Best Buy, Worst Service Part IV

I realize that I left this series of posts hanging and I wasn’t planning on returning to it any time soon (if ever) because I’ve been focused on other matters. A diehard reader from Columbus, OH, keeps visiting my blog, however, presumably in the hopes that I’ll finish the story. So this one’s for you, faithful reader. (You’re lucky I’m in a writing mood. :))

Read Part I, Part II and Part III in full.

Part I Summary: Men like gadgets. Men like to be prepared. A smart phone helps me be prepared. I wanted the HTC Incredible. It’s impossible to find anywhere because Samsung makes the AMOLED touch screen and there’s a shortage of that part. Customer service sucks. Best Buy customer service is even worse.

Part II Summary: Best Buy wasn’t always terrible; they’re just terrible now. Their staff has no product knowledge and no desire to help customers. I try to avoid shopping at Best Buy unless they’re the only place to find what I’m looking for. Amazingly, they had an HTC Incredible to sell me.

Part III Summary: Unfortunately, the phone they had to sell me was a used phone. Not only was it previously owned, but it had some of the last user’s information on it, like videos, audio recordings and Internet browsing history, which included porn sites.

In situations like this, it’s important to have a clear goal and a plan to reach it. So I decided that I would request a manager, explain my situation and then demand a free new HTC Incredible phone. I had paid roughly $200 and I didn’t think my demands were unreasonable, considering the hassle I was experiencing and the willful sale of a used product at full price. With my case nicely built, what manager could mount a defense against it? Best Buy managers. As far as I can tell, they’re forced to take classes on making any kind of refund request as difficult as possible.

To prepare for the confrontation, I copied all of the evidence on my phone onto my laptop so that we could browse the files together in a convenient and large-format matter. I also had a sneaky suspicion that the manager might accidentally delete the incriminating data on purpose and then it would be my word against his or hers. In any event, I thought a backup of the files would come in handy for anything unexpected. Before I left for the store I made sure to rehearse key points in the conversation so as to lead the manager down an easy path to where I was as an irate customer, but in a friendly, rational way. Experience tells me that it’s the crazy, screaming customers that get the most placating, but that just isn’t my style. Besides, I felt I had enough hard evidence that I wouldn’t need to use emotion to motivate common decency.

I walked into Best Buy with my laptop bag, phone and phone box in hand. The friendly greeter/security guy welcomed me and I asked if I was making a return. “Sort of,” I told him and then requested a manager. He asked me what for and I gave him very cursory details. He stepped away from his podium by the doors to try and speak as quietly as he could into his store CB. After a few moments, a short man with squishy edges came out from the back to address my concern. He turned out to be the store manager and he had the kind of pinched look that all people in customer service have when they’re forced into a confrontation with a customer, but realize the rules of their job often give them very little leeway on how they can respond. I made this face almost every day during my years in customer service. I shook his hand and asked him if there was a private place we could talk. He gestured to an empty desk near the entrance and I set my bag down to explain the situation.

I already knew how I was going to approach this. I’d tell him my story in sections and allow him to react after each segment. That way his response would have to increase to match the growing absurdity of my situation at each level.

As I recounted my experience, Store Manager looked on with professional patience, but with no real human interest. When I explained that I found the previous owner’s information on my phone, Store Manager said, “Oh, so you got a used phone? OK, then we can take care of that.” And he started to usher me over to the Best Buy Mobile people. What disturbed me was how nonchalant he was about my perceived predicament – as if this kind of thing happened all of the time. I stopped him dead in his tracks when I told him I found a video on the phone.

He watched it intently with what I can only imagine was hope in his eyes that it wasn’t some kind of amateur porn video. Seeing that it was fairly innocuous he replied more seriously, “We need to get you a new phone.” And he tried to direct me to the Best Buy Mobile people one more time. That’s when I told him about the racist recordings. After listening to them he became even more serious. “Those recordings were inappropriate and should never have been on your phone.” Before he could point to the Best Buy Mobile people again I brought up the porn. I was about to pull my laptop out to show him the images and he lashed out, having been cornered with overwhelming evidence.

“What is it you want from me?” he blurted out curtly.

“I want a new phone,” I replied, boring his eyes with mine. He nodded. “For free,” I added and he gave me a look that said my request was ridiculous. I was unfazed and my demeanor never wavered, forcing him to make the next move.

“How much did you pay for the phone?” I handed him my receipt. “Two hundred dollars? I can’t authorize that. I’ll have to talk to my corporate partners.”

“Do whatever you have to do.” I crossed my arms.

“First things first. You know I’m going to have to wipe your phone.” I uncrossed my arms. “I can’t leave that other person’s information on it.”

“OK,”I said, not in approval, but to show understanding. “What’s to stop you from saying that the information was never on my phone after you wipe it?”

“Sir,” Store Manager replied, not out of respect, but in an attempt to dehumanize me in his mind (It was also the first and last time he called me sir.), “I am a decent person. I would not lie about something like that.” I thought about saying no and arguing that it was my phone and no one else was going to touch it until I had a new phone in my hands, but I felt secure with the copy I had on my hard drive and picking a different fight wouldn’t get me any closer to my new free phone. I handed over the phone and Store Manager disappeared in the back. He came out again a few minutes later. “OK, I think we got everything on lockdown now.” He went over a few details on the phone like calendar appointments to confirm they were mine and not the previous owner’s. He sounded surprised when he read aloud some of the film screenings I had attended. I explained to him that I was a journalist. Satisfied, he gave me back the phone and asked one of the Best Buy Mobile people to look for a replacement phone. The inevitable outcome of course was that no one had an HTC Incredible in stock.

We agreed that they would call me as soon as one became available. “I’ll have to make some calls about giving you a refund,” Store Manager said.

I leaned in close across the counter. “When you call your corporate partners, let them know that I’m going to write a piece about my experience and it would look favorably on them if they complied with my demands.”

Store manager made a face and said, “That’s sounds like a threat, but point taken.” As I gathered my stuff to leave, he headed to the back of the store. An employee approached him for a decision on something and Store Manager bit his head off with a profanity and stormed away. The employee walked off, shaking his head. So did I.

What a ridiculous situation. The store probably lost $200 a week in breakage alone. Furthermore, what was $200 to Best Buy in order to retain a customer and secure them good Press and – more importantly – avoid bad Press? Moreover, where was the customer service in all this? I was clearly in the right and had been willfully wronged by the store and not once did Store Manager apologize for my inconvenience. Fearing that I would have to back up my words with action, my mind immediately went to Peter Shankman, a gentleman I had recently interviewed who was an expert in social media marketing, and I thought of asking him to blast my piece to everyone who read him. And they are legion.

Ironically, I got a call the next day from Store Manager. Best Buy miraculously got their hands on a brand new HTC Incredible, which only means that a different customer got screwed over. When I got to the store, Store Manager said that he had spoken to his corporate partners and that they were willing to refund half the cost, but only because of the hassle I went through and not because of anything found on the phone. He made sure to speak in a measured and even tone, as if the legal department made him rehearse the words to ensure they were said verbatim. Since I was getting a new phone I decided that half off was a fair deal and shook Store Manager’s hand.

We unboxed the phone together to prove that it was brand new. Everything inside was wrapped in sealed plastic as any high-end electronic device typically is. Moreover, the phone came with a micro SD card, which my previous phone did not have. I got my service switched over to the new phone and left the store finally content with my purchase.

The lesson here: When it comes to Best Buy – and really any situation where you are the customer – always be ready to fight for your satisfaction, because they certainly won’t.