Happy Face / Frowny Face

[January 22, 2010]

The more time you spend on the Best Buy Facebook page, the more it degenerates into two rather unpleasant experiences. First, there’s the overriding feeling of redundancy, which results from product pages that mimic similar material available at bestbuy.com.

Second, a few minutes on Best Buy’s Facebook “Wall” and you wonder how a brand could generate so much ill-will without addressing it internally. Having a Customer Service Rep respond in measured tones (“I’m sorry to hear you had so much trouble…”) hardly addresses the issues. At the average Best Buy, it would seem, service is below par. I don’t know how else to evaluate the sheer number of searing complaints.

So, much as I hate to say it, I think Best Buy would do better to pour its advertising budget into training its employees and repairing its service departments. What better advertisement, in the end, than to be known by word of mouth as a highly competent, reliable service provider? At the very least, stealing some space from product promotion to make room for consumer education would go a long way to reducing problems—by reducing confusion.

As it stands, Best Buy’s willingness to handle customer complaints so half-heartedly underscores what’s missing in the standard American business model. Even here, on Facebook, where one is told to expect the coming of the brand marketing revolution, a major brand misses the message: Your strength as a brand lies in your ability to speak to your customers as one real person to another.

In other words, you have to care. It has to bother you that your customers are being treated to lousy service. Hoping you can paste over systemic flaws with happy-face customer interfacers is a delusion growing out of a failure to grasp a fundamental principle: A brand’s only true product is customer satisfaction.

Clearly, here’s a company that has seriously underestimated just how “public” a public forum Facebook actually is. In digital space, comments linger, opinions are shared and their impact multiplies exponentially.

If I choose to compare the Best Buy Facebook presence with the presence created by Coca-Cola, I realize I may be accused of comparing apples to durians. As in most other respects, Coke is a brand in its own category, having built up a brand equity I doubt more than three or four other companies can match.

All the same, what they choose to do with that equity is very telling. At Coke-Facebook, the message is “Open Happiness.” It’s not a price-point or a value statement but a direct call to the human psyche. Instead of selling product, Coke sells you on a connection—to everything you love most about life.

Not that Best Buy doesn’t make a play for the same territory. It’s just that the tagline “Buyer Be Happy,” which appears fleetingly on the page link, is immediately drowned out by a garish promotional overlay. Meanwhile, the sentiment behind this tagline is simply drowned —by the complaint tsunami that daily breaches the Best Buy “Wall.”

Ultimately, this suggests that the onset of social networking and the social media that support it have not only transformed e-commerce, but commerce in general. It’s a reality change of the highest order. Brands that treat customers like faceless non-entities are finding that customer complaints now leave an indelible stain on even the shiniest of logos.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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