Geek Squad City Insider Rebutts Founder's Retort

Chris has a parry and thrust to the Geek Squad founder’s response to his original confession.

Though he professes the utmost respect for him, our tipster contends that Robert is too far away from the action inside Geek Squad City to really know what’s going on there.

Chris seems to suggest that after selling his company to Best Buy, Robert has become increasingly isolated from the ground-level day-to-day decision-making. Best Buy company men dominate operations, pushing the bottom line at the cost of customer satisfaction, while telling Robert, ensconced within his Minneapolis enclave, surrounded by a clutch of loyal lieutenants from the Geek Squad glory days, what he wants to hear.

We’re not sure if that’s a fair assessment, this is a fired employee after all, but it’s a compelling one, and you can read it inside…

UPDATE: Chris has a few more things to say after reading some of the comments on his story.


Chris J. writes:

To the editors of The Consumerist,

Please allow me a rebuttal in reference to Mr. Robert Stephens’ comments, as it appears he himself is misinformed about what goes on in this repair center, many hundreds of miles away from where he resides and works.

Specifically, he states ‘ We train all agents that do component level repair to use the following equipment: O’scopes, soldering techniques, meter reading.’ This is simply not true. None of my agents were trained on any of these devices. When Geek Squad City opened it was learned through trial and error or education received from more experienced technicians. Only in the few weeks prior to my departure did any sort of training get put into place, and that was the rudimentary ‘solder’ program, of which only 1 person per team was allowed to attend. As far as O-scopes and digital multi-meters go, no training was EVER given to knowledgeable employees. He also states that agents have ’400-500′ dollars’ worth of equipment on their benches. I presume they buy supplies from the same folks that sell the Pentagon $1000 toilet seats. Far and away, benches are equipped with this: A toolbox, super-glue, alcohol, thermal paste, a screwdriver set, a torx driver set (only 5 sizes of each), two nut drivers, picks (3-4) for prying out things, a set of pliers (4), some cotton swaps, a multimeter and a cordless, rechargeable screwdriver. This stuff might set a person back a hundred bucks at Wal-Mart. Maybe. In any case, quite often laptops are fitted with unique hardware which makes it difficult to properly disassemble with damaging the unit, but I have already said my piece on the subject.

Secondly, he states ‘We have vendor specific training for each make, model and new revision.’ Again, this is a blatant lie. In my time with Geek Squad, I personally worked on Hewlett Packard, Compaq, Gateway and Emachines laptops. I never, repeat, NEVER so much as saw one soul from any of these manufacturers, nor was ANY literature available form them. In fact two of the most recent models produced by Hewlett Packard just appeared one day, in for repairs. Needless to say, we had no choice but to ‘play’ with them to learn how to take them apart properly. Model specific training? Hell, we’d just like to know before we get them that there IS a new model! Part numbers were sourced from an internally built and maintained (by us) spreadsheet, or gained from parts vendors such as MPD Parts, or a manufacturer’s web site which anyone could access, even from home. Technical manuals with exploded views, replacement procedures, or diagnostic tools and tips are flat out NON-EXISTENT. Maybe it was the intent for Mr. Stephens to acquire this training and provide this information; currently, it simply isn’t there. Of course, Mr. Stephens has visited this facility only a scant few times since it opened, and these were generally for media purposes, not to actually participate or involve employees in any meaningful training or education.

Robert also states that teams are in place to perform quality assurance checks on repaired units. As I stated originally, but perhaps not as clearly as I could, these ‘teams’ are comprised entirely of men and women off the street with even less technical knowledge than the least-skilled repair team worker. Quite simply, all they are trained to do is turn a system on, see if it boots, and run the company provided diagnostic testing tools, which are nowhere near broad enough to find an issue. They don’t, for example, check network functionality, or modem functionality for those who use dial up connections at home. They also don’t work on these units and have no idea in some cases what even falls under the category of ‘operates normally’.

Personally, I have nothing but respect for Mr. Stephens and appreciate that he is only trying to set the record straight as he perceives it. Unfortunately, his original, excellent incarnation was sold to Best Buy and now he has become isolated from his company, and this repair center, hundreds of miles away in Minnesota. Either his response is pure ‘damage control’, or he is simply misinformed or flat out lied to by the upper management at Geek Squad City. Said management consists of former store managers and corporate types with little to no experience in the field of repair operations, and they run it as such, where the only thing that matters is the bottom line and how many units a team can cram out the door. Most of Robert’s original senior agents from the early days are with him in Minnesota, and did not become a part of this venture. Sad, because I honestly believe in their ideals, if only they actually put more emphasis on implementation.

Sincerely,

Chris J

UPDATE: Chris has a few more things to say after reading some of the comments on his story.

Thanks for running my email on the situation at the Geek Squad. After reading comments about my being fired as the reason for the flame, let me set the record straight.

Quality, to me, is the single most important factor a customer is looking for when buying a product or service. Sure, price, convenience and a million other things factor in a purchasing decision, but the bottom line it we don’t want to knowing buy junk.

Yes, I really was fired for ‘going off’ on a single employee. I had NO prior management counseling, write-ups, or any issues of any kind. To put it simply, I was told I had ‘demeaned’ this individual and his department (never mind that he got smart with me to begin with) and that kind of behavior would be terminable, regardless of my prior work performance. Unfortunately for me, Kentucky is a ‘right to work’ state meaning that an employer or employee can terminate employment at any time, for any reason, without penalty. So if I want to quit, off I go. If they don’t like the color of my shoes, they can fire me. That’s just how it is.

Anyway, I pushed for new model training, quality repairs, a better process for training new hires, manuals, you name it while I was there. Nearly all of it fell on deaf ears. I have always been a voice above the crowd, not feeling compelled to accept the company line when it could be made better. This isn’t to say ‘boat rocker’, but what I mean is that when I have had opportunities given me where I have input on a process, I have been among the first to highlight the ‘good’ while offering an alternative to ‘the bad’. The bottom line is this. We, as team managers, were offered compensation based on 2 things. 2. T-W-O. We received a quarterly cash bonus based on how quickly units were turned around, and on keeping the costs per repair below a prescribed objective. There is nothing in the corporate scheme about ‘quality’. Sure, it’s talked about a lot, and a bunch of numbers are bandied about, but when I know for a fact that the unit I am sending back to you isn’t repaired as good as it should be and no one cares, you ought to know.

— BEN POPKEN

PREVIOUSLY: Geek Squad City Tell-All VS Founder Of Geek Squad

Comments

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  1. r81984 says:

    After reading stories like this:
    Geek Squad Charges $415 Dollars To Replace A Hard Drive…
    http://consumerist.com/consumer/best-buy/geek-squad-charge

    I believe this insider over anyone associated with Geeksquad or Best Buy.

    Also if Robert is reading this, please let us know why geek squad charged so much just to change a hard drive and why they could not even diagnose the problem correctly if they are trained like he claims?

    The evidence seems to support this insider.

  2. ZonzoMaster says:

    I’m scared of buying at Best Buy now. Altough my Best Buy xbox always worked fine, i dunno where the hell im gonna buy my xbox 360 now.

    Ohhh actually, here’s a story for you people: when i bought my xbox they offered one of their famous extended warraties (yeah im 17, i didnt know what the heck i was doing at the time), so basically, they told us over and over a list of BS benefits and stuff, but what is weird, is that they were offering us for the purchase of the warranty a deal on my xbox when the 360 came outthey would get our xbox and we would only pay the difference, of course there was no note of that on the receipt, but the manager and the cashier both told us pretty much the same thing. Now i know it’s probably not true, but well my point is that the seem to have no problem to lie to my face, and specially, since it was a Best Buy in Laredo, TX. They pretty much recognize who isnt from the area, i am from Mexico, i buy sometimes there because of price, but it seems shady to lie customers from other places just because they know im probably not coming back in a long time.

    And yeah well check the grammar, im sure i made a mess back there.

    PS. It wasnt even announced like 360 she kept calling it xbox 2(the xbox only had a year since it was out, so it was a while ago).

  3. dantsea says:

    I believe Chris’s version more than the one offered by Robert. Chris has made statements that match up with some things I’ve heard about Geek Squad from other (current and former) “agents.”

    Robert puts on a good face for the media, but admitted at the end of his response that he’s far removed from a vital piece of his division’s infrastructure. I know executives are supposed to be the “big picture” people, but he seems to be a little off focus.

  4. Xkeeper says:

    I should also mention; note how Robert, in his original reply, stated that he was replying to an “anonymous email”… yet the person’s name is written in plain text at the bottom of their email!

    It really sounds like a canned reply:
    [Formal greeting]
    [X] Makes statements about quality of repairs
    [ ] Targets overcharging for service
    [X] Claims internal management problems
    [ Generate Powerpoint Presentation ]

    Honestly… I think our (ex-)employee is 99% truthful. Some statements seem way, way out there, but then again, this is Geek Squad.

  5. Ben Popken says:

    @Xkeeper: When I originally sent the email to Robert I redacted the confessor’s name.

  6. faust1200 says:

    Well I’m really looking forward to the reply to the retort and the rebuttal of the reply and the response to the reaction. Yeesh. Anyone else sense sexual tension between these two?

  7. Helvetian says:

    I’m going with the insider/employee here. It makes sense and actually matches info I’ve heard. In so many words, avoid Geek Squad.

  8. Xkeeper says:

    @Ben Popken:

    Oh. Well ha ha doesn’t that make me look stupid. .’D

    I’m on fire tonight.

  9. cedarpointfan says:

    Hmm, Geek Squad has just been blacklisted. Although I can repair my box myself, just going to let my friends/family know.

    Thanks for these letters! =)

  10. mfergel says:

    **while telling Robert, ensconced within his Minneapolis enclave, surrounded by a clutch of loyal lieutenants from the Geek Squad glory days, what he wants to hear.**

    LOL. You think this different from any other big company? Management is full of yes men. It doesn’t matter if it’s Best Buy or Wachovia or………

  11. hop says:

    best buy still sucketh……………..

  12. NeoteriX says:

    I feel like its time for a video expose into the practices at Geek Squad City.

  13. Kornkob says:

    *shrug* I’m still of the opinion that both parties in this instance have an axe to grind and, thus, neither can be taken at face value.

    The truth, as with many of the stories on Consuemrist, is probably somewhere in the middle.

  14. Kornkob says:

    Are there standards at consumerist for when ‘the other party’ is given an opportunity to respond to someone’s claims before they are published? I’d actually like to see more of the Consumerist stories handled this way.

  15. scoobydoo says:

    While I agree that Geeksquad is a waste of time, money and talent I disagree with some of the stuff the ex employee posts about. An Oscilloscope to repair a PC? Just what do you plan to do with that? If a part is broken, you replace it. It isn’t like you are going to take the scope or a logic analyzer and start replacing chips.

    I can understand the need for a multimeter to check the power supply (though a simple ATX power supply tester would be easier), but he makes it sound like Geeksquad is in the business of fixing stuff on a component level, and that just isn’t true. Even Dell doesn’t try and pry the chips off your mobo to fix it. Part broken? Replace it. It is that simple.

    Repairing PC’s isn’t rocket science. There is only so much you can do to a PC. I seriously doubt a customer would prefer you trying to fix a powersupply (takes an hour at best) instead of just replacing the $40 part (which takes 10 minutes at best).

    I don’t doubt the story posted by him, but I think he has far too high an expectation of just what people expect from the geeksquad.

  16. nweaver says:

    Zonzo: Either buy your X-box 360 from Cosco (90 day return policy + long warantee) or from Target (again, good return policy, and if you are willing to tolerate another credit card, you can get 10% off then and there)

  17. Sudonum says:

    @scoobydoo:
    I agree with you about the cost effectiveness of simply changing out components rather than repairing them. I don’t understand why either one of these people would place such emphasis on soldering training. I would think that even a trained tech could do alot of damage on a mother board with a soldering iron. And don’t most companies simply assembly purchased components to make their computers anyway?

  18. kenposan says:

    Geek Squad sucks big….well, you know.

    My laptop crashed after a Windows Update. I took to GS and told them this. I also told them that a quick internet search showed this happened to other people.

    GS had my computer for several days and told me I had a bad motherboard and that it was cheaper to buy a new computer than repair it. They backed up my data for me.

    Trusting their analysis, I bought a new laptop rather than fixing the old one. Then for fun I ran the reinstall/recovery disks for the old laptop. My daughter now has a laptop because it has run fine since. The only problem the old laptop has had is the touchpad stopped working and I have figured out how to get it going again. Haven’t spent much time on it since she uses a mouse anyway.

    DON’T TRUST GEEK SQUAD

  19. Stepehn Colbert says:

    Like everyone didnt already know the Geek Squad dont know what they are doing. BTW, you can use an oscilloscope for a pc. They actually have endless possibilities for use. Some are even called “PC oscilloscopes”. They perform the functions of such equipment as digital storage oscilloscopes, spectrum analyzers, and meter and data logging. Overall its TEST EQUIPMENT. Grats to scoobydoo on having the stupidest problem with anything anyone would ever have the chance to witness the posting of.

  20. Flynn says:

    With modern surface mount parts, there’s no WAY these guys are soldering anything by hand. Sudonum, you’re right. They could damage so much just noodling around in there.

    The key aspect would be on using multimeters to find out if anything is fried, but I’d bet 99% of the time they have no choice anyway. What’s the point of even using tools to open a laptop up? If it’s not made to be swapped out (drive, memory), then without the schematics, they’re just taking shots in the dark. It’s more cost effective for them to swap the machine at that point.

    I mean, the easier way is to just have a good supply of replacement parts and swap them out one at a time with thorough testing to isolate the problem part. Case in point: a friend of mine has a Dell XPS that keeps blue screening when trying to install big apps from his CD-ROM. So, it’s either a) a driver, b) the CD-ROM, c) the IDE/SATA bus, d) the hard drive, e) memory, or f) any cables in between. I don’t need a multimeter or soldering iron to narrow down the problem. I just need the parts to swap out one at a time. And places like Best Buy have shelves full of many of those things.

    With the low prices of most parts these days, it’s FAR more cost effective to replace that drive/mobo/memory than to try and fix it. I suppose there are the rare cases where the specific hardware needs to be used, but in such cases, you’re dealing with weird custom business cases, and those people RARELY go to Geek Squad.

    What puzzles me is that I always thought Geek Squad was more for configuration problems and diagnostic solutions than circuit twiddling.

  21. TheZenArcher says:

    Just for the record, unless the Geek Squad City insider is mooning customers two or three times, or – gasp! – more, it’s likely that by offering a rebuttal, thus rebutting, thus having rebutted, he merely “rebuts” with one “t” which makes the whole thing vastly more enjoyable for all. Unless you’re into that sort of thing. (dictionary.reference.com/search?q=rebuts)

  22. mac-phisto says:

    @Flynn: not everything can be fixed by swapping boards. used a soldering iron to replace a power jack on a laptop just the other day & last week i was replacing faulty audio contacts for a client. i could’ve spent 30 minutes dropping an audio card in, installing necessary drivers, firmware, etc & charged the guy $100+ for all that, or i could take 5 minutes to desolder the cracked joints, resolder them & charge him $30.

    it’s true that in many cases you could just swap boards til something works, but then many times you’re replacing parts you don’t need to replace. an o-scope & a good multimeter are essential for determining where a circuit malfunction exists.

    sure, in most cases, i’m not going to circuit-test a swappable part. but when my friend had a problem with the fan on his $300 vid card, he was pretty happy that i fixed the short on the fan leads instead of replacing the card to the tune of $300.

    personally, i think this guy’s just waking up to the reality of today’s service centers. they don’t employ people who even know what an o-scope is (let alone what it does), b/c they want to pay some kid $8/hr instead of paying a technician $30+/hr. radioshack repair & the other big box repairs are no different. if something can’t be fixed by swapping a board, then it can’t be fixed. in probably 85-90% of cases you can fix by swap & it isn’t cost-effective to pay someone $30/hr to be replacing power supplies & ram boards. but you need at least a few of these guys around for the real repair issues or you’re really not being cost-effective on 10-15% of your repairs. also, an electronics expert will save you money when you don’t need to swap (like the time i fixed a $300 a/v receiver with a 30-cent capacitor instead of trying to allocate a $40+ power supply).

  23. silverlining says:

    A lot of reasonable questions have been asked in this discussion thread. I wonder why Robert or at least a PR flak from GS haven’t taken the time to respond.

  24. barry_seltzer says:

    To all the naysayers:

    I have to chime in and point out that this analysis of tools is way off base.

    First off, they are fixing laptops… not ATX-based Desktop units. All the components cost more and are not easy to come by.

    As to surface mount, simply not true. While most of your chip caps, chip resistors, and ICs are surface mount, the power connector, audio input jacks, etc can be fixed with a cheapo soldering iron. (You can fix surface mount stuff too, you just have to have a steady hand… I used to build prototype boards for Kaman that way).

    Because many of these laptops are no longer in production, you often have to do very odd things… using an oscilloscope and soldering by hand are often the only options.

  25. barry_seltzer says:

    @Flynn:

    You guys are way off.

    These are laptops they are fixing (refer to the original post). Often these are units that contain components no longer in production. It’s not like there is an established form factor for laptops (aside from the drive and such).

    Surface mount components can also be fixed by a steady, experienced hand (I did this a good bit, once upon a time).

    More importantly, common problems on laptops (power connectors coming loose, loose audio jacks) can be fixed with a soldering iron. There are many other examples (like heating the GPU on iBooks to reseat the ball solder).

    All of what he has suggested is necessary for these kinds of repairs. It’s not like you can just get the latest ATX form factor component or PCI-E video card and plop it in.

  26. TankGrrl says:

    Considering the fact that the Geek Squad City has 1% turn over rate I would have to say that they seem to be doing something right. Chris to me sounds like a disgruntled employee who more than likely got “fired” because he was not doing his job correctly. I happen to know for a fact that the GS does properly train their people. There are classes taught all of the time. Before getting hired there are tests that you have to take before even being considered a position. If you don’t score high enough they won’t put you in that position. So Chris is full of you know what. Maybe FireDog will hire him now.

  27. pcvirgil says:

    I am a computer tech and do business with residential and business clients. I have one client with 15 computers between two locations in Las Vegas, NV and Pomona, CA. While I was servicing the Las Vegas office, someone in the Pomona office accidentally unplugged the office wireless routers along with a few computers. The internet was not working and it vital for the business to have access to the internet. The office manager was in panic and decided to call Geek Squad to fix the problem. The agent that came and the first thing he said was that the two routers were bad and needed to be replaced. Both routers and he took the old routers with him. I could understand 1, but both routers going bad at the same time? I had just been testing the system 4 days before and everything was fine. Final cost? $680. So the Geek Squad in my opinion is over priced and push to sell hardware you don’t need.

  28. Cap'n Jack says:

    More proof that places like Geek Squad and CompUSA will never replace your local computer-geek teenager, who you can pay $50 to repair absolutely everything that’s wrong with your computer. I’ve been doing that since I was 16, and now at 28 I can charge $40 per hour and still have people who want to overpay me an extra hour for the convenience. Boycott these places and you’ll save yourself weeks of headaches.

  29. dr_oxide says:

    Where’s your ESD approved wrist straps and ESD approved smocks and clothing? Improper ESD procedures everywhere! What about ESD floor treatment. Area’s not even posted as ESD. Shame shame on you! Zap goes someones board every minute! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zbxcZLRq7M&mode=related&se

    Purchased HP DV9008nr laptop 1-10-2007. Took it back to best buy 2-23-07 for keyboard problems. Instead of replacing it they sent it off and now claim it has water damage and is no longer under warranty and trying to charge $600 on service! We all know what the problem and the cause is in the electrical engineering department and it was not water damaged as claimed! We still have not received the computer back for us to reanalyze and further our documentation
    3-13-07 Still have not received laptop and still getting the run around from geek squad at our west store in Wichita KS. There delaying sending it back. Where sure the unit will not match or original photos or our original documentation!