Thursday, September 10, 2009

Best Buy blue shirts could learn a thing or two from waitresses

I recently had a poor shopping experience at the Best Buy store in Norwalk, Conn., that made me realize that Best Buy’s store employees could learn a thing or two from how waitresses operate.
I waited 30 minutes in the computer products department for someone to assist me in buying some wireless networking gear. There were lots of Best Buy workers – “blue shirts” and Geek Squad – walking around but only two were there to help customers in the computer products department apparently.
The one associate I asked to help me kept promising to assist me, but said he had other customers to assist first. He was nice enough but a half hour is too long to wait to pick out a couple of wireless networking items.
It was a Saturday and the store was understaffed in that department for the volume of customers there.
It seemed to me that associates were spending too much time with customers who needed a lot of handholding buying laptop computers.
Now I’m not some computer dummy who needs a lot of help buying tech products. I was simply looking for some new wireless gear using the 802.11n standard. I was upgrading from the older wireless G standard to the new wireless N standard to share a broadband Internet connection with other computers and devices in my house.
Another problem with this particular Best Buy store was that pricing information was missing from the shelves containing the products I was interested in. (Netgear RangeMax Dual Band Wireless-N Router and Netgear wireless N adapters.)
Buying computer equipment shouldn’t be like buying a car. When you go to an auto dealership, you get one salesman who stays with you the whole time.
Best Buy associates should take their cue from waitresses.
In restaurants, waitresses don’t take orders from one table, come back with the food and settle the bill before moving on to another table. They work multiple tables and customers simultaneously. They keep multiple plates spinning, to use another metaphor.
Best Buy should train their associates to identify customers who are doing research or those who need a lot of assistance from others who are ready to pull the trigger and make a purchase. It’s like triage to use yet another analogy.
When customers are clueless about notebook computers, for example, the sales associate can give them some information to mull over and tell them they’ll be right back after helping someone else. The associate can narrow their selection to a certain class of notebooks (desktop replacements, multimedia and gaming notebooks, value laptops, netbooks, etc.) and then say something like, “Why don’t you think about that for a bit while I help another customer? I’ll be back in a few minutes, OK?”
To use one last analogy, Best Buy blue shirts should be like honeybees, pollinating many plants.

Waitress photo by Candacy Taylor, author of the new book “Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress” (2009). Pictured is Sondra from the Butter Cream Bakery & Diner in Napa, Calif. Visit the Taylor Made website and buy the book at

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