2007 Social Media & CRM 2.0 Professional Certification Seminar

Drumroll, please…announcing:

What: 2007 Social Media & CRM 2.0 Professional Certification Seminar
Where: San Francisco, CA
When: March 27-28, 2007
Learn more: http://www.bptpartners.com/socialmedia_agenda.aspx

On March 27th and March 28th, I’ll be co-hosting a two-day professional seminar, “Social Media & CRM 2.0″ along with Paul Greenberg (Author, “CRM at the Speed of Light” and principal at BPT Partners). This event will be held at the offices of our friends Fleishman-Hillard here in San Francisco. (Thanks, Fleishman!)

The 2007 Social Media & CRM 2.0 Professional Certification Seminar is endorsed by Rutgers University Center for CRM Research, CRMGuru.com, the National CRM Association, Greater China CRM and CRMA Japan.


Topics include:

Why the new social media: Communications and the era of the social customer — Traditional means of doing this through messaging marketing campaigns are no longer adequate. The new social media, blogging, user communities, podcasting and social networking are increasingly become tools of choice for businesses. Learn the why’s, where’s, and what’s in the segment on the strategic framework.

The Business Blog Field Guide — Every publication from Business Week, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal to online white papers warn businesses the blogging is not an optional endeavour. Those that don’t will not survive, so we are going to give you what you need to not just survive the on rush but prosper. This module will explain how to produce a blog, what the benefits are, and what conditions you need to make it a success.

Components of Blogging — You have the framework with the first 2 modules, now we’re going to get down. You’ve created the environment, time for you to get what you need to know to actually write the business blog in a consistent and timely way.

Customer Communities and Social Network Analysis — In this session, you will learn about the value of social networks, customer communities and the tools and practices to facilitate their creation and maintenance. If you do it right, your customers will be the advocates you desire and the business lifeblood you need for sustaining the kind of growth you’ve dreamed about – in collaboration with those customers you know to be important to your present and future.

The Theory and Practice of Podcasting – This module will not only explain what a podcast is, why it’s important to you as a business person, but how to actually produce a podcast. It will also bust some of the myths of podcasting that have already grown up around its young, explosive life. There is no form of social media that promises to meet the needs of the new generations of customers as well as this one – especially for those on the move. Imagine, having a good time creating something that can benefit your business – anytime, anywhere, any way you like? This module will give you the tools to do that.

Defining Your High Value Opportunities Using Social Media — Now, we get down and well, sorta dirty. How does this directly apply to your business? What industry you’re in, who your target markets are, will make a genuine difference in the approaches and applications of the social media tools. If you’re a B2B business v. a B2C business, there will be differences in approach. If you want to use the tools for co-creation of value with your customers or for feedback retrieval and customer conversations it will make a difference. The final module will examine what those specific applications can be for specific business situations and models.

Learn more: http://www.bptpartners.com/socialmedia_agenda.aspx

Signal vs. Noise vs. Customers

There’s quite the conversation going on over at 37signals‘ “Signal vs. Noise” blog today, and I’m still puzzling over why said conversation is even taking place. What’s going down: Matt Linderman, from 37s, today put up a post that starts like this:

Useless, absurd, must, need, appalled, just, infuriating, essential, etc.

“What could be more fun than those magnetic words that let you write poems on the fridge? How about a set of magnetic words that let you write support emails. Our kit would include the following: useless, absurd, must, need, appalled, just, infuriating, essential, oversight, pointless, confusing, nutty, and maybe some good phrases too, like ‘it can’t be that hard,’ ‘i’m a programmer, i should know,’ and ‘even Blogger let’s you do that.’ Of course, the whole set should be ALL CAPS too.”

He then proceeds to excerpt fifteen customer emails that 37s has received, annotating each one with a snippet of text that certainly could be interpreted as an accusatory finger, highlighting what was wrong with each email that their support line had received.

After reading and re-reading the emails that Linderman posted, I’m even more puzzled. Yes, some of them contained some hyperbole. But what about the others, like this one?

“Please call me regarding my basecamp system — (615) 780-XXXX.”

Yeah. Boy, I could see how that would be upsetting…a customer wanted to connect with someone at her service provider. Or how about this one?

“We NEED a web based system like Basecamp, but I cannot tell if it will be any better by reading the information you have available. I’m looking for sort of a web based excel-like program. We need to be able to see at a glance every sponsor’s name, sponsor level, address, contact info, if they’ve been billed/payed, if we need/have artwork, and if they have comments. We need to authorize up to five people for editing and another 60 or so for viewing.”

Indeed. A customer clearly spelling out his requirements and needs. That customer must obviously be deluded and prone to hysterics.

The conversation plays out over 120+ comments. And then “JF” (I’m assuming Jason Fried, of 37signals) jumps in with two comments that, frankly, just seem defensive and tinged with the slightest bit of hubris, all at once.

“We’re well aware of that, we’re well aware of our cash flow, we’re well aware of our churn, we’re well aware of our signups, we’re well aware of our growth, we’re well aware of our big-picture customer satisfaction. We’re well aware of what we’re doing, thank you.”

and

“120 comments in and I’m surprised we haven’t heard from a progressive thinker who might wonder if all this ‘bad’ stuff is actually good for business. Could these sorts of discussions actually be good for a non-traditional business like 37signals? Do sales/signups go up on days with these heated debates? Could there be a positive business motive behind all this that more traditional business observers haven’t groked?”

Now, Cerado is a customer of 37signals, in that we use Basecamp. But this last quote from Fried has given me pause, and I’m hoping it’s not a canary in the coalmine. The phrase “Do sales/signups go up on days with these heated debates?” is looking at a point in time. It’s solely looking at the transaction. Now, couple that with the fact that (I hope!) any rational customer would certainly entertain taking his business elsewhere if he saw his support request pilloried in the public square as an example of what not to do. Put those two data points together, and one begins to wonder if 37signals is truly doing something differently (as they continuously claim), or if it’s just another business looking for the quick turn, long-term-relationships be damned.

Others talking:

Zoli Erdos
Jason Kolb
Kandace Nuckolls
Steve Portigal
Marcus Campbell
Joe Taylor Jr.

(thanks to Zoli for the tip)

Chevy Careens Out Of Control (Or Do They?): A Roundup Of The Tahoe / Apprentice Ad Flap

PeakoilThe writing has been fast-and-furious over the weekend, with opinions flying on whether Chevy royally screwed the pooch with their current ad campaign for the Chevy Tahoe, a tie-in (somehow) with the TV show The Apprentice. To summarize: Chevy has set up a site where anyone can create his or her own commercial, splicing together a number of video clips and background music supplied by Chevy. More importantly, these user-generated commercials can have text floating over the images of the creator’s choosing. Therein lies the rub. It’s no surprise (to anyone with an IQ above room temperature) that this has unleashed the creative juices of a number of folks who have found the perfect platform for their messages.

A couple of examples that C|Net has archived can be found here. (Go ahead, check them out if you haven’t seen them. We’ll be here when you get back.)

Thoughts on the situation so far:

Tara Hunt: “[Chevy] should taking advantage of the valuable (even if it is vitriolic) feedback that they are getting and use this as an opportunity to change direction and survive into the future of this community-driven market.”

Doc: “Watch.”

B. L. Ochman: “Proving that execs at big companies, and their agencies, don’t monitor what’s being said online over the weekend, Chevy left thousands of anti-Chevy consumer-made ads on the Chevy Apprentice make-your-own-commercial site this weekend.”

Seth Godin: “Chevy is learning this the hard way with their Tahoe campaign… in which the best commercials are the ones that say, ‘Don’t buy me!'”

TechDirt: “It seems like perhaps GM understood what would happen a lot more than the so-called ‘experts’ give them credit for. In this day, anyone opening up such a contest has to know that it’ll be used for ‘anti’ ads. It’s happened so often that they must have expected it. In fact, by then being open about it, GM is getting even more mileage from this campaign, and making it appear that they are more open to listening to those who disagree with them…So, it’s questionable as to whether or not GM was ‘slow to react’ or if they are simply doing everything according to plan.”

AdRants: “Negative things will always be said about a brand. Understanding and accepting opposing views does far more for a brand’s mojo than killing off divergent opinion. Let’s hope this is what’s happening at Chevy and not that the ads are still up because it’s the weekend and big companies don’t work weekends.”

Carl: “I don’t understand how otherwise rational people look at this campaign as a positive. It would be like letting people create print ads for McDonalds, and publishing all of the ads that talk about cholesterol, fat, calories, carbohydrates and fat kids. And then patting themselves on the back for letting people ‘speak their mind’ and for ‘understanding social networking.’ This campaign can only damage the brand by reinforcing the negatives. Isn’t this marketing 101? The best GM can hope for is to convince all of the people who already hate the product that GM is a cool company with products they hate.”

And a whole bunch more.

I think there are a few things to think about here. One perspective that that this is, in some ways, akin to the LA Times wikitorial fiasco. If that’s the case…the GM didn’t consider the possibility that people would create ads that were not in line with GM’s vision of what should be done…then shame on GM. Any opportunity for “user-generated” media in any topic where there are strong feelings will generate the same spectrum of responses. If that’s the case, GM was simply Not Thinking. Any subject that evokes passionate responses will naturally have this outcome.

A thought: Perhaps a worthwhile tactic to take in these types of situations is to proactively set up areas/categories for the primary viewpoints that are likely to emerge. In the LA Times case, setting up two wikitorials (one “pro-war” and one “anti-war”) may have radically changed the outcome of their experiment. In Chevy’s case, allowing the “directors” of the videos to classify them as “pro-SUV” and “anti-SUV” would have been one way to proactively address the problem. It’s what Scoble did here (“Let The Venom Flow!“), and it’s a very effective tactic in cases where this type of activity is likely to occur. It’s going to happen. Might as well embrace it.

So, it seems from my vantage point that there are three “standard” things that Chevy could do. The options…

  • Option 1: Pull the negative ads

  • Option 2: Leave the negative ads, do nothing (It’s the Marc Canter approach: “I don’t give a damn about what anyone says about me, just spell my name right.”)
  • Option 3: Leave the negative ads, engage

Option 1 is the Bad option. If they go down that road, they’ll get crucified.

Option 2 is an OK option. They may be called “clueless,” but they’ll still be getting some buzz out of the campaign. (And, pragmatically, the folks who are creating the negative ads — as well as the individuals who find that the negative ads resonate with them — probably aren’t going to be buying an SUV anytime soon, anyway.)

Option 3 is a Pretty Good option. In addition to leaving the ads up, trying to understand what the negative-ad-creators are attempting to communicate and putting some plans in place to ACTUALLY address the concerns could rocket GM forward in this regard, if they are able to make some commitments and meet them. There’s some upside here, if they get their act together.

What do you think GM should do, if anything?

UPDATE:

Chevy responds in the NYTimes (registration or bugmenot req’d). The money quote, from Chevy representative Melisa Tezanos:

“We anticipated that there would be critical submissions. You do turn over your brand to the public, and we knew that we were going to get some bad with the good. But it’s part of playing in this space.” (via Adrants)

So, it’s at least Option 2. Wanna trade that and go for door #3, Melisa?

As a footnote, it’s worth noting that not all the ads are anti-Chevy or anti-SUV. Some are chuckleworthy. Examples:

Snakes On An SUV! (not advised for those with an aversion to profanity)
Badgerbadgerbadger (disclosure: we did this one, inspired by this)
Way too Emo (for Kathy Sierra, apparently)

The Social Customer Manifesto Podcast 15FEB2006

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Summary: Christopher Carfi and Leif Chastaine review the American Marketing Association Hot Topic series, give an update on the state of the blogosphere via Jupiter Research, Pew, and Technorati, and shine a light on “Charter Street,” the new blog from Paul McNamara and Greg Olsen. (37:42)

Show notes for February 15, 2006

The audio file is available here (MP3, 34MB), or subscribe to our RSS feed to automatically have future shows downloaded to your MP3 player.

00:00 – Intro

01:00American Marketing Association Hot Topic overview : podcasting, video blogging, word of mouth marketing, RSS, interactive social networking, Bill Flitter (Pheedo), Dave Evans (Digital Voodoo), Willow Baum Lundgren (Umbria), Randy Moss (ACS), Napoleon Dynamite, Vote for Pedro

06:00Jupiter Research, online demographic study, teen influencers, patterns of online/offline usage

11:15Pew Internet and American Life, online usage (men and women), difference in online usage by boomers (note: PDF doc)

18:00 – State of the Blogosphere (Dave Sifry, Technorati, Part 1, Part 2), 27.2 million blogs online. 75,000 new blogs per day, Comparison of blogs and mainstream media reach (e.g. NYTimes), Huffington Post, Instapundit

31:30 Importance of tagging as a component of search

32:00 Charter Street blog launched, Versai Technology; SGI; Red Hat; El Dorado Ventures; Paul McNamara & Greg Olsen, startups, virtual companies, and “going bedouin

37:05 – Wrapup

Is Nvidia Exploring The Dark Side Of Viral Marketing?

Consumerist and BoingBoing are indicating that Nvidia may (note: speculation) be working with firm AEG to create faux online personnas to develop positive reputations in online communities to pitch Nvidia products. Consumerist’s unsubstantiated indictment:

“About a week ago, The Consumerist stumbled upon claims made by various gaming websites that graphics chip manufacturer Nvidia, in cooperation with the Arbuthnot Entertainment Group (AEG), had seeded various gaming and PC hardware enthusiast sites with pro-Nvidia shills. That is to say, that AEG would hire employees to create ‘personas’ in various gaming communities, slowly building up the trust of other members by frequent posting unrelated to Nvidia, to later cash in that trust with message board postings talking up the positive qualities of Nvidia’s products.”

Now, one of AEG’s self-proclaimed skills is in:

“Strategic seeding [of] viral assets to ensure they are spread far and wide”

Ok, fair enough. And this post posits that:

“AEG, on behalf of NVIDIA, monitors a number of public hardware enthusiast communities and forums, seeking out some of the more well-respected members of these communities, those that they feel will hold sway among their peers when it comes to discussing product purchase decisions and the like.

These individuals are then approached regarding their interest in joining NVIDIA’s community outreach programme. Those that register said interest are then provided with a free NVIDIA product (graphics cards generally speaking, although as NVIDIA has noted this campaign has been diversified into other product areas) in return for these users providing feedback to NVIDIA for the product they have been given, as well as hopefully evangelising the product to other members of their community. Thus, good word of mouth about the product is spread by a highly valued member of a community among his peers, who then take his sentiments on-board, spread them on to other communities, users, friends etc, and so on – The ‘good news’ spreads quickly, acting as a perfect form of viral marketing.”

If the process above is being followed, and true enthusiasts who happen to be key members of a community are being given samples of product, with no strings or expectations attached, that is good aggressive (and smart) marketing, and is above board. (The recipients do have an obligation, in my opinion, to disclose the freebies, however. One approach is the one that Nokia is following that is covered here, here, here and here.) Now, on the other hand, if shills are being compensated to talk up Nvidia in online forums without disclosing their interests or, even worse, are being compensated to create multiple personalities to astroturf the gaming world, that is an entirely different kettle of fish altogether, and reeks of the issues that have been covered previously in this space and over at Brand Autopsy.

Nvidia, however, horribly flubbed their first attempt to publicly address the situation. After some badgering, Consumerist has received the following email from Nvidia PR Director Derek Perez:

“Hey Joel.

Boy – read your article – you couldn’t have gotten it more wrong.

Do you really not know what AEG does? Did you go to their website? Do you understand their business?

Seems before you write an editorial article on this you would educate yourself.

AEG helps us to manage the online community – we engage with some NV fans to help educate people on the web.

They are NOT hired actors!

They are NOT “shils”!

Happy to answer more questions – but it seems as if you need to do some research first.

Cheers Derek”

This is certainly not the best piece of outreach that’s ever occurred. If Nvidia is NOT engaging in below-board practices, Nvidia would be better served by coming out with a flat, unambiguous statement to that effect. The Perez response is weak and defensive, and not at all what one would expect if they were trying to address the situation in a straightforward and truthful manner. Not good.

Neville, Shel, Steve…what would you advise Nvidia to do in this situation?

(Also of note: the AEG blog is silent on this at the current time.)

Update: Email conversation between Derek Perez and Thomas Hawk on the situation. Hawk:

“I just got off the phone with Derek Perez, Director of NVidia PR, according to Perez, while NVidia has in fact hired third party marketing firm Arbuthnot Entertainment Group (AEG) to market on their behalf, Perez has denied any allegations that either NVidia, or AEG on NVidia’s behalf, has paid money to individuals for posting positive marketing news about NVidia in forums. While Perez has confirmed that NVidia has in fact given hardware to individuals in the mainstream press as well as enthusiasts in online communities, they deny that any cash has been paid to individuals for promoting their products by them or AEG to the best of their knowledge.”

The Social Customer Manifesto Podcast 3FEB2006

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Summary: Leif Chastaine and Christopher Carfi discuss Yahoo’s strategy, Google’s censorship, the remix culture and customer “co-creation” of products, the American Marketing Association’s “Ahead of the Curve” session in Scottsdale, and this week’s RIM/BlackBerry update. (33:06)

Show notes for February 3, 2006

The audio file is available here (MP3, 32MB), or subscribe to our RSS feed to automatically have future shows downloaded to your MP3 player.

00:00 : Intro

01:04 : Yahoo “quits” the search race? Or do they?

09:08 : Google image censorship and strategy

16:30 : The importance of customer “co-creation” of products

27:30 : RIM: “Non-final” judgement regarding BlackBerry is just that

31:45 : Social Networking: Ahead of the Curve (Scottsdale)

32:23 : Wrapup

Links:
Dave Taylor (“What do Yahoo, Apple and Ferrari have in common?”), Yahoo quits, Yahoo gives up, Yahoo content to be Google’s footstool, Yahoo gives up race with Google, Steve Rubel, Google image censorship, Paul Greenberg, BPT Partners, customer co-creation, NTP=”No Tenable Patents?”, RIM patent dispute, AMA High Tech Trends in Marketing

The Social Customer Manifesto Podcast 27JAN2006

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Summary: Leif Chastaine and Christopher Carfi discuss the American Marketing Association’s “Ahead of the Curve” session in Chicago, the marketing challenge for RSS, Salesforce.com taunts and tempts Siebel employees, launch of the “Healing Space” health and environment blog, and this week’s RIM/BlackBerry Supreme Court decision. (33:32)

Show notes for January 27, 2006

The audio file is available here (MP3, 32MB), or subscribe to our RSS feed to automatically have future shows downloaded to your MP3 player.

00:00 : Intro

01:10 : Recap of the AMA’s Ahead of the Curve session: High Tech Trends in Marketing

02:40 : What is RSS?

Metaphors:
Google search for RSS metaphors (n.b. and yes, actually these are “similes” and not “metaphors,” we know, we know…)

“RSS is like an API for content”
“RSS is like selling dogfood over the internet”
“RSS is like Tivo for the web”
“Explaining RSS is like explaining sex. You just don’t get it until you do it.” (also here)
Dave Winer

11:45 : Salesforce.com to Siebel employees: “No Future

19:30 : Healing Space health, wellness and environment blog launched

25:15 : Supremes won’t intervene in RIM BlackBerry / NTP dispute

33:50 : Wrapup

Links:

Bill Flitter, Stowe Boyd, Randy Moss, Michael Sevilla, TheCradle, Salesforce.com, Siebel, Paul Greenberg, Todd Pesek, EarthHealers, Naturaleza Foundation, eco-tourism, Craig Williams, Howard Bashman, Research in Motion, BlackBerry, Ross Mayfield, Davos, BlackBerries a matter of national security

Thoughts For The Beginning Blogger

One of our clients is starting to charge full-force down the blogging path and asked for some feedback on the posts they were working on. Not going to get into the details of what they’re working on quite yet, but had some thoughts that I was sending over based on reading the initial bits that were being put together. About halfway through, realized that these items were fairly relevant across-the-board, so here they are. What would you add to this as far as suggestions for someone just starting down the blogging path?

“G-

First off … Every successful blog eventually has a voice and a corresponding “positioning” (sorry for the marketingspeak) that is applied to it by its readers. The voice of the blog will evolve and, just like positioning in the pure marketing sense, a “tone” of the blog will be applied to you by your subscribers. This will take some time, but if you have a feeling as to how you would *like* to be positioned, you can certainly help it along via the choice of name, categories, commonly-used phrases, etc. Think about what you want the blog’s mojo to be: is it an inside look at the tales of a startup? Is it a viewpoint and *the* reference on long-tail software, or perhaps SaaS? Something else?

Think about your blog’s tagline. (The tagline WILL be reproduced elsewhere, so try to make it capture the core of whatever theme you want to tie everything together.) If the theme is still evolving, it may take a couple of months for the right tagline to present itself…and it will probably uncerimoniously assault you in the shower in the pre-caffeinated hours one morning. But it will show up. Write it down and integrate it when it does.

The positioning and general mojo are ultimately critical…but short-term irrelevant. Just write. Then write some more. It’ll evolve, and don’t force it. It took about four months after inception for the Social Customer blog to find its voice.

Additionally, a well-conceived and executed “About” page is a must, as is a picture. A well-written post will trigger a click to the About page which will, if also well-executed, trigger a click back to the mothership. Make the About page personal. It’s you!

A couple of other general thoughts:

– More links to other blogs inlined in the text! As a result of the current state of measurement and search tools, bloggers are narcissistic link whores (it’s all about the Googlejuice, baby). The more links you throw out to others, (a) the more likely someone will come to your blog (since they saw your blog show up in their vanity feed in Technorati) and (b) they may even put a reciprocal link in one of their posts in the next week, pointing to “hey….here’s a cool article on *x*” that shows how you can use whatever they are pimping in doing *x*. If you can’t link to a blog, link to a news article. If you can’t link to a news article, link to a product site. But link! As Anthony Kiedis so eloquently put it…give it away, give it away, give it away now. (However, for the love of all that is good and right in the world, please refrain from experimenting with RHCP tube sock attire. ::shudder::)

Last, but certainly not least, make sure you have an RSS feed that can be subscribed to on Day 1. Get readers on the drip. First one’s free…

best,
c”

Business Podcasting Article In The Baltimore Sun

The key line: “In what amounts to a nationwide social experiment, corporate America is testing whether this cheap and quirky medium proves useful in the battle to reach the public, communicate meaningfully with employees and keep costs down.”

link: Corporations go off a-podcasting

(Disclosure: I’m quoted in the article. Also, a huge guffaw out to Social Customer reader Dave Ritter who has the best line in the article, which was pulled from the comments here.)

Best Buy Apologizes For Strongarming Some Xbox Customers

Apparently, some customers looking for the best buy on the new Xbox 360 instead were met with less-than-stellar sales tactics at some Best Buy stores, with sales personnel “requiring” customers to purchase unwanted accessories as part of a bundle in order to get the base Xbox unit. Gamedaily reports:

“Console bundles for new hardware launches certainly aren’t unusual—many retailers (especially online) have been selling the Xbox 360 in bundle form only—but this practice is one that doesn’t sit well with many consumers and was not supposed to have been adopted by popular retail chain Best Buy.

Despite this, certain Best Buy stores in the U.S. apparently ignored the standalone $299 (core) and $399 (premium) SKUs and either forced consumers to buy Xbox 360 bundles or strongly suggested that they do so.”

For example, back on November 23rd, the Northwest Indiana Times reported:

“Glancing down the line Tuesday morning at the Valparaiso store, there was a sea of heads covered with knit caps or hoodies. The crowd consisted mostly of guys in their late teens to early 20s, sprinkled lightly with motivated soccer moms and young women.

It wasn’t just the weather that was unpredictable. At 8:15 a.m., after many nighttime hours spent shivering in line, a Best Buy employee announced that the unit would not be sold alone for the $399 advertised in the sales flier. Instead, those in line were told they would have seconds to decide whether to buy a higher-priced bundle, adding a game and other accessories.”

In the wake of this, did some looking around and just tripped across the following memo, penned by Brian Dunn, Best Buy’s President of Retail for North America (via Mike Antonucci at the Merc):

“TO: Open Letter to Customers

FROM: Brian Dunn, President – Retail, North America

RE: Launch of Xbox 360

CC: Best Buy Store, District and Territory Employees; All Officers and Directors

DATE: December 6, 2005

I’m writing to apologize.

While all of us at Best Buy were thrilled to be part of the recent launch of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 video game system – one of the most anticipated events in the history of electronic gaming – the launch did not go as we had hoped. We sold out of Xbox 360s nationwide in less than two hours, and most of our stores did an outstanding job of serving our gaming customers. I’d like to thank the majority of our employees, who provided a terrific experience for customers at the launch date. However, our promotional activities in certain cases failed to follow company guidelines. As a result, some of our valued gaming customers had an experience in our stores that was inconsistent with what you’ve come to expect from us, as a leader in the consumer electronics industry.

Specifically, customers in some Best Buy stores were told that they were required to buy additional Xbox accessories or services if they wanted one of the sought-after Xbox 360 consoles, even though we advertised the Xbox 360 console alone. I want to be very clear that Best Buy does not condone pressuring customers to purchase items they may not want or that may not fit their lifestyle. In fact, these behaviors are in direct conflict with our desire to serve customers’ needs better than anyone else, and our values of honesty and integrity.

We are currently investigating all leads about promotional practices that may have violated the company’s guidelines, and we will take disciplinary actions as appropriate. We also have reminded all of our stores about our policies with respect to launches of hot products. Meanwhile, on behalf of Best Buy, I’d like to offer a sincere apology to any customers who felt pressured to buy items they did not want.

Customers who are unhappy with Xbox 360-related purchases made in November 2005 may return unwanted items for a full refund at any Best Buy store. In addition, if your Xbox 360 purchasing experience did not meet your expectations for any reason, please email us at xbox360@bestbuy.com . (Employees with information pertinent to our investigation are encouraged to call our Ethics Hot Line instead.)

Last, I would like to invite you back to our stores, particularly later this month, when Best Buy will receive more shipments of Xbox 360s. While supplies continue to be very limited, we are truly excited about this new gaming platform, and we’d like to deliver the best of that experience to you. We promise an in-store experience that is focused on your needs and the needs of everyone on your holiday gift list.

Brian Dunn”

(UPDATE: The letter has since been posted here, with a miniscule link to a PDF buried next to the garish page navigation photograph .)

So, from both the communications and customer interaction points-of-view, a well-handled episode for Best Buy. Although a few individuals tried to take advantage of customers, Best Buy corporate is doing the right thing in not only investigating (and, presumably, disciplining) the responsible parties, but also taking an aggressive tack to make whole the customers who were affected by the issue. Of course, it would have been better if this never had happened in the first place, but still an “B+” response based on relative timeliness and assumption of responsibility for the issue. (Would have been an “A” if they had done this in an even more timely manner and made the letter to customers more visible on their web site.)