Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Extreme Transparency, Best Buy Style

Best Buy's Chief Ethics Officer, Kathleen Edmond, has her own ethics blog, the only senior exec of a major US corp to do this, at least to my knowledge. The blog includes a link to an independently-operated ethics site where employees, suppliers, and the public can read more about the company's guidelines and report any concerns.

Every few days, Ms. Edmond posts a blog message about an ethical dilemma or question that has arisen within the company (and sometimes outside the company), closing each post with a series of questions open to comments from Best Buy employees and the general public.

On January 21, Ms. Edmond wrote:
A situation arose not long ago at a Best Buy store in China that posed some interesting questions about the ethics of customer service. One of our customers entered the store with a specific product in mind. The Best Buy store was out of stock on that item but – much like the classic film Miracle on 34th Street – our employee informed the customer that a nearby competitor had that product on hand and it was actually priced lower than at Best Buy. The employee even offered to walk the customer to the competitor’s store and help him find and purchase the product. An amazing story, to be sure, but there was an unfortunate dark side to it. The employee, it seems, was actually taking cash “kickbacks” from the competitor for bringing customers to their store. 
She posed 4 questions: (1) Was this good customer service? (2) Did Best Buy err in its training? (3) Would our view of the situation change if the employee was not taking a kickback? (4) Has this happened where you work and how did you resolve it?

Following the blog post were a number of comments, some from employees and some from customers. Customers thought it was a great idea to say where an item can be purchased if Best Buy doesn't have it. Employees were split--some thought it was a good idea and one thought that Best Buy offered so many compelling reasons to buy from it that the customer might be willing to wait a week or so till the item was in stock again.

I'm impressed by this extreme transparency and delighted that Ms. Edmond is encouraging dialogue about issues that few firms discuss in such detail. She began her blog in December, 2008 and the fact that she's continued for more than 2 years shows how dedicated she and the company are to transparency.

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