The Preferred Channel: Best Buy Cuts Call Center Costs By Leveraging Social Media

John Moore

Social media is taking pressure off of the call center. Always asked to "do more with less" creative customer-focused companies are looking to alternative channels to talk to customers including the social Web.

Mover and shaker in customer service Best Buy, famous for the Geek Squad, recently launched Twelpforce, which allows customers to ask questions via micro blogging site Twitter.

Call Center IQ’s social business design guru John Moore recently spoke with Scott Hagemeyer, a Best Buy employee. Hagemeyer is an in-store Apple Expert and member of the Twelpforce program. His in-the-trenches viewpoint provides another perspective on this program, a perspective worth understanding. While Best Buy is still in the early experimental stages, feeling their way for what works, and what doesn’t, Moore was excited by what he’s heard. Early leaders, like Best Buy, are demonstrating the value of social media. It’s time for others to start getting on board.


J.M.: What is your role with Best Buy?

S.H.: Within Best Buy my official job title is "Apple Expert/Computers Specialist." I’m one of the go-to people in my department for any questions regarding the product within. My knowledge covers the entire department, with special focus on Apple products, software and accessories, but I don’t neglect the Windows side of things and am well versed on them as well.

More recently I have taken on another role with the company by joining the Twelpforce. As a part of the Twelpforce, I help meet the needs of customers in a new, and exciting way–Twitter. One of the most interesting parts of the Twelpforce is that someone doesn’t have to be a Best Buy customer to use it. I respond to questions regardless of who you are or where you shop. While I naturally rely on Best Buy’s resources (BBY Forum, product pages, etc.), I also link to external sources to make sure I can provide the most complete answer possible.

J.M.: How does social media fit in with your job?

S.H.: My role with the Twelpforce meshes my job with social media pretty well. I have yet to meet anyone that I’ve twelped in person, but I think that as more and more people turn to social media the possibility of this is growing. I can eventually see our customers doing some initial research and getting answers via Twitter, then stopping in to the store to visit with me in person before making a final decision. More and more customers are already coming into the store with printed research; e-mails from friends/family, online reviews from CNET, etc. As a part of the Twelpforce, I can assist those customers with their research in an highly engaging way providing quick, succinct answers to any question they may encounter.

J.M.: Were you involved with setting of the social policies in place today?

S.H.: No, I wasn’t involved with setting any of the policies. The policies were already set in place before the Twelpforce was ever introduced. The guidelines for the Twelpforce are pretty minimal and open-ended. There are some definite no-nos in there, but for the most part the policies encourage me to be myself and make my experience with the Twelpforce my own. Here’s what they’ve laid out: They definitely want us to be ourselves, and put our own individual personalities into our responses, while still remembering that we are acting on behalf of Best Buy and need to maintain a certain level of professionalism. What’s great about this is that since this is an experiment of sorts, the rules are able to be changed as the project evolves. My input on how the Twelpforce is going is greatly valued by those who are overseeing it. Since this is a very public experiment, they want a lot of feedback. If I think something could work better, I can suggest it. If I think something isn’t working, I can voice my concern.

Another interesting part of the policies is that the community really regulates itself. If we see another user making questionable comments or posts, we let them know to be careful and to remember the guidelines that are in place. Those who have been twelping for a while sort of all follow the same set of un-written guidelines for our posts. We try to help out the new members as best we can to make sure the Twelpforce continues to be as successful as it has been. Currently, John is working with myself as well as a few of the other top twelpers on developing a mentoring program for those who are new to the Twelpforce. This program is in its extreme infant phase. If it comes to fruition, it will be experimental and a work-in-progress. Through this program, someone who is new to the team would be paired with a veteran of the team. We would provide them with insight as to how the flow of things goes, while encouraging them to get their feet wet and start posting.

J.M.: How do you decide who to interact with from a social perspective for Best Buy?

S.H.: Anyone who takes the time to send a tweet, whether it’s a question, a comment, or a concern, deserves to be heard. In that regard, I try to respond to everyone that I can. Luckily for me, the Twelpforce currently sits at about 2,300 employees strong (although it seems like only several dozen tweet on a regular basis) and can get to those that I miss. In my opinion, one of the best parts of the Twelpforce is that it allows for someone to get multiple responses. If asking what type of computer to buy, for example, that person may get four to six recommendations from different Twelpers. Each one typically lays out their reasoning for why they chose the products they did, but what’s really important is that we allow the customer to take all of that information in and make the best decision for themselves. So far, I haven’t heard of anyone suffering from information overload by getting too many responses, but this could be a possibility at some point. Luckily, the majority of Twelpforce members look to see who else has responded before adding their input.

J.M.: How do your customers react to you being social?

S.H.: So far I would say that customers are reacting very well to it. In the couple of months that I’ve been doing this, I’ve noticed that the number of tweets we receive on a daily/weekly basis has been increasing. Customers definitely like how quickly we are able to respond. One of the promises the Twelpforce makes is "To let you know what we know. As fast as we know it." While I’m twelping, I can generally respond to questions within five to 10 minutes at most. I get a lot of reply tweets from customers who are surprised I got back to them so quickly.

J.M.: How do customers react as you transition them from social channels to the in-person experience?

S.H.: As I said earlier, I have yet to actually meet anyone whom I’ve twelped so far, but I think that time is not too far off. In general, customers have been very receptive to the idea of heading into an actual Best Buy store after an exchange of tweets. Even in this digital age, most of our customers are still pretty tactile and still want to physically see and/or use what they plan on buying. Customers are doing more and more of their research through other channels, like the Twelpforce, rather than visiting with a product specialist in a store.

J.M.: Any great stories from the real world to share?

S.H.: One of my most memorable Twelping experiences thus far was an exchange that took place between myself and @Viper_Tim on the evening of November 1, 2009. He was having a problem with the color of his television (too much green and not enough red) after having disassembled his home theater to move his furniture. He had tried everything he could think of, including most of the things I would suggest, and was at a total loss. Fortunately, I was able to completely resolve his issue via tweet.

The exchange proceeded as follows:

@TWELPFORCE Panasonic TC-P42C1 Plasma / Colors are off and cannot figure out how to adjust…too much green and no red…help?
@Viper_Tim #twelpforce Sounds like it could be an issue with your Tint setting. Manual available here ( if you need it.
@ApplExpert50 #twelpforce I have the manual, and have played with the tint (and everything else) for an hour w/o luck…thanks though!
@Viper_Tim In that case, have you tried checking your A/V Mode setting? Most TVs have settings like Std, Game, Movie, PC, and Dynamic.
@ApplExpert50 I had to unhook everything to move my furniture, and when I hooked it back up it was crappy…I’m sure I did it right though.
@Viper_Tim If it was un-hooked for too long, it may have factory reset itself back to Dynamic, which would give it a funny color.
@ApplExpert50 no luck…I’m at a loss
@Viper_Tim Hhhmmm. It sounds simple, but have you tried re-seating all of the cable connections on both TV & device sides?
@ApplExpert50 Thanks a million…I just need someone to help me see the giant "THIS IS THE PROBLEM!" sign in front of me. lol
@Viper_Tim AWESOME! You are very welcome I’m happy to help! Troubleshooting step 1: Is it plugged in? =) Enjoy your TV in it’s proper color!

While I didn’t ever get to know his real name or where he lives, and I will probably never meet him in person, it gave me a great feeling of pride and accomplishment to be able to provide support when he needed it most.

I could fill many, many pages with success stories from my experiences in-store. One of my favorite things about my job is being able to show people how technology can benefit their lives. I grew up with a computer and the Internet, so these things are like second nature to me. However, to most of the customers I deal with on a daily basis technology can be confusing, intimidating or even scary. Nothing makes me happier than seeing the faces of my customers once they’ve learned that technology can actually benefit their lives. The Twelpforce is just another way for me to extend my love of helping people understand technology.

First published on Call Center IQ.