Beware of Geeks Baring Goofs

By Jonathan Bernstein

Too many organizations have failed to learn from the experience of Arthur Andersen, a company that, in its corporate arrogance, refused to acknowledge even the possibility that any of its employees had erred. Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) stores, at least as represented by its Store #125 in Pasadena, California, appears to be one such organization. This is a story of how one Best Buy store manager was willing to stand by his employees even when faced with overwhelming evidence of their errors and one deliberate lie.

Here is the sequence of events of a two-week period:As my regular readers know, I’m a Geek, and proud of it. But I believe my billable time is best spent on my clients’ needs and not on diagnosing and repairing computer problems, so I thought it made sense to bring my frequently crashing notebook computer to the Geek Squad. Bad call — not only because they misdiagnosed my problem, but also because they were unwilling to consider the evidence that I out-geeked the Geek Squad when forced to do so by their inept non-repairs.

Best Buy Visit #1: Turning in an HP Pavilion notebook that had suffered several “blue screen of death” crashes over a multi-day period, concluding with a complete refusal to return to either normal or SAFE mode. Paid $199 for their “Diagnostic & Repair” service. Told them that if reformat was necessary, so be it, I had everything backed up.

Best Buy Visit #2: Picked up “repaired” computer. Was told that they had been able to restore full function without reformatting.

Best Buy Visit #3: Brought notebook back to the Geek Squad after it frequently froze up and various programs malfunctioned during a short road trip. I expressed my frustration, politely. When I asked how long the repair might take, I was told their current backup was up to 10 days. I asked for and was hooked up with a supervisor, who agreed that since my computer had allegedly been fixed previously, it should go to the front of the line and would be ready within a day or two. Subsequently, after diagnosis, the supervisor told me that the notebook’s registry was corrupted and they would have no choice but to reformat the hard drive, to which I agreed.

Best Buy Visit #4: (a couple of days later): I picked up the notebook and brought it home and, over a several-day period re-installed a number of my primary business software packages (e.g., MS-Office suite, QuickBooks). And then I noticed that I was still experiencing multiple unexplained program errors and computer lockups. Then I started to wonder what ELSE might be wrong with the computer versus what the Geek Squad had allegedly found. A little research on the lead causes of such problems resulted in two conclusions – a virus (which shouldn’t be present on a reformatted drive) or bad RAM (the memory chips in a computer). I downloaded two well-known RAM testers and ran them – and BOTH found thousands of errors with my RAM!

Best Buy Visit #5: I brought my notebook and screen-prints of the RAM-testing results to the store and this time asked for a store manager. Enter manager Hector Perez. He brought a senior tech out from the secret back rooms of the Geek Squad and the tech claimed they had run a memory test. Hector said, “We need to be able to replicate your findings in order to do anything about this.” The tech asked what I wanted if I was correct, and my response was, “I want replacement memory at no charge and reimbursement of the diagnostic charges, because I found the real problem, not you, and you never had to reformat my hard drive, so I’m also stuck with all of this re-installation work.” It turned out that their memory testing program is the one of the two I used.

The next day the tech called to tell me that they had replicated my data and he couldn’t understand why they didn’t find it before. However, he said, manager Perez was only authorizing memory replacement – not a refund of the diagnostic charge – because, “our original repair was because you had 425 viruses on your computer!” I told him I thought that was impossible – I am rabid about my computer security AND my email is filtered through an enterprise system whose security would be envied by the CIA – and its flags would have gone up big-time if any files I emailed were infected. PLUS, the notebook was merely a traveling computer, and all of its files were mirrored on my desktop computer, which was exhibiting no problems. I demanded proof of the viruses when I came over to pick up the computer.

Best Buy Visit #6: Picked up the computer and asked for above referenced proof. I was shown a worksheet that said my computer was found to have 425 “Ad-Awares” – which a tech, when I called him on it, acknowledged were tracking cookies, NOT viruses. I asked for Mr. Perez and told him that not only had his techs erred repeatedly, one of them had actually lied to me, and I insisted on a refund of all charges. He refused. “I stand by my techs,” he insisted. I told him I would escalate the complaint to his corporate office and at least get an article out of the situation. He said, “go ahead.”

So I did. After a few false starts trying to find the right contact at Best Buy’s corporate offices, I mini-spammed a few different people in their public relations and corporate communications department, wearing two hats – consumer and editor. That elicited a very polite and sympathetic call from Best Buy Consumer Advocate Michael Arrighi, who listened to my tale and immediately authorized a refund. He said that was not the way the corporation intended to do business. He agreed that the amount of time I had spent on this matter was well worth the refund and the free memory (approximately $400 total). At my billable rate for all the wasted time, they got off very cheap.

The biggest crisis prevention lessons are:

Never defend your company and/or its employees “at all costs” – Humans make mistakes, everyone understands that. Mature businesspeople acknowledge their mistakes, quickly make appropriate apologies and amends, and often save the customer/client relationship.

You never know how doing a disservice to a single customer can backfire on you because of the power of the Internet. It’s bad enough when people without a legitimate complaint make waves on sites like RipOff Report, but when the complaint comes from a credible source, the damage can be considerable and often not fully reversible.

…and as for any lessons about using The Geek Squad for repairs – I’ll let my readers reach their own conclusions!

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