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

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