StorefrontBacktalk: Best Buy Yanks E-mail Support From Its Site. Shoppers May Be Better Off

Discussion
Dec 17, 2012

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from StorefrontBacktalk, a site tracking retail technology, e-commerce and mobile commerce.

Best Buy in early December removed e-mail support from its website, a move the company said was designed to improve response and to give customers the kind of interactions they seek. The problem with this change is twofold. First, there is a powerful efficiency that e-mail exchanges offer, with the customer able to spell out the exact problem/question and then send it without waiting on hold or waiting for a chat session to start. The chain can then respond hours later and the customer can do something else while waiting.

The second problem is that Best Buy Chat is often not available and shoppers are met with a pop-up saying, "Sorry, no Best Buy chat representatives are currently available. Our chat representatives are currently helping other customers. Please call us at 1-877-xxx-xxxx instead." If the chat is that busy, how long will the hold time likely be? Kind of makes an e-mail option look attractive, no?

Another general problem with chat is that many chains have chat support people simultaneously manage several conversations, which causes this odd "Are you still there? Hello?" sensation when the rep suddenly stops participating for several minutes.

Shoppers simply want as many communication options as possible, provided they work reasonably well. The Consumerist did a piece last Wednesday about cryptic e-mail responses from Best Buy. If e-mail responses are slow, rarely happen or are non-responsive to questions, is it better to fix that situation or halt the access?

To Best Buy’s credit, if it believed that it couldn’t adequately support e-mail, it was wise to kill it. If e-mails are being ignored, best to halt that form of communication. Research from Happy Customer, for example, found that Best Buy only responded to 15 percent of its Black Friday e-mails this year.

During the holiday insanity, it can be hard to be responsive to all inquiries, but it seems odd to shut down e-mail, as that is the most forgiving communication method. If you’re two minutes late responding to a text, it seems to the shopper like it’s forever, as does a five-minute delay answering a call center inquiry. But your team can be three hours late replying to an e-mail and it will be satisfactory to most shoppers — assuming the response is indeed helpful.

And maybe that last part is the real issue after all.

Are chat and other emerging technologies for customer service response making e-mail obsolete? What value does e-mail play in customer service response? Should Best Buy have kept an e-mail option available?

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16 Comments on "StorefrontBacktalk: Best Buy Yanks E-mail Support From Its Site. Shoppers May Be Better Off"

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Max Goldberg
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

Chat, phone and email can all play a significant role in customer service, provided that each is properly handled by the retailer. Consumers have different expectations from each.

Overall, Best Buy’s customer satisfaction has been sagging, as the chain moves to save money and earn higher profits, which competing with online and offline prices. Any significant drop in customer service could negatively impact sales.

If Best Buy can speed up phone and chat response times, dropping email may not seem like a bad idea. If dropping email means longer waits for consumers, the move could be deadly.

Charles P. Walsh
Guest
Charles P. Walsh
4 years 11 months ago

There is a dynamic that wasn’t addressed regarding the types of communications that customers have questions about. Customer inquiries include those on:

1. products under consideration for purchase
2. products already purchased
3. all other questions

In today’s highly competitive environment, time is likely the critical factor in meeting customer expectations on the first category, namely providing customers with specific and instant feedback on items where purchase decisions are imminent.

In that case an email, which may or may not be answered, does little to support customer purchasing decisions. The second and third items could more readily be covered through an email exchange between the retailer and the customer.

Ken Lonyai
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

This has nothing to do with e-mail, chat, or whatever. Technology is NOT the problem, management is. As described here, Best Buy’s support fits right in-line with their management’s view of customer needs: that is, they are completely out of touch.

Responsiveness, consideration, and caring for a customer’s needs/issues is the cornerstone of great support. The technology to address those needs is inconsequential.

Whether Richard Schulze makes a bid to buy the company or not, the entire upper management needs a clean sweep if there is ever a hope of aligning with customers and saving the business.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

E-mail is not obsolete and is not going to be obsolete any time soon. As with every other technology the consumer group is fragmented and wants access to retailers whenever with whatever channel is convenient for THEM at THAT time. E-mail will continue to be one of these channels.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

Best Buy is creating a customer service problem. This is not using technology to solve or make processes easier. This is a corporation losing sight of what they are in business for and who they serve.

Tom Redd
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

There is no issue of email obsolescence here. More chat capabilities will be seen going forward in retail because it is WHAT the shopper wants.

I am confident that Best Buy and other retailers make the decision to remove and not YANK things like email from their online sites because of what their customers want them TO DO. In Best Buy’s case, I am confident that their customer service team made this decision based on fact—customer feedback and comparison metrics—calls vs emails and content analysis.

Many people that shop online like to talk to someone about what they are shopping for, and being able to call in is great! This proactive attitude at Best Buy is one more thing that they are doing to become more of the New Best Buy.

Joan Treistman
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

Best Buy should hold onto its email with the caveat to customers. “For urgent issues, contact Best Buy Chat.” In that way they can move consumers in the direction they want without making them feel they are losing something. In fact, they may perceive the gift of instant gratification.

Paul R. Schottmiller
Guest
Paul R. Schottmiller
4 years 11 months ago

If it is not working, then stopping it is better than ignoring it.

E-mail as a way to raise a non time-critical issue makes a lot of sense but for the resolving part more real time interactive mediums are better (chat, phone, text).

The challenge is deciding what level of service you wish to (and can afford to) provide. The communication channel(s) need to reflect that strategy. I suspect a misalignment between these is what is behind the issue of all the unanswered e-mails sent to retailers.

Lee Kent
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

No way is email obsolete! It is a great way to pose a question that is not critical and can wait even a few days. As long as the customer knows they will hear back and approximately when. Just spell it all out for them and help them make the decision about which method is best for their circumstance.

Matthew Keylock
Guest
Matthew Keylock
4 years 11 months ago

I’m sure email is a valuable option for many customers including many Loyal Best Buy customers and I believe it will continue to be for some time.

However, whether Best Buy can continue to support it is a different question and they probably have some tough choices to make.

I would hope they used their data to (1) determine the relatve importance of email to loyal customers and sales to determine it could be removed and (2) deliver appropriate communications to customers so that the transition was easy and effective for all … by email maybe?

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

At my bank, one of the reps—I guess you could call him a teller, but he sat at a desk—waggishly combined the two staple signs to read “to serve you better, we will be closed on….”

Much could be said of this move. Yes, probably better to “not do at all” than to do poorly, but if your options are between bad and worse, you’re in trouble…this all sounds like chapter and verse from Circuit City.

Jason Goldberg
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

I agree that if Best Buy couldn’t offer a good experience, they should not be setting the expectation that e-mail can be used. However, I think the fact that Best Buy can’t offer a good experience via e-mail is indicative of a bigger problem.

Customer Service isn’t about the communication channel and it’s a mistake to think in terms of channel specific solutions. Customers want one group at Best Buy trained and empowered to respond to their problems, and they want to be able to reach that group via any means they choose (phone, e-mail, SMS, store visit, social networks, on-site chat, etc…).

When Best Buy (or any retailer) starts thinking about different solution sets for real-time chat vs. phone vs. TwelpForce, you can bet you are dealing with bureaucratic silos vs. customer-centricity.

David Slavick
Guest
David Slavick
4 years 11 months ago

If you can’t support e-mail through the internal or external vendor partner, of course you take it down. The issue is what was wrong with the solution put in place; this is not rocket science. I will also point out that as a RewardZone member for over 10 years, you never get a live operator to support your needs. It is an automated solution—very old school. Likewise, if you had a question about your RewardZone loyalty program and went into the store to get support, the Service Desk associate has to call a special number to get answers for you—again, not customer friendly.

Given the advancements in phone telephony as well as many solid partners you could hire to support customer service to then drive satisfaction, preference and referral plus the struggles the chain has faced the last two years especially—these type of gaps and changes are very surprising. Over-service your most valuable customers—can only lift your store metrics and have a positive ROI.

Brian Numainville
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

If no one was using email for customer service it might be smart to remove it as an option or at least downplay it. Perhaps Best Buy’s customers have spoken. However, there are some very logical points made in the article about when it might come in handy to still have email as an option and help increase customer satisfaction. Personally, I believe that having many options to provide customer service is a good thing.

Vahe Katros
Guest
4 years 11 months ago
To be sure, this issue relates to the web experience—perhaps it’s the start of the web to store experience but I am imagining this to relate to the following scenario: The context is Black Friday/Cyber Monday and the start of the XMAS rush. Persona A through D are users who start their retail experiences on the web or use the web to complete some aspect of their shopping mission. They are heavy Amazon users, they use chat, they expect chat. They are also ready to click away and BB has a small window to address their needs. Common quote from these folks: “I would almost never think to Use email while I am shopping a web site, especially on Black Friday etc Let’s not deal right now with Persona E—the emailer, and Persona F—the call center user, or Persona G, the store only shopper—same context, same scenario. Given this analysis, what’s happening now at BB? Right now there is someone in the BB organization saying “I told you so regarding chat, if we don’t act… Read more »
Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
4 years 11 months ago

All communications media that the consumer wants to use are valid. The term “e-mail” needs to be expanded to include SMS messages, Tweets, FB messages, etc. All of these allow for a reasonable time for response vs. instant expectations of chat or phone. These methods should be maintained and strengthened. Not killed.

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