Certifying the Best

REDMOND, Wash., May 18, 2006 – If there’s one thing small business owners have in common it’s a lack of resources – the people, skills and time needed to design and implement business-critical processes and systems that will help them better mange their companies. What they need are trusted, qualified experts who understand the specific needs of small businesses.

Best Buy, a Fortune 100 consumer electronics retailer with more than 940 stores in North America, recognized these needs and developed its “Best Buy for Business” (BBFB) division targeted to address the requirements of small businesses. BBFB combines sales staff at business solutions centers (“store within a store”) staffed by specially trained experts with The Geek Squad, Best Buy’s technical support and service arm, and phone support. BBFB provides one outlet for all the resources small businesses need to become more efficient so they have more time to focus on the bottom line.

As Best Buy formed BBFB, the company realized that delivering market-leading service would require special training for all staff members as well as validation of that higher degree of knowledge. As announced today, Best Buy and Microsoft teamed to develop a unique training program to meets those goals.

Lutz Ziob, General Manager, Microsoft Learning

Lutz Ziob, General Manager, Microsoft Learning

May 17, 2006

“Best Buy and Microsoft have partnered to develop a best-of-breed learning and certification program that is already yielding significant results,” says Lutz Ziob, general manager of Microsoft Learning. “This innovative program is a benchmark for how highly-trained and certified professionals can provide the best service to their customers in a retail environment.”

To date, over 300 BBFB small business sales and service experts have earned Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) status through the program, which launched in 2005.

“What our customers have said is ‘I know you know about computers, what do you know about my business, about my needs as a business?’” says Hillary Metz, customer solutions manager for BBFB. “We train our staff on the technology needs associated with small businesses.”

Certification Is Key

All BBFB store-based Business Technology Specialists and field-based Business Technology Consultants as well as Geek Squad “Special Agents” must take and pass an MCP exam that covers Windows Small Business Server 2003. At the district level, some agents are required to achieve a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certification as well.

“Training is a job requirement because we want to build that credibility with our customers and we want our staff to develop their skills and knowledge,” Metz says. “We wanted to differentiate our staff in the store and the Geek Squad as being better informed and better able to provide one resource that addresses all the needs of small business owners.”

“It came from the customer asking what experience do we have. Now they can say, ‘I’m Microsoft certified; I’ve been through their certification process and I’m an MCP in Windows Small Business Server.’ It carries a lot more weight.”

Best Customer Service

Even for the company’s most experienced agents, the certification program has had tremendous benefits. Bryan Baker, a Special Agent with The Geek Squad in the Chicago area, has more than 18 years of IT experience. His job is to customize and implement systems for small business customers. He completed his MCP certification for Microsoft Small Business Server last August and feels he and his customers have both profited from the certification program. Baker just completed his MCSE certification and plans on earning other certifications in the future to expand his knowledge base and demonstrate his skills to his customers.

“The benefits to me are being able to have a recognized certification from Microsoft with Microsoft’s backing,” Baker says. “It shows that you’re qualified to customize and implement Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003. A lot of small business customers in the past would get Windows Server, which did not fit their needs. They get more for their dollar with Windows Small Business Server. It’s a huge plus to be able to articulate that to the customer.

“Knowing that you’ve been through a certification track with Microsoft is worth its weight in gold to a small business customer.”

“They know what they’re doing”

One customer who has been the recipient of Baker’s expertise is Robb Satten, a Realtor with RE/MAX in Long Grove, Ill. Satten is a small business owner with two full time employees and seven active computers on a wired and wireless network. He turned to Best Buy to set up his Microsoft Windows Small Business Server, Microsoft Exchange and several other smaller projects. He sees the value of Baker’s Microsoft certification as: “They know what they are doing—that simple!”

“Best Buy’s service is desperately needed in the marketplace,” Satten says. “I have had two prior computer companies doing work for me over the years and both of them ended having severe billing problems. This is because the people that came out didn’t always know the technology and ended up calling tech support at other companies and billing me for them to learn. Under the Geek Squad program you pay one fee until it is right. This is king in my book. I refer them all the time.”

Increased sales, better retention

While better customer service is the first goal of Best Buy’s training and certification efforts, ultimately the success of the program will be measured by increased sales and customer loyalty in the small business segment as well as better employee retention. “The intent is to limit the usual turn and churn in the store,” adds Metz. “The time and energy they have invested in themselves and the fact they’ve had success with it I think has a huge motivational impact. There’s a huge pride that ‘I am a Microsoft Certified. Professional.’”

Microsoft has recognized Best Buy’s certification efforts by designating BBFB a Gold Certified Partner Alliance, the only national retailer to achieve that status. It’s testimony to the company’s superior combination of services and products to help its small business customers succeed.

“Best Buy’s program demonstrates the value and power of certification,” Ziob says. “By investing in its employees, Best Buy is realizing positive returns through increased customer satisfaction and a more loyal, stable workforce.”

Portal of the Future

However, in the ultra-competitive retail marketplace, you can never rest on your laurels. BBFB is already in the process of expanding training and certification by creating a sophisticated learning portal, which will launch later this year. This state-of-the-art portal will use a blended learning approach to provide a wide variety of learning tools and assessments to meet the needs of its staff. The program will incorporate Microsoft’s new generation of certifications to train and validate BBFB agents on new technologies as they’re introduced into the marketplace.

With the new portal in place, the company plans on having over 900 employees complete their MCPs by the end of 2006. In addition to providing a better customer experience, the company views Microsoft certification as a significant competitive advantage in the marketplace.

“You can never just sit still and say ‘We’re there!’” Metz says. “You never get ‘there.’ You’re always innovating. There is always something ahead of you. And this program gives our customers a much better sense of what we can bring to them.”

By delivering a unique level of service and expertise, Best Buy is leading the industry by putting a highly trained, certified team at its small business customers’ disposal.

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