Services, Market Intelligence Are Best Buy's Not-So-Secret Sauce

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Best Buy’s special forces equivalents, Geek Squad and its customer insights group, play a critical role in differentiating the company from online competitors while keeping it relevant to a new generation of consumers.

Geek Squad was an offbeat Twin Cities IT firm when it was acquired in 2002 from current chief technology officer Robert Stephens. Since then the business has mushroomed into a 20,000-strong national in-house tech force that has provided tens of millions of customers with a wide assortment of high-margin repair, installation and support services ranging from virus scans and wallmount installs to TV calibration and whole-home control.

“It’s such a differentiator for us,” said services senior VP George Sherman. “You can buy a TV online, but you can’t get that level of service.”

Mirroring Best Buy’s sales channels, Geek Squad “agents” are available to consumers in stores, online, on the phone and in their homes, creating customers for life with “make-it moments” like recovering lost data from a hard drive or getting a TV to connect to multiple components. “There’s a real ‘wow’ factor,” Sherman said.

Best Buy is further cementing its bonds with customers by moving its software service offerings for PCs, Macs and tablets from an a la carte menu to oneand two-year subscription “memberships” that provide unlimited around-theclock, multichannel tech support. The sale, which is generally made up front with the hardware purchase, encourages frequent visits to the store and, like instore pickups of online orders, provides additional opportunities for engagement.

Sherman said attachment rates for the service subscriptions have exceeded aggressive forecasts by as much as a factor of four, and the company is eager to extend the offer to mobile and home theater.

Looking ahead, Sherman expects his agents will be busier than ever as more become cross-trained to address connected products and systems, and demand grows in such emerging sectors as home health monitoring, electronic medical records, energy management, security and Cloud services.

Meanwhile, helping to discern market trends and consumer needs — often before shoppers are cognizant of them — is Best Buy’s customer insights unit (CIU), headed by former CIA intelligence officer Bill Hoffman. The operation uses surveys and focus groups, and monitors forums, social networks and other online commentary, to gauge customer satisfaction, understand brands, track the effectiveness of promotions, prepare for new launches, and develop insights and actionable strategies for the company’s various business units.

One of the newest applications in CIU’s toolbox is the “voice of consumer through employee,” or VOCE. Headed by CIU senior director Steve Wallin, the program is built upon an intranet widget that allows store-level employees to share any suggestions or insights gleaned from their interaction with customers.

Launched last year, VOCE is now collecting about 10,000 comments a week across the chain. Store managers can access feedback in real time and implement changes on the fly, which empowers employees while improving service. Best Buy also monitors Blue Shirts’ observations on a corporate level for potential initiatives than can be supported on a national scale.

“Our job,” Wallin said, “is to help the organization be as aware as possible of consumer preferences, their use of technology and where we need to be.”


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