Best Buy is in the midst of a tailspin, with same-store sales falling for the the last eight straight quarters. Acknowledging the struggles, new CEO Hubert Joly has been touting the "Renew Blue" program, which aims to revitalized the consumer electronics retailer's fortunes through an emphasis on great customer service.
So we found it a bit curious that the company just eliminated one of its customer service channels.
STELLAservice, a "secret shopper" provider for online customer service, reported on its blog last week that the email option had disappeared from Best Buy's customer service page. Best Buy confirmed to the company that it had dropped email, apparently to refocus those resources on its live chat support. Email, it said, was "unable to offer the same level of in-the-moment assistance," and added that 20% of customers in an online survey said they preferred live chat. A Best Buy spokesperson confirmed the change to us, saying that live chat is faster than email and that customers prefer it.
But will cutting out email leave some of Best Buy's customers behind?
"There's been somewhat of a discussion around whether it's an effective method of communication with consumers," says STELLAService CEO Jordy Leiser. "But the reality is that customers are still emailing companies."
That's partly a matter of convenience. Even though social media and live chat can both get results sooner than email, they also require more of a time commitment for the consumer, and may not even be feasible for some customers.
"There are workplaces that don't allow you to use social media, and some people don't have time to wait on chat," points out Leiser." A customer may similarly be unable to spend 20 minutes on the phone with customer service while at work.
Despite this, Best Buy is not alone in cutting out email -- Apple, which is widely praised for the quality of its customer service, does not offer email as an option. So we decided to speak with one company that has made email a centerpiece of its customer service operation: Bonobos, an online men's apparel retailer that prominently displays its email address and touts the helpfulness of its customer service "ninjas."
John Rote, vice president of customer experience with Bonobos, says that email is far and away its most popular channel -- he estimates that half of all inquiries come in via email, with the rest split evenly between phone and social media. (The company does not currently offer live chat, though he says they're experimenting with it.) And he suggests that the popularity of email has a lot to do with convenience.
"A lot of our customers are busy, and don't want to take time to hop on the phone, or even on live chat," says Rote. "A lot of the emails say at the bottom 'Sent from my iPhone.' They're on the move, they're busy, and they have better things to do with their time. And email is best for them."
Comparisons between a small apparel retailer like Bonobos and an electronics giant like Best Buy are obviously difficult, with the two companies facing very different logistical realities. And we can understand why Best Buy might feel that it needed to consolidate its limited resources into its more popular channel: STELLAService says that during Black Friday weekend, live chat was unavailable 95% of the time, and only 15% of emails sent that weekend were responded to within 24 hours.
Faced with two overtaxed channels, the beleaguered retailer clearly decided it was better off focusing on one thing and doing it well. It's just unfortunate that some of its customers will now have a harder time getting in touch.
How to Write a Good Customer Service Request Email
If you decide to get customer support by email, then you'll want to make sure your opening email contains as much pertinent information as possible . After all, you don't want to fire off an email in the morning, then come back to your computer that evening, only to find that the customer representative needs several pieces of information before he or she can proceed with helping you.
To that end, we asked STELLAService to provide a few tips for crafting an effective customer service email.
• If you have multiple questions, number them.
• Provide links to specific products you're asking about.
• If your question is about an order you've placed, it's best to just forward your confirmation email, which should have most of the important information.
• Be straightforward (but not profane) in your subject line. If, for instance, your swimsuit order hasn't arrived, then STELLAService suggests "Where's my swimsuit?" as a good subject line.
• If possible, include your phone number in the email in case a representative wants to get in touch with you for a quick resolution.
• Leave out your credit card number.
Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.
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