Leadership Matters.

Leaders set the tone for how the rest of the team behaves, and if this weekend’s performance by the team at Emeryville’s Best Buy store is any indication, the leadership at that store is in deep trouble.  It all started when I needed a back-up hard drive for my new MacBook Pro.

The transition to a MacBook from my old PC has been pretty painless.  I cleaned up my business files on the PC, copied them onto the Passport portable drive, and then copied them onto the Mac, no muss, no fuss.  It was when I went to backup the Mac onto the Passport that I learned the Passport would have to be reformatted to back-up the Mac files, and that was a no-go, since the Passport has heaps of music and photos on it from the last couple of years that I don’t want to lose.

Best Buy conveniently sent me a coupon last Friday for double “Reward Zone” points on in-store purchases over the weekend weekend, so I dutifully printed the coupon and went to get a new portable hard drive to use with the Mac.  And that’s where everything fell apart.  I first had to chase down an employee in the computer department to ask him where I would find portable drives, and when he learned that I had both a PC and a Mac, he persisted in trying to sell me an expensive drive that could handle files from both, with no need for reformatting.  I kept explaining I didn’t need that functionality, I only wanted an inexpensive drive for the Mac, and only the Mac, and that I’d seen a 1TB drive on the web for $100.  “Oh, that would be the Toshiba,” he said, his voice dripping with disapproval.  “What’s wrong with the Toshiba?”  “Their quality isn’t very good.”  “But you stand behind every product you sell, right?”  (No answer.)

I wasn’t dissuaded, and so he took the Toshiba and me over to the cash register, and I started fishing for my credit card.  When I looked up, the cash register was deserted, and I had been abandoned.  There was truly no employee within a 15 yard radius, not a cashier, nor the computer department guy.  What happened?  I finally tackled a Geek Squad employee walking by who was getting ready to ring up somebody else, and told him I was waiting to check out but everyone had disappeared.  “What are you buying?”  And that’s when I realized the Toshiba hard drive had disappeared as well.  Was I hallucinating?  He finally found it hiding on a shelf below the cash register, and started trying to ring me up.  But the Reward Zone double points coupon wasn’t scanning properly, and he couldn’t figure out what to do.  He waved the white flag of surrender when the original disappearing cash register person returned a few minutes later (I have no idea why she left in the first place), and I re-started the check-out process for what was now the third time.  Once again, the coupon didn’t scan correctly, and she eventually found out the store had experienced that problem all day, and the solution was for me to call the Reward Zone group and get them to give me the double points on my qualifying purchase.

Seriously?  Best Buy knows they have a problem with a weekend promotion that requires the customer to shop in-store, and the solution is not to a) fix the problem, or b) proactively notify the cashiers, but instead c) let each cashier fumble around and figure it out for themselves, and then d) tell the customers that it is our job to go home, dig up a Reward Zone phone number and undoubtedly wait in voice mail hell to straighten this out.   When I pointed out to the cashier that I thought this was bad customer service, her surly reaction was classic.  “Have a nice day.”

There are so many things wrong with this story, yet any one of them on their own would not have motivated me to write about it.  A positive check-out experience would have counteracted the initial lack of an employee to assist me in the aisle, followed by the employee who so transparently tried to upsell me.  Or, once someone showed up to check me out, if either the Geek Squad guy or the cashier could have efficiently checked me out and had me on my way, I probably would have overlooked the poor sales experience and delay in checking out.   Or if the final cashier had apologized for the inconvenience to me, I would have at least felt better.  But put it all together, and I am annoyed to the point of telling you about it as an example of poor customer service and leadership.

I don’t think this was random.  Leadership starts at the top.  If you’re in a service business, what kind of messages do you send your team about how to treat customers when you have the opportunity to interact with them?

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