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Best Buy boosted by home-grown customer software

Best Buy discovers an in-house designed and simple customer feedback software application is playing an increasingly important role in its corporate customer insights initiatives.

Best Buy Co. Inc., a high-profile player on social channels, has discovered a simple and internally-designed customer feedback software application is making a dramatic difference to its customer insights initiatives.

Voice of the Customer through the Employee, or Voce, was launched at the end of 2010 and is just beginning to gain momentum. The idea behind Voce is for employees to capture customer feedback in the stores in near real-time and forward it to Best Buy’s corporate customer insights operations so the company can more immediately respond to customer issues.

“The whole idea is for this to be an early warning system, to see what’s popping and why," said Steve Wallin, Voce specialist and a senior director of Best Buy’s customer insights unit.   

With Voce, Best Buy has been able to use customer feedback to adjust both company-wide and local issues. For example, customer feedback collected through Voce contributed to how Best Buy shaped its recently launched product buy-back plans as well as helped simplify the procedures for customers who make purchases online and then opt for in-store pickup.

On a local level, Voce data helped one store discover customers were irritated by a horse-shoe shaped counter design it had set up for both its Geek Squad and Customer Support. Customers would get to the horse shoe and not know where to go. Once the store had the feedback, it put up better signage to indicate which side of the counter was for the Geek Squad and which was for Customer Support, garnering an almost immediate positive response from customers.

Initially, Best Buy was receiving about 500 employee-generated texts per week. Last month, it averaged 3,000 per week. To date, it has processed 50,000 employee comments since the end of 2010.

Wallin can’t release Voce’s development costs, saying, “I don’t have a dollar amount, but this was not millions. This was a low-budget, grass-roots effort done all in house.’’

How Voce works

Voce is essentially a small app written as an extension of Best Buy’s intranet, which is accessed on the point-of-sale devices in stores. The retailer provides an employee toolkit to all of its store personnel, who it calls “Blue Shirts.’’ The intranet toolkit enables Blue Shirts to configure their own personalized intranet with the apps they most often use. Employees can download the Voce app and make it part of their toolkit.

Once in the Voce app, Blue Shirts see two tabs, one of which provides a selection of categories for customer feedback, such as merchandise availability, policies or returns, and a drop-down text box where they can type in comments. A second tab includes a list of several hot topics or issues identified by local and regional managers. The hot topics are regularly changed and are designed to encourage employees to get feedback on a specific topic.

The text files are uploaded to a corporate database based on MySQL and then Best Buy runs Clarabridge text analytics against the data to determine trends, successes and potential problems.

These customer feedback reports are generated on a weekly basis. A trend report is issued to each territory to show general activity and a separate spike report goes out to highlight any changes occurring during the week.

Encouraging employee buy-in

The trick to making Voce work is employee participation, which Wallin said is “the biggest challenge of this program and something that gets in the way of a lot of companies.’’

Best Buy decided not to make the program mandatory, nor did it go the route of prizes to reward participation. Instead, the company has opted for recognition programs as a way to get Blue Shirts on board. Regional and local managers are required to review employee submissions and, when appropriate, follow up in person. A manager might go to a store, for example, and have a discussion with the Blue Shirt who pointed something out and then include that employee on a team to help solve the problem.

Wallin said this tactic works. At one store where nearly100 customer feedback texts had been submitted since Voce’s launch, a manager joined the Blue Shirts to discuss the problems they had uncovered about a merchandise pick-up process. They worked with the manager to streamline the process and then received positive customer feedback. Since that incident, the store has generated several hundred more texts for the Voce system.


Corporate support is key

The customer insights group had management support for Voce early on, even though it is difficult to quantify the ROI for the program. Wallin attributes the support, in part, to the low cost of Voce, but also because of a strong corporate culture that encourages employees to speak up.

Also, Voce is one piece of a multi-pronged effort at Best Buy to gather customer opinions that includes traditional surveys, social channels and customer support feedback. As a result, Wallin’s team is careful not to take credit for Best Buy changes that may have resulted from a combined input from several customer insights teams.

“By the time something happens, especially nationally, there have been many efforts in play,’’ Wallin said. “It is a dangerous thing to say any one piece led to X millions of dollars.’’

What’s ahead for Voce

Now that Voce is picking up steam, Wallin said the customer insights group will be expanding its capabilities. The goal is to create a Voce dashboard that will eventually provide trending data at a glance.

Also, a few Blue Shirts have discovered emailing a photo to the Voce system can better highlight a problem or issue than can a text.

For example, one store had set up a kiosk to demonstrate how customers could connect computers to TVs. The kiosk seemed particularly popular with customers so a Blue Shirt sent a photo of the kiosk set up rather than write a description of it.

“We are just starting to experiment with this,’’ Wallin said. “As we head down this path, it has to be any way the employee wants to communicate. We have to be able to open that up. I’m not counting anything out, but we are trying to figure out the practicality of it all.’’

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