By David Dorf, Director of Technology Strategy, Oracle Retail
Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from one of RetailWire’s recent online discussions. Each business morning on RetailWire.com, retail industry execs get plugged in to the latest news and issues with key insights from a “BrainTrust” panel of retail industry experts.
Best Buy recently launched a new service called Twelpforce that is aimed at using store and GeekSquad staff to answer product and technology questions via Twitter. Best Buy is also supporting the effort with TV spots. So I decided to see how this works.
The first thing I noticed was that most of the tweets were of the “hello out there” variety, but that may just be because the service is so new. It looked like there were tweets from both store associates as well as GeekSquad technicians. There’s no rhyme or reason to the account names. Some clearly represent stores (e.g. BBY1094), GeekSquad technicians (e.g. Agent 13700), specialties (e.g. CameraJenn), and individuals (Ingandela). BestBuy doesn’t seem to be limiting their creativity.
So let’s see if I can get an answer. Below is my first conversation:
I kind of figured that the real-time nature of Twitter would have gotten me a faster response than an hour. Nonetheless, the response was accurate and helpful. In fact, both responses were good, but I wonder if there are controls in place for limiting the number of responses. I could see getting deluged by multiple responses, and in this case both gave the same information.
So then I asked a follow-on question, but there’s no good way to associate the related threads.
After two hours there was still no response.
For me at least, the Best Buy forum is actually better because I can have a conversation that’s captured in threads. Plus, when necessary, I can send a private message that contains more specific purchase information.
The premise here is that a person has a problem and knows to send his/her question to Twelpforce. In that case, I would guess the person is probably already a Best Buy customer. But what about the customer that just needs help? Isn’t that a great opportunity for Best Buy to find and capture the customer? My next experiment:
It seems to me that software could comb Twitter for opportunities to help people with their electronics. This would be a great way to establish a relationship with a potential customer. Best Buy even recommends their staff do this, but my question went unanswered. I have to assume either Twelpforce is not searching on “plasma TV” or can’t distinguish from all the spam out there.
I really like their goal:
“Supporting the brand promises with the knowledge of 150,000.
• Know all that we know
• Deliver and experience that inspires you
• Make a difference
• Blow you away with the latest and greatest
• Never leave you hanging.”
It will just take some time for them to get it right. I’ll have to check back in a few weeks.
RetailWire’s BrainTrust panelists expressed mixed feelings about Twelpforce, but the common thought is that Best Buy should be applauded for their innovation and thought leadership. “I love the Twelpforce premise and I think it is one of the best examples of leveraging Twitter in a way that truly benefits the customer vs. overloading everyone’s Twitter stream with thinly-veiled promotions,” says Carol Spieckerman, President, newmarketbuilders.
“Here is why Best Buy is still here today, and Circuit City, CompUSA, etc, are not,” says Joel Warady, Principal, Joel Warady Group. “Best Buy is willing to push the envelope and try new things, even if they are not perfected. The Twelpforce is a great idea, and a great way to connect with a specific segment of their customers. Warady says the fact that the service is not perfected is not an issue. “In today’s fast moving market, companies don’t have the luxury of waiting until services are perfected; they need to roll out new initiatives on a regular basis to make certain they remain relevant.”
Another panelist notes the correlation between Best Buy’s employees and target customer, one where Twitter plays a daily role. “They know that this network is not always real time, but pretty close,” says Dan Raftrey, President, Raftery Resource Network. “The 140 character limit can also be worked around by experienced Tweeters. And all they have to do is convert the Tweet into a phone call if they need more. Twelpforce will likely evolve as Twitter evolves, if Best Buy determines that it actually delivers a service and/or strengthens their consumer link.”
“My question is, what happens next year or a few years from now when Twitter is no longer a popular fad?” asks Doron Levy, President, Captus Business Consulting. “If we can assume that retailer’s resources for handling customers are limited, why put any into trend sensitive vehicles such as Twitter? Not everyone uses Twitter and I bet even fewer Best Buy customers do. Focus on the walk ins or online shoppers. I’m not seeing the retail benefits in Twitter. Now, if you can get a couple die-hard tweeters to monitor it at minimal (like 0) expense, then I say go for it.”