Best Buy earns props for airing dirty laundry on CEO blog

Black Friday line
Shoppers lined up around the outside of the Best Buy store in Baxter, Minn., at 11 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011. The store opened it's doors at Midnight this year instead of early Friday morning. Some of the shoppers had camped outside the store for days waiting for bargains.
AP Photo/Brainerd Dispatch, Steve Kohls

There's been speculation and debate about the future of Best Buy. It remains the nation's leading consumer electronics retailer, with about $50 billion in annual sales. But Best Buy has been losing customers, sales and profits to competitors. The company also had a widely publicized problem filling online orders filed at the start of the holiday shopping season.

Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn recently used his blog to lash out at what he believes is some unfair media coverage. But that blog post prompted a flood of comments from Best Buy customers and employees alike, detailing gripes about prices, customer service, return policies, extended warranties, and credit card pitches.

In his post about media coverage, Dunn blasted critics who "question the validity of Best Buy's business model. Dunn didn't cite any particular articles, but a recent Forbes magazine commentary saying Best Buy is "headed for exits," has attracted more than 2.3 million page views. Dunn left his post open for comments and while some respondents supported Dunn, the vast majority ripped into him and his company.

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Read: Dunn's original blog post and his follow-up "thank you" note.

"His post has not gone unnoticed. That's for sure," said Jon Austin, a communications consultant — and former spokesman for Northwest Airlines.

"The wonderful thing about the Internet is that if want to hear what your customers are thinking, you can just ask them," Austin said. "The terrible thing about the Internet is that you may not like entirely what you hear. And because it is fairly easy to be relatively anonymous on the Internet, people can say some harsh things without necessarily justification."

Most comments about Dunn's post were harsh and anonymous, but some left names. One employee who did not leave a name wrote that she has felt as though she's a "used car saleswoman instead of treating the customer with respect and making sure their needs are met."

Another commenter said company officials told him to entice customers into buying service plans they don't need.

Dunn was not available for an interview, but in a blog post Wednesday the CEO said he is listening and thanked everyone who responded to his previous post. He said the comments were candid and informative and "exactly what we look for when we reach out to you." Still left to be seen are what Best Buy will do with the comments, and what weight it will give them. "Many of the comments were quite long, quite detailed," said John Budd, a professor of human resources at the University of Minnesota. "So even though they're frustrated, that passion, that belief in the company gives Best Buy something to work with."

"I think what Best Buy needs to do is take this seriously, not just be dismissive, but to not overreact at the same time," Budd said. "They need to figure how widespread these problems are and really engage the employees in trying to figure out what the solutions to those problems might be."

Dunn's decision to communicate his thoughts via a blog post surprised at least one communications consultant.

Consultant Arik Hanson said many CEOs start blogs but don't keep them up. Best Buy's Dunn has had a blog for years.

Hanson said most executives would communicate with employees by email or through a corporate website closed to the public.

"But Best Buy has always espoused that all stakeholders are kind of treated equally," he said. "So, in this case they're living that. He's saying, 'I'm going to respond to these articles,' and he's going to do it to everyone at once, including his employees."

All in all, Hanson said Dunn used his blog well, even though employees took shots at the company. "This is one of the prime examples of why you have a blog if you're a CEO or leader of a company," he said. "When you are positioned negatively in the media or some media outlet chooses to "attack" your company, you have your own venue to respond to that."

But Hanson said Dunn now needs to take actions to demonstrate he is truly listening to employees and customers. If not, his blogging may bring him yet another public flogging.