Best Buy Yanks E-mail Support From Its Site. Shoppers May Be Better Off

Best Buy last week removed E-mail support from its Web site, a move the company said was designed to improve response and to give customers the kind of interactions they seek. The problem with this change is twofold. First, there is a powerful efficiency that E-mail exchanges offer, with the customer able to spell out the exact problem/question with all of the details and then send it without waiting on hold or waiting for a chat session to start. The chain can then respond hours later and the customer can do something else while waiting.

The second problem is that Best Buy Chat is often not available and shoppers are met with a pop-up saying "Sorry, no Best Buy chat representatives are currently available. Our chat representatives are currently helping other customers. Please call us at 1-877-xxx-xxxx instead." If the chat is that busy, how long will the hold time likely be? Kind of makes an E-mail option look attractive, no?

Last week's removal of the E-mail option was first reported by Happy Customer.

Shoppers simply want as many communication options as possible, provided they work reasonably well. The Consumerist did a piece last Wednesday (Dec. 5) about cryptic E-mail responses from Best Buy. *Sigh* If E-mail responses are slow, rarely happen or are non-responsive to the questions, is it better to fix that situation or halt the access?

When we tried instant chat with Best Buy on Wednesday (Dec. 12), it took several attempts to get through. Once through, we had a good conversation with the associate. At the end of the discussion, a survey form popped up. And that survey form obliterated our chat transcript. Oh well.

All in all, Best Buy's handling of this is still better than our classic favorite of customer communication disasters: Walmart five years ago continued customer phone support but tried to cut down on calls by hiding the number, saying that it preferred to call customers back. At least we were able to run the headline "Walmart to Customers: Don't Call Us. We'll Call You."

Another generic problem with chat is that many chains have chat support people simultaneously manage several conversations, which causes this odd "Are you still there? Hello?" sensation when the rep suddenly stops participating for several minutes.

To Best Buy's credit, if it believed that it couldn't adequately support E-mail, it was wise to kill it. If E-mails are being ignored, best to halt that form of communication. Research from Happy Customer, for example, found that Best Buy only responded to 15 percent of its Black Friday E-mails this year.

During the holiday insanity, it can be hard to be responsive to all inquiries, but it seems odd to shut down E-mail, as that is the most forgiving communication method. If you're two minutes late responding to a text, it seems to the shopper like it's forever, as does a five-minute delay answering a call center phone call. But your team can be three hours late replying to an E-mail and it will be most satisfactory to most shoppers—assuming the response is indeed responsiveness and helpful.

And maybe that last part is the real issue after all.