hacking incident of 2011.
Understandably the details provided to shareholders about the Best Buy renaissance were sketchy and gave undue weight to employee training and re-training. Of course store level employee behavior is not Best Buy's only challenge, and employee training will not create a complete solution. It's hard to believe that Best Buy employees at the store level are not still demoralized and demotivated after Best Buy cut their pay, denied the value of their experience, and fired their front line assistant manager mentors in 2009. It's going to take more than a training class to undo the collateral damage of these disastrous leadership decisions made just three years ago.
In addition to that, the "deeper customer connection" that Mikan said Best Buy wants can only result from an unwavering commitment to that end result from all employees in all functions. To back that commitment up, Best Buy will need to provide internal systems that are designed to support the employees responsible for creating the customer experience.
As with any company, creating that kind of true customer-centric commitment will start with an inspiring and achievable mission statement. Perhaps Best Buy has one of these already that the general public doesn't know about. (If they do, it's a failing mission at the moment.) More than likely they need to fashion one, and then make it real to their employees with a set of service standards that will provide a consistent framework for decision-making in all positions at all levels.
Ultimately, every Best Buy employee will need to have an answer to the #1 Best Buy customer question... "Why should I buy it here when I can get it cheaper online?" When the answer to that frequently-thought-but-unasked customer question is substantial, compelling, and top-of-mind with not only in-store employees, but all employees throughout the Best Buy system, then there's a much better chance that customers on the retail sales floor will agree to be converted from shoppers into buyers.
If there is no real answer to that why-buy-it-here question, then there really is no need for Best Buy brick-and-mortar stores to exist beyond the try-before-you-buy free service that it is grudgingly providing to Internet shoppers right now. But if Best Buy no longer wants to play the role of physical showroom for online retailers - and it's pretty clear from Mikan's recent statements that they adamantly do not - it's up to Best Buy to create itself into something more.
With the fall of the Brian Dunn regime, the Best Buy leadership team has a catalyst (or an excuse) to enact some significant changes. They seem to be motivated to retool things in dramatic ways so that their retail offering can live up to the "best" promise in its name. If they can accomplish that, the "buy" part of the name should happen easily.
So, Mike, Mike, and Stephen, if you're reading this post too, let me know how this new piece of unsolicited consulting advice works for you. And when you do, also make sure to let me know where to send an invoice.