The clip-on ties, that nerdy white short sleeved shirt. These are unmistakable elements of the Geek Squad brand, recently called Best Buy's "killer app" by the Los Angeles Times. But the brand that holds up Best Buy's repair and installation business, has developed quite a reputation for geeks who feel comfortable wearing pocket protectors, but don't have a clue how to service customers.
I recently brought the branded emissaries of geekdom a 10" Vaio laptop that I had running Windows XP and which increasingly showed the same blue screen error until it was impossible to get it to boot and stay booted for very long. Admittedly, the machine is 5 years old, but it is loaded with hardware goodies like a video cam, DVD drive, SD memory slot and it is as small as a netbook. And it is small and lightweight. When I gave them the laptop, I also had told the rep I had an iPhone video of the error sequence, whch highlighted the message that showed what the error was and when it occurred. They weren't interested. "We'll see whatever the problem is when we run our diagnostics." I now understand that means we only pay attention to the diagnostics. Our process means we don't have to listen to the customer, only what our diagnostics tell us. The receipt for the checked in laptop did not reflect the specifics of my use case, and it did not repeat what the video showed. It was a Cliff Notes version of what the rep entered as their abridged view of the problem they heard me describe - that is, what they agreed to do to fix a symptom.
I received a call from the Geek Squad telling me their diagnostics program showed a new hard drive was required. The machine used a 1.8" drive which Best Buy doesn't stock or order, and which is sold online by another vendor. The rep who called indicated that this would fix the problem and gave me the total estimate for the job, plus the cost of the new drive, which I'd have to order myself. In total, I could have a fully featured working 10" laptop running full Win XP for the cost of a netbook, he assured me.
I could find only one place online that sold the replacement part, and it had a 10 day return policy, so I ordered it online and verified with the Geek who had my laptop that I had found the correct part. I brought it into store two days later and five days later they called to tell me my laptop was fixed and ready for pick up.
At the counter, the Geek Squad rep told me that after working on the computer for five days, he was sure the problem was resolved, and he never suggested - and I didn't request - that we boot the machine up when I signed and paid for it to show us both it was indeed no longer generating the error. And, of course, when I got home and booted it up, the blue screen error appeared before Windows finished loading. The very same error message I had video recorded before bringing it in. In the same place in the setup process as before. Two more times I restarted and got the message and immediately called the store. "It was working when it left here," the manager said. "I don't know what you did since then." I asked him how he was sure it had been working since there was no proof. I informed him I replicated the sequence as before and had the video on my iPhone from the week before and another I created this time. I asked if his diagnostics replicated my actual use case when the machine was first analyzed or after it was "repaired." The manager continued to repeat that his diagnostics said the hard drive was bad and they replaced it. "But you didn't actually repair what I brought it in for," I told him. "It looks identical to what occured prior to you charging me to replace the hard drive, which I had to separately source and buy." He insisted the hard drive was bad even though it didn't fix my initial problem.
At this point it dawned on me that the scalable, Geek Squad workflow process found a plausible explanation for my problem, and stopped looking. They did not identify whether what they found was an explanation for a symptom of the problem or the root cause of the problem. In fact, by never replicating my actual use case, no one really could be sure if they had fixed my problem. They may have even mitigated the issue, which allowed the OS to load on occasion, and that was enough to move the laptop off their bench.
I brought the laptop back to the Geek Squad counter the next day, open, awake, running on battery, and still displaying the same blue screen crashing message I had when I first brought it in. On the counter, the manager rebooted the laptop, and this time Windows loaded. "See, it's working," he shrugged, completely ignoring the blue screen I had on display. Clearly it was not cured, but one restart and the Geek in Charge wiped his hands of any responsibility for the fact I had walked in with evidence the problem that started the whole affair still persisted. "We can diagnose it again," he offered. "Isn't that what you were supposed to have done when I originally brought it in?" I asked.
And that was when I realized I know longer trusted the nerdy know-it-all in his geek uniform to service my broken product, let alone my business.