The Buyer Protection Experience at Best Buy

You know the drill, you buy a device and at checkout the clerk asks you if you want to purchase an above-and-beyond warranty or “buyer protection” plan. The smartass answer is generally, “Why? Is it going to break and is the basic warranty no good?” I usually take a pass, but last year, when buying my first Android phone on the occasion of my liberation from a corporate Blackberry, I decided to pay the extra fee given my predilection for being tough on my phones.

The phone broke well within the one year anniversary of the purchase (the charger plug adapter flaked out, a common occurrence on HTC EVOs according to the clerk), so I blithe-fully drove to the Best Buy to get it fixed. Not having a copy of the receipt and original agreement, I went in imagining their customer relationship management software would know who I was and confirm I was covered. I also went in with very different expectations of what a buyer protection plan should do, perhaps one born from the extraordinary experiences I’ve had at Sears with broken Craftsmen tools and L.L. Bean with broken fishing reels and aged Bean boots. In both of those cases I was given the legendary “NQA” – No Questions Asked” experience where a new product was pressed into my hands and I was on my way in minutes, more devoted to the brands than ever before.

No so at Best Buy. The very nice clerk at the mobile department found me in the store computer, confirmed I was cool, and then delivered the bad news.

  1. My broken phone would be mailed off. A “refurbished” one would replace it. Ugh. I don’t want someone else’s hand-me-downs. That sucks.
  2. I would be given a loaner — not the same model — but I would need to place a $150 refundable deposit.
  3. I would need to go to another department — The Geek Squad — to  perform some bureaucratic function and then return to the mobile desk to get my contacts transferred and my loaner set up.

I suffered this news in silence. It was 10:10 am. I walked to the Geek Squad desk and stood stolidly for 30 minutes while the lone service person explained the fine points of expanding RAM to one customer, then virus removal to another. When it was my turn I had to repeat all of the information previously shared with the mobile desk to what was in effect a “human modem” who had to read back my address and spell my name and do all the other Soviet Union triplicate work. A sticker was slapped on the broken phone and by 11 am I was back at the mobile desk.

And then the fun began. Other customers had taken the clerk’s attention so I again waited for them to be served before it was my turn. Then came all sorts of contortions to get my loaner activated.  By 11:30 I was out the door, facing the prospect of a return in three or four days to get the refurbished phone back and reactivated, the loaner returned, and the $150 deposit refunded.

I paid extra money for this process. Someone at Best Buy needs to get on the floor and do some customer experience study, for I won’t buy a phone from them again, nor will I ever take their underwhelming buyer projection plan on any device ever again. The entire process should have been automated, made self-service, and focused on expediting me out the door with a new replacement the instant I walked in. Making me trudge from desk to under-staffed desk only made me grumpy and resentful.

Best Buy sucks.

update 6.5.11: Oh, and they forgot to give me back my 16 gb SD card which is doubtlessly stuck inside the Samsung loaner in some other poor soul’s pocket. Thanks.

update 6.9.11: Card retrieved with no hassle from the Hyannis Best Buy. Staff there is extraordinarily nice and helpful and remembered me as the guy who had to wait a long time on first visit. They even marked down a returned charging cable for me and turned me around in less than ten minutes. Friends urging me to tweet this to get Best Buy’s customer relations team attention. Not worth it. Will post in future on retail customer user experience design and how Best Buy could capture loyalty through the buyer protection plan, increase upsell of those plans, and make all parties very happy.

On Citizenship

I skipped the Bruins game and American Idol final last Wednesday night to exercise my democratic duties and it was good.

My political tendencies are very neutral, conditioned by four years of being a political reporter in the early 198os when any suggestion of partisanship was career suicide. I’ve attended an inordinate number of meetings of selectmen, school board, zoning boards of appeals, licensing commission, legislative subcommittees, and state of the state addresses. I’ve questioned presidential candidates, sat on the dais as questioner in a U.S. Senate race (John Kerry’s first term replacing Paul Tsongas), and countless other brushes with government, politicians, elections, and the public hustings.

Last night I attended my first annual meeting of the Cotuit Fire District, and for some reason, felt closer to the governing process than I ever have before. There is a certain mythology about the New England Town Meeting, a very basic, grassroots form of village government where a Town Moderator runs an unruly crowd through a busy warrant of expenses and amendments before the quorum vanishes and everything falls apart. The town meeting is a cherished American tradition dating back to Colonial times,one that has all but vanished under the pressure of professional town management and charter reform.

In the 1920s Cotuit petitioned the state legislature to form a Fire District so the people of the village could raise taxes and spend them on basic infrastructure services that were not coming from the Town of Barnstable. Those services included a village water department complete with wells, water towers, water mains and hydrants; a volunteer fire department, and a prudential committee to manage the budgets and oversee the village meeting place, Freedom Hall. This unique ultra-form of government has been under assault in recent years, as the neighboring villages of Osterville, Marstons Mills and Centerville consolidated in the name of efficiency. But Cotuit has hung on, even looking into the possibility of seceding from the Town, electing its own boards of fire and water commissioners and prudential committee despite challenges and constant calls to modernize and do away with what some critics feel is an anachronism.

I walked to Freedom Hall, signed in with the monitor as a resident tax payer, collected my yellow voting card, a copy of warrant, and the budgets of the fire and water departments. I sat by myself, surrounded by familiar and unfamiliar faces, the prudential committee, clerk and moderator on stage, the fire and water commissioners below them, at their own tables facing the two columns of seats with microphones standing in the aisle between them.

There were a lot of familiar faces, some from back in my grandparent’s time, but still turning out faithfully each and every may to debate the village issues and get the work done. I was embarrassed in the knowledge that this was my first.

The moderator laid down the rules of order, noted the presence of a Barnstable police officer should anyone ignore her gavel and need ejection (apparently the 2010 meeting was extraordinarily raucous). A second moderator was present to take over the discussion of any warrant articles that might represent a conflict of interest for the full time moderator. Introductions were made, and the meeting was brought to order.

There is a particular species of meeting participant I’ve observed in nearly every small town meeting I’ve covered as a reporter who feels compelled to comment on each and every item, or raise fine points of order to … for lack of a better word, make an irksome point. These people are generally categorized as a “gadflies” — a term I’ve never been fond of, as it reduces often very well meaning involvement to insect status.

I won’t report on the meeting, other than to say it lasted four hours, raised some very interesting points, required a lot of attention to follow correctly, and in the end, presented very efficiently the management of the village for the next 12 months. My greatest concern as a resident tax payer is that the Fire District retain its independence from the Town of Barnstable, as a vital definer of the village’s official identity, and a forum in which I can directly have an impact on how my village is managed and tax dollars spent. My heartfelt thanks to the elected officials, engaged citizens, and village employees for making this form of government work and thrive in times of faceless professional management.