When Loyal Customers Feel Wronged

When I published my “Best Buy’s Reputation Management Nightmare” post, Darren Slatten (a.k.a. SEO Mofo) left a brief comment about his horrific customer service experience with Best Buy. At that time he offered to share the letter he wrote to Best Buy regarding his experience so I could post it for my readers.

Are you kidding? OF COURSE I’d like to post it! So here it is. In all it’s level-headed glory…which, for those of you who know Darren, is a bit shocking, to say the least! I admire his restraint and believe anyone suffering from this kind of poor customer service should follow his lead and write a similarly candid, level-headed and strongly worded letter to the company that has wronged you. Should they receive enough of these letters, they will – at the very least – be forced to admit that they were aware of the issues and simply chose to do nothing about them. Without further ado, I give you the most rational and expletive-free rant ever created by the infamous SEO Mofo:

July 3, 2008

Dear Best Buy,

I am very sorry to inform you that I can no longer be your customer. I have been shopping at Best Buy stores for about the past 10 years, and I have always enjoyed your product selection and your friendly, helpful employees. However, that entire history became meaningless tonight, after I endured the worst customer service experience I have ever had. That experience took place in your Simi Valley store, no more than 2 hours ago.

I’m going to tell you the details of this incident, but I’m not going to portray myself to be the victim. I’m simply going to relay the facts as accurately as I can. I have worked for large companies before, and I can only expect that you will verify my statements with the employee(s) involved. Therefore, I’m not going to lie or omit my contributions to this incident, because that would make it easy to discredit me. The truth is, I didn’t handle this situation as well as I could have, and I accept responsibility for my own actions, but nothing excuses the way your employees treated me tonight.

This story actually begins last week, when I offered to buy my girlfriend a new TV for her birthday. We researched the latest 120hz LCD HDTVs from Sony and Samsung, by reading and watching the online reviews on CNET. We decided on the Samsung 6 series, and began comparing prices from the major retailers. I knew that Best Buy offered a price-matching service, because I had used it about 6 – 12 months ago, when I was TV shopping with my mother. Just to be sure price-matching was still offered, I checked bestbuy.com and read the details of that policy. The store price-matching policy included this text:

Does Best Buy match prices of Internet retailers?
If you made your purchase in a Best Buy store, and you find an Internet retailer with a local retail store honoring its own online prices, we’ll match their price, plus 10% of the difference. Internet-only retailers are exempt from our price matching program, as well as Web-exclusive offers. Eligible items must be the same brand and model, and currently in stock at the competitor’s store.

With this information in mind, I searched for internet retailers that also have retail stores. I found a couple of companies, one of which was 6ave.com. They offered the same prices in their stores that they do online, so I assumed they qualified for price-matching. (However, as I would find out later, they do not qualify because they are an east-coast retail chain, and I am in California.) I printed out the page from their site that advertised the Samsung LN40A650 for $1,459.06, and I also printed out their policy page that included these details:

Why is it important to buy from an authorized dealer?
Sixth Avenue Electronics is an authorized dealer for everything we sell. This is extremely important for you as a consumer, because buying from an authorized dealer is the only way to ensure your manufacturer’s warranty will always be honored. You also get the peace of mind that comes from knowing that all of our products come directly from the manufacturers. As an authorized dealer, our salespeople receive extensive training on all of the products we sell.

Are all of the products offered on your site brand new, and do they all come with full USA warranties?
Yes, every item on our website is brand new unless it is clearly specified otherwise. All of our products carry full manufacturers’ warranties because we are authorized dealers for everything we sell.

Do your retail stores honor online specials?
Yes, our retail stores honor online specials during the specified promotional period unless otherwise noted. Please print the page and bring it to the store with you.

Does 6ave.com honor in-store specials?
Yes, 6ave.com honors all in-store specials during the specified promotional period unless otherwise noted. Shipping fees apply.

I also printed out a page from Frys.com, which had the TV listed for $1,499.99, just in case Best Buy wouldn’t honor the 6ave.com price. I knew that Fry’s Electronics has retail stores in addition to their online sales.

Equipped with my printouts, I drove to Best Buy with my girlfriend, and we looked at the TVs in person. We were offered assistance by the store’s Customer Experience Manager, Tim Ngo, but I declined, since we were still looking. About 10 minutes later, we were approached by a different employee, and this time we welcomed the assistance. We asked about the 40″ and the 46″ models’ availability, and the employee went to check if they had them in stock. It was probably about 10 to 15 minutes before he returned, which seemed like it took longer than it should have, but I didn’t really notice or mind, since I was preoccupied with selecting a wall mount for the TV. He informed me and my girlfriend that the 46″ model was not in stock, but the 40″ was in stock. We decided to buy the 40″ model, so I handed the employee my printouts and asked him to honor the competitor’s price of $1,459.06, instead of the Best Buy price of $1,609.99. This was a difference of $150.93. This is where the story could have had a happy ending, but unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Please understand that I don’t like talking about prices. I don’t like haggling or negotiating, and I don’t like talking to sales people in general. I certainly enjoy getting a good deal, but I don’t like being pressured or put on the spot. This is why I went through so much trouble to research Best Buy’s price-matching policy. I didn’t want to find myself in an awkward situation where some employee starts questioning the validity of my requested price.

Tonight, I was quite confident that this wouldn’t be an issue, especially after my previous experience. When I went with my mother to purchase her 60″ Sony HDTV from that same Best Buy store, less than a year ago, she did the same thing: she researched online prices, printed out pages, and used them to verify a competitor’s lower price. At that time, the sales associate who helped her honored the competitor’s price, NO QUESTIONS ASKED. Without any hesitation, the sales associate rang up the TV for the lower price, and the purchase was completed in a matter of minutes. That is what I expected tonight, and if that had happened, I would still be a loyal Best Buy customer and I would probably be at my girlfriend’s house right now, watching her new “birthday present” with her.

Unfortunately, after I handed the sales associate the papers, he responded by telling me the 6ave.com price didn’t qualify, because the retail stores were only located in NY and NJ, and therefore they weren’t local. This annoyed me, since I was thinking of “local” as “local to any Best Buy store.” Since there are Best Buy stores located within a few miles of the 6ave stores, I assumed that this qualified. Yet according to the sales associate–and I assume he is correct–Best Buy will only price-match the 6ave price in the Best Buy locations that are near those 6ave retail stores. So in other words… if I lived in New Jersey, then I could get the lower price, but since I live in California, I don’t get the lower price. This policy seemed a bit illogical to me, but like I said, I didn’t want to argue about it or be put on the spot. I handed him the Fry’s page instead.

The sales associate then asked us to wait while he calls Fry’s and verifies that they have the TV in stock and at that price. At this point, I started getting annoyed. I understand that Best Buy has to take certain precautions to prevent people from abusing the price-matching service, but I didn’t appreciate the fact that my mother had no trouble whatsoever (and her price adjustment was more like $500), but I was apparently profiled as the type of customer that requires a “background check.” This may very well be a total coincidence, but to be honest, I kind of felt like an Islamic-American who is “selected at random” for an extensive security screening at the airport. Even if this was the standard procedure and my previous sales associate was neglecting his job duties, I had no way of knowing that. It felt like I was being singled out.

The sales associate left to go call Fry’s, and my girlfriend and I walked around and looked at TV accessories. I was mildly annoyed, but that amount steadily grew over the next TWENTY MINUTES, as the sales associate paced back and forth with a phone to his ear, trying to get answers from someone at Fry’s. I don’t know what the holdup was, but I can tell you that I was NOT happy by the time the sales associate returned.

Making matters worse, he brought with him the news that Fry’s doesn’t offer the online price in their retail stores, so their price is $1,899.99, which isn’t lower than the Best Buy price. So basically, I had waited 20 minutes for the sales associate to tell me I don’t get any lower price. Needless to say, I was very frustrated at this point, and I just wanted to leave. The sales associate could probably sense my frustration, because he started offering me alternate ways to save money, such as discounts on Blu-Ray players, a PS3, etc. This was exactly the kind of awkward haggling that makes me uncomfortable, so I declined his offers and walked away.

I walked over to the returns desk and asked to speak to the store manager. The employee at the returns desk asked what it was regarding, and I answered “it’s regarding a dissatisfied customer.” The store manager was called over, and it turned out to be the first employee that had offered me assistance–Customer Experience Manager, Tim Ngo. At this point, I was frustrated that the Best Buy price-matching policy was essentially impossible to qualify for, I was annoyed that I had already been in the store for over 45 minutes, and I was embarrassed that purchasing my girlfriend’s birthday present had turned into such a huge ordeal. It wasn’t even about the money anymore. I mean, we were talking about $110 here. I would have paid twice that, just to avoid this hassle entirely. Nevertheless, I had escalated the situation up the chain of command, and now I was looking to the Customer Experience Manager to smooth things out.

I explained the situation to Tim and handed him my printouts. I told him it didn’t seem right that my mother had no problems getting a price-match, but when I come in, suddenly the price-matching policy tightens up, and the Best Buy sales associate would rather have me wait 20 minutes for him to call Fry’s than to lower the Best Buy price $110, down to $1,499.99.

I was clearly upset, and really all I wanted was for Tim to approve the price-match and “make the customer happy.” However, he showed very little interest in making me happy, and opted instead to explain why my competitor prices didn’t qualify for price-matching. He seemed to be interested mostly in proving me wrong, and made no attempt to address my primary two complaints:

  1. I felt like I had been singled out or profiled.
  2. The sales associate made me wait 20 minutes while he contacted Fry’s, and then he denied my price-match.

After Tim tried explaining why he can’t match the competitor’s price, he went over to a nearby computer and started looking up the TV prices for 6ave.com and/or Fry’s.com. Then things got REALLY awkward, when the sales associate (who I’m told was the supervisor of whichever department sells TVs) came over and started talking under his breath to Tim. As I’m standing there at the returns desk, I literally have the store’s 2 highest-position employees muttering back and forth about me. I don’t know what they were saying, but eventually they went to the back area and continued their online investigation there.

Several minutes later, Tim returns and starts telling me that the 6ave.com price doesn’t include shipping, and that next-day shipping would add $200 to the price, making it more than the Best Buy price. I told him that the information posted on the Best Buy website does not indicate that shipping charges would be added to the competitor’s price. He responded by telling me the information online does not include every single detail about the price-matching policy. I told him that the information on the Best Buy website is legally enforceable, and at that point Tim interrupted me by saying he cannot engage in any discussions involving legal matters. He reiterated that if I mention “legal stuff” then he can’t talk to me.

I assume that there is some part of Best Buy’s manager training program that instructs new managers to avoid making legal statements, but the way Tim communicated that to me was inappropriate. His tone and his attitude made it clear that his main objective was to stand his ground. His mannerisms were intentionally patronizing, and I am confident that he felt he had something to prove. His subtle, passive-aggressive statements quickly chipped away what remained of my patience.

I again brought up my complaint that the sales associate wasted a great deal of my time, and that I had been in the store for over 45 minutes, with nothing to show for it. Tim expressed mock-sympathy by suggesting we stop wasting any more of each other’s time. At this point, my frustration began to turn into anger, and I responded to Tim by saying, “We’re going to be wasting even more time, if I have to take this to the next step.”

Tim immediately escalated the tension even further, by responding with “Is that a threat?”

I was absolutely stunned by this response. In all fairness, my statement would have deserved that response under most circumstances. After all, I was basically telling Tim that I would take my complaints to someone in a higher position than him, if he wasn’t going to address them. However, these weren’t just any circumstances. This was Best Buy’s Customer Experience Manager using aggressive tactics towards a dissatisfied customer–a customer who had legitimate reasons to be upset. In my opinion, Tim’s first priority was his pride, and my “customer experience” was a distant second.

After staring at Tim in disbelief, I responded with “What… did you just become a manager like last week?”
I’m not going to make excuses for my response. The fact is… I was absolutely livid, and I had lost any desire to be cordial. As if he was going through the steps in a manager protocol handbook, Tim immediately stopped the conversation, gave me his business card, and told me I can call the number he had written on the card and voice my concerns to them.

But again… I don’t like being put on the spot. I don’t want to call anyone and try to explain what happened. That’s why I chose to write this letter instead. I really don’t know what I expect to accomplish with this letter. I haven’t thought that far ahead yet. All I know right now is that I am appalled by the way I was treated tonight. Your staff embarrassed me, insulted me, and disrespected me in front of my girlfriend. Your Customer Experience Manager personally delivered the worst customer service I have ever experienced. Sadly, that was more than enough to negate our otherwise positive history. I’m sorry it ended this way.

Sincerely,
Darren Slatten

You wanna know the best part? They addressed the situation by sending Darren a $50 gift card. And knowing Darren, he probably destroyed and/or pissed on that gift card. As he should have. Personally, I’ve never really had a memorable experience at Best Buy…good or bad. But the stories I’ve heard certainly play a role in my buying decisions and more often than not, I choose not to shop at Best Buy in order to mitigate the potential that I’ll have my own Best Buy customer service nightmare to share with you!

I wonder how many other people elect not to shop at Best Buy for the same reason. And I wonder if they realize how much revenue they’re losing as a result of these situations and their complete inability to handle them properly. Ah, Best Buy…what would we do without giant corporate catastrophes like you?!?!

Comments

  1. says

    I haven’t shopped at Best Buy for years. Mainly because when doing the research, Best Buy was more expensive then their competitors. Because I hate being hassled, I’ve never tried to utilize their “price-matching” service.

    I guess that’s a good thing, because it looks like their service has many, many loopholes.

    • says

      It’s been my experience, both as a consumer and as an employees of large corporations in front line and management positions, that the larger a company is, the more they care about profit and the less they care about service. It’s the sad reality of the corporate philosophy adopted by the vast majority of companies these days.
      .-= Alysson´s last blog ..Cheap Web Hosting That Doesn’t Suck =-.

  2. says

    The most frustrating part of that experience was when the person from Best Buy called and offered to send me a gift card. The conversation that followed was like when you call a company’s customer service line, and the representative that takes your call makes it painfully obvious that they’re reciting a bunch of memorized text out of a handbook or something. I got the impression that this guy’s entire job was to contact angry customers and buy their silence with a $50 gift card. I immediately regretted spending so much time on my letter, since it was obvious that any letter whatsoever would have been tossed into the same “Angry Customers” bin.

    Oh…and the icing on the cake was when the guy on the phone started explaining Best Buy’s price matching policy to me, as if the entire incident was due to MY misunderstanding. At that point, I just gave up and accepted the reality that Best Buy is just another corporation where customer service is governed by dollar signs and protocols.

    If any Best Buy suits are reading this, then please observe while I demonstrate (with dollar signs) why your customer service needs some serious rethinking.

    Please choose from the following options:

    A. Angry customer – $0
    B. Happy customer – $110
    C. Angry customer – $50

    You chose Option C.

    In other words, you could have completely blown me off and saved your money (result: angry customer); you could have matched Fry’s price and lost $110 (result: happy customer); but ultimately, you opted for the worst of both worlds and paid $50 for an angry customer.

    Hopefully one day you’ll understand why this was NOT the best choice.
    .-= SEO Mofo´s last blog ..What is the Maximum Character Length for a URL that Google Will Index? =-.

    • says

      It is utterly shocking to me that the numbers alone aren’t enough to convince these large companies to do the right thing. After all, isn’t it the numbers that are supposed to drive these guys to make the decisions they make and adopt the policies they adopt.

      It’s like a politician who is stupid enough to refuse to do what is right when it is ALSO what is most popular with their constituents and will guarantee their reelection. If you’re too stupid to do what’s obviously the best thing when people are paying attention, imagine the poor decision making that goes on when no one is looking…
      .-= Alysson´s last blog ..Choosing The Website Audit That Is Best For YOUR Needs =-.

    • says

      Isn’t it more like this:

      A. Angry customer cost = $0 – ($0 Profit From Future Purchases) + ($X Negative Press) ($X Employee Time Paid Without Purchase) = Costs Way More Than $110

      B. Happy customer cost = $110 – ($111+ Profit From Future Purchases) = Profit

      C. Angry customer cost = $50 – ($0 Profit From Future Purchases) + ($X Negative Press) ($X Employee Time Paid Without Purchase) = Costs Way More Than $110

      Let’s recap: Corporations want to profit. Corporations want to make decisions based on profit. There is only one way to achieve the profitability goal in this scenario. Just to be clear, it’s not A or C.

      • says

        Right on, Tim. You hit the nail on the head. And they can’t even manage to make the right no-brainer decision EVEN if profit were the only consideration. Executives are some brilliant fuckers, aren’t they?
        .-= Alysson´s last blog ..Cheap Web Hosting That Doesn’t Suck =-.

  3. David McDougal says

    I am a former employee of store #1 at Best Buy and been through the management training, and I can tell you that you were right to be angry. I am VERY happy that I do not work their any longer, and since then have shopped there 2-3 times and NEVER had a good experience. I think that the letter was perfect, and the response by BB to give you a gift card of such little value only undermines the complete lack of care and desire they have for the consumer anymore. Gone are the days of customer care and quality.

    I had a similar experience with Blockbuster and actually managed to get the regional manager on the phone and they put a $200.00 credit on my account and since that credit is present the account cannot auto close. Each year I get a letter asking me to use my credit and I refuse. They can deal with the accounting nightmare of keeping up with me now. They have a legal obligation to retain that credit, and hold my account open. If they close it they have to pay me the credit on the account.

    If more client put their foot down, and actually did stop using retail locations when there was an issue then these companies would change. One of the big reasons that Circuit City died was the in-store experience. My friend is a former eastern region (6 states) manager and he recounts to me the corporate lack of care for clients. I am sad to see them go, but honestly did anyone want to keep them around.

    • says

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, David. It’s good to have someone with experience inside the Best Buy organization chime in with their experiences.

      Perhaps the most surprising thing about these huge corporations is that they constantly operate under the misapprehension that there’s always another sale to be made to someone you haven’t already pissed off. It never dawns on them that at some point your market becomes so saturated with unhappy consumers that people would rather take their chances shopping online and having something as expensive as consumer electronics shipped across the country, and often at a greater cost, than deal with their local stores.

      I used to work for TruGreen and while I certainly have a laundry list of nonsense I could run down, the local branch I spent more than 4 years in was finally able to turn that corner and understand that the area we were serving was so saturated with bad experiences ranging from slimy sales to ghosted applications that something had to change. And we changed it. We raised our proverbial middle fingers to the corporate SOP and did things our way.

      The best part is that all along we led them to believe we were doing what they were telling us. By the time they figured out we were, they couldn’t do anything about it…because at that point they’d been pointing to us as a glowing example of what can be accomplished to failing branches around the country. Only then did we start to let them see behind the curtain (and even then, only to a certain extent) and prove that everything they were decreeing from their board rooms about how to be a successful branch was wrong. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. And it was awesome.

      I say that only to say this: things CAN change. But it has to start at the local level. People have to be willing to do what’s right and do what works, even if there’s a chance they’ll get caught before they have the evidence to support that what they’re doing isn’t only the right thing, it’s the more profitable thing.

      Had we been exposed before we had the numbers to shut them up, we might have all been fired…but that was a chance we were willing to take. We reached a breaking point. We were tired of not being able to look people in the eye and tell them where we worked. We were angry that people called in to our branch every day screaming about how much we sucked and that our service was a waste of money. As a management staff we were failing miserably. We’d had enough. We stood up for ourselves. We stood up for our front line. We stood up for our customers. Instead of taking an employee vs. customer approach, we took an employee & customer vs. the problem approach.

      In the long run, we won…but we had to do a lot of finagling to get there. We had to play a lot of games and engage in some deception with regard to what we told our regional and corporate management, but we pulled it off. And by the time they figured out what we’d done, we’d reduced our cancellation rates such that they couldn’t even be mad. The best part was that they just started leaving us alone and to our own devices. Which is all any good front line and local level management team really wants to begin with…don’t tell me how to do my job better when you’ve never done my job at all. Don’t “Office Space” me.
      .-= Alysson´s last blog ..When Loyal Customers Feel Wronged =-.

  4. says

    I am a one-time Best Buy customer. I was lied to on my first purchase (a warranty that Best Buy refused to honor within 2 weeks of purchase) and I’ve never returned.

    Worst service ever. Worst handling of customers ever. Worst excuses ever.

    My letter made it to the BBB, Attorney Generals Office and the FTC.

    Never got my money back nor my iPod repaired but spending thousands elsewhere is my reward.
    .-= Ash´s last blog ..Artist Profile: Ray Schloss =-.

    • says

      Thanks for sharing your horror with us. I’m thrilled that you lodged complains with the BBB, AG’s office and FTC. If they’re not sharp enough to address the problems themselves, perhaps some regulatory organization has some authority to force them to make the wrongs they perpetrate right.
      .-= Alysson´s last blog ..Best Buy’s Reputation Management Nightmare =-.

  5. says

    I’m outraged also, because I’ve had mostly the worst customer service issues with Best Buy, mainly being ignored for long periods of time; being black in America, you get used to stuff like that, but you’re thinking it wouldn’t happen in an establishment like Best Buy, in New York yet.

    I also once had the best customer service experience there, with my wife, so it really seems to depend on who you get and where you are. I know this, that if I had other legitimate choices in my area to buy computers from, Best Buy wouldn’t get any of my business. Last one I bought was advertised as this wonderful media center computer; turns out that’s not the one I got. I got the one they had displayed, but supposedly it didn’t contain any of the good stuff, and would have cost me $750 more. I didn’t even learn about that until 3 weeks later when I was trying to figure out why certain things wouldn’t work.

    Horrible customer service and sneaky also; not that Comp USA was better, though.
    .-= Mitch´s last blog ..My Top 10 Fictional Characters =-.