Robert Stephens Interview – Part 4 of 4

Here is the final part of the interview with Robert Stephens, founder of The Geek Squad and a VP at Best Buy. In this part, Robert tells about how they find employees who are passionate about both technology and customer service, how they gather feedback, how the Geek Squad monitors the blogosphere, and lastly, his customer service tips for companies. Robert also talks more about his belief that employees should “protect or improve” the company’s reputation.

This is one of Service Untitled’s most popular interviews and I hope everyone found it informative. Tomorrow, I will post a wrap up of the interview which will be a short post with links to all four parts, along with a quick summary of what is in each part.

As always, comments and suggestions are welcomed. We already have our next interview done (just need to type it out) and another, shorter one with someone else in the works. Also coming up in the next few weeks are two guest writer posts.

Question: You have employees that are quite possibly more passionate about dual processors, operating systems, and such and not as much about the customer. What does the Geek Squad do to motivate employees to consistently provide great customer service?
Answer: We turn down a lot of technically talented people that may be very good at the computers, but not necessarily good with the personality or the human contact. One of the benefits of joining with Best Buy now is that we kind of observe them on the floor before sending them to the home. One of the benefits of working the aisles is that you have to know the product, know how to talk to people, and we have a training program called Care Plus that teaches how to listen to the customer and understand they want versus just talking about the technology. Geek Squad’s heritage in terms of quality goes a long way in terms of fostering that. Our uniform is an example of that.

I consider the Best Buy employee discount probably one of the most efficient training programs we have. At a significant discount, they are able to buy the stuff they are expected to know about. Some of them are more into digital photography more than iPods. We encourage the agents to kind of socialize so they feel more comfortable calling each other for technical help if they need it.

Question: What does Geek Squad do to get feedback about its customer service from customers and partners, etc.?
Answer: We have a variety of systems and these are systems that smaller companies can’t really get. I personally get a Google Alert everyday. Every time Geek Squad is blogged about I personally get that alert and respond to any single one where I become aware of that. Customers send me letters, good and bad. I make sure every letter we get I personally send a letter to the customer and send a letter to the person they are commending. That is one way to encourage good service – is to make sure you authentically (not a laser printer signature), a handwritten note to each single person when they do that.

We also pay a lot of money to third party companies that give us impendent scores and rate it. We have secret shopping when they physically go in and call online and record the calls. We get random samplings of the calls. A variety of different means.

We encourage feedback. I think companies need to make it easier to complain. I should say communicate, but I am most interested in hearing the bad news first. People only call me when they have problems. I want to know how the experience was. We shouldn’t have to our number posted on a web site like GetHuman – it should be easy to do. That is something Best Buy has done and figured out. Frankly, I think they should brag about it more. If it works for us, it should technically work for anybody.

When you have 100,000 employees in a 1,000 stores – how do you control quality? One way to do that is to let the customer what the experience should be. Let them, in a way, enforce the policy and know what their rights are. Hey, this experience is supposed to be like this and you aren’t doing this and Robert’s email address is at the bottom of this invoice. I want to communicate directly with the customer. I am worried about that when I get a comment from a customer there were probably 100 other comments that were never sent and that is what keeps me up at night.

I look at blogs and think that customers aren’t going to send letters anymore – they are just going to blog about them. The smart companies will be listening and seeking out the comments. Every time someone mentions the Geek Squad on a blog, I get an email at 3:30 central time and I try and do it that day. Fortunately, I don’t see a lot. I hope to see more, because I know that doesn’t represent most of them. If I encourage more people to do that, it would benefit us. I think they would if they knew.

When I hear about someone having a bad experience and I ask if they called the company, they say no, why bother? If I had one goal, I would make it easy and have a reputation for responding and making it worth while. I will call Geek Squad because I know they will take care of it, because that is usually how it is. It might be someone saying the wrong thing or a new employee who doesn’t know all the policies or how rigorous it is. That feedback helps us do that. The people who write the policies report directly to me.

I want to work to a thing where I say “Here is the deal. Your job at Geek Squad and everybody, whether in accounting or shipping has one goal and that is to protect or improve our reputation. Our reputation encompasses everything. Number two: you can basically break any policy you want if you feel the need to protect our reputation with the customer. Number three: just promise you will tell us when you break a policy. If I get a bunch of people breaking the same policy, I know it is the policy. That allows us to fix them. Instead of a Byzantine structure of what to do here and what to do there, just give them the simple rules and it will come out in the wash.

Question: Could you tell me a bit more about how you monitor blogs, etc. and use that feedback to improve the Geek Squad’s customer service, as well as deal with individual complaints?
Answer: I use Google Alerts as well as an additional paid service that monitors what we call “disturbances in the force”. Our goal is a perfect experience each time and anything less is something we want to know about ASAP and deal with promptly. Of course, most people don’t take the time to let us know if they aren’t happy, so we do our best to try and detect any potential issues.

Once we receive any communication via any channel, we respond ASAP. We first acknowledge their issue and get more details. We then compare against what should have been done. If there are any discrepancies, we will dispatch an individual to work with the customer directly and empower them to resolve it.

Question: Any customer service tips or advice for companies?
Answer: In service, the key is to attract and retain talent. The culture is what attracts people and keeps them. I like to say that advertising is a tax you pay on having an unremarkable brand, and training is a tax you pay for having an uninspired internal culture.

2 Responses to “Robert Stephens Interview – Part 4 of 4”

  1. CustomersAreAlways said:

    Feb 22, 07 at 12:29 am

    Robert Stephens Interview and How to Monitor Feedback Via the Web…

    Service Untitled has a great interview with Robert Stephens, the founder of the Geek Squad at Best Buy. One thing that Stephens is doing right is monitoring the internet and the blogosphere for customer feedback:“I look at blogs and think……

  2. Jose Del Valle said:

    Jun 02, 07 at 10:30 pm

    Good questions. We at IGRS have become great admirers of Mr. Stephens. Universities would be wise to do regular case studies on this man.