business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The subject of customer service is an ongoing hot topic here on MNB, with people telling tales of the best of times and worst of times that they’ve encountered at various retailers. And, as you may have noticed, some of this discussion focused recently on Best Buy, with varying opinions expressed about that company.

Well, I thought that it made sense to share with you a story told to me by MNB user Kevin Brouillard, whose wife, Liz, had a very specific Best Buy experience. It is best to share the story in her own words...and so first, here is the email that Liz sent to Robert Kelly, the store manager at her local Best Buy:

Dear Mr. Kelly,

My name is Liz Brouillard, and I am a customer. On Monday, January 15th, I was
shopping at your Waterford store with my 10-year old daughter and her friend.
For months, my daughter has been saving to buy an I-pod touch, and she finally
had enough money. Erik, I believe, was helping explain the different features
when my daughter realized the "bunny" wallet containing her money was gone (She
had left it on a display. When she went back to get it, it had been moved and
the money removed). Immediately, Erik and your team of professionals mobilized
an effort to identify the thief/thieves. Within a few minutes, they had reviewed
a video tape that clearly showed a couple taking the money from the wallet.

Unfortunately, the couple had already left the store. We knew it was entirely
our fault that the money had been stolen; and, my ten year old daughter and her
friend were a bit shaken because they realized they had been unaware that
someone had been watching them.

Both Fred and Erik went above and beyond any customer service I have ever
received (or given) by offering us cash to replace part of what was stolen. We
refused the cash, as we knew it was entirely our fault. Insisting, Fred and Erik
explained they felt terrible that a theft happened in their store, and added "we
want to be your local neighborhood store---a store you can count on."
Ironically, my husband owns a local store, and I understood exactly the depth
and sincerity of his statement. I reluctantly accepted the money, and added we
would continue saving until my daughter could afford a new I pod. Without
hesitation, Fred asked what color I-pod and Erik retrieved one for Riley. We
paid a fraction of the price (the amount of money that was in the wallet was
credited to the sale). Seriously!!! Who does that? That is above and beyond any
customer service I have ever known.

Erik and Fred turned what could have been a very scary experience for my 10 year
old into a very positive experience. She saw compassion at work. When we left,
we vowed to do something kind in the name of Best Buy. Within minutes, we came
upon a woman with a flat tire, and my daughter and I offered to help
(Unfortunately, we offered only support until real help arrived). However, as we
look for more people to help, we continue to share this story with the people we
know. Erik and Fred (I hate that I don't know their last names) made a very big
difference that I guarantee will grow through the rippling effect, as I am a
local teacher and teach about 100 students a year and my husband is a local
grocer who is also connected to many. We will share our story and are forever
loyal to Best Buy...our neighborhood store.

And Robert Kelly responded with the following email:

Thank you taking the time to write me. Fred and Eric will be recognized for the
great job they did here helping out what sounds like could have been a huge
disappointment for your daughter. I am a great believer of Karma and Paying it
Forward. I am so glad that things worked out for you and hope the next time you
are in you will ask for me. I would like to meet you and Riley.

There is a powerful lesson here.

Great customer service has nothing to do with whether a store is big or small, or whether a company is a chain or just an independent. It has to do with attitude. It has to do with people at the top understanding that it is the people on the front lines who make the difference in terms of customer service and creating an environment where people like to shop.

The most important phrase in Liz Brouillard’s email, it seems to me, is when she refers to Best Buy as “our neighborhood store.” That is enormous - and it has to do with people like Fred and Eric and Robert Kelly, who, I suspect, empowered them to represent their company in this way.

Best Buy has plenty of issues to deal with, and it seems fairly certain that not every all of its store personnel would have dealt with a similar situation the same way.

But this is a great story, an Eye-Opener, and it suggests to me that if Best Buy can spread this kind of culture throughout the company, it probably is going to be okay. Or, at the very least, have much better odds on its survival.
KC's View: