This is one of a series of posts about jobs I’ve had during my time on this planet. You can read more posts by clicking the “jobs i’ve had” tag, and read a lengthier intro to the series in the first post.
Of all the jobs I’ve had, Best Buy had by the far the most intensive interview process. I applied online, and eventually was called to come into the store for an in-person interview. They gave me one of those tests where they ask the same questions six or seven different ways to see if I gave different answers. I interviewed with the sales manager of the computer department twice, and the manager of the Geek Squad unit once.
While I wouldn’t want to make a career of working there, I’m glad I spent the better part of a year there. Like the company or not, it’s awe-inspiring how they break everything down to a science. Every day was chock full or miniature sociology and psychology experiments. They told you not just how to greet customers and what to say to certain responses, but also what people were often thinking as you spoke to them. Our store was experimenting with breaking people into one of four or five personality profiles. And they were right more often than not.
As a Geek Squad agent, there were two things I did most of the time: work the counter, or work the repair bay. At the counter, I entered service orders and tried to sell add-on software like anti-virus software or, better, to convince someone they needed an Agent to come out to their house to help set up a wireless network. In the repair bay, I fixed computers and answered the phones.
A lot of what we did was clean spyware and viruses off computers, upgraded RAM, and did hard drive back-ups. If someone’s computer was too infested with viruses to repair, we did a system restore (people were asked to bring their disks in when they brought their computers). Sometimes we replaced video cards if someone’s display port went out. If they had a laptop in need of a hardware repair, we usually sent it to our service center or occasionally shipped it to the manufacturer. It’s all the kind of stuff I’d been doing for friends and relatives for years prior to working there.
I wish I had a story about something really weird happening with a customer computer, but all I’ve got for you is one person’s tower came in with a cockroach infestation.
Like any other retail job, the unpleasant part was working Saturdays and days near holidays and explaining policies to customers when something went wrong. No, our service plan doesn’t cover you spilling orange juice on your laptop. No, yelling at me isn’t going to change that.
To answer some questions that are probably on your mind, yes, Best Buy has received negative attention on blogs and in the mainstream media for:
- High pressure selling
- Stocking items with model numbers that no one else carries so they won’t have to price match
- Using a corporate intranet version of the website instead of the live web to price match
- A Geek Squad agent installing a hidden camera in a customer’s shower
Among other things I’m sure I’ve missed. If there’s a problem, I believe it to be one of enforcement of policy in particular regions or stores, not one of bad policy or company-wide malfeasance. The sales manager in the computer department at my store did ask sales people to be more aggressive than I believe corporate would have liked, but he mostly did so within the rules. The rest of it? Didn’t see any of it in almost a year working there.
Thing is, you don’t have to cheat to get people to spend insane amounts of money. Most of the time, all you have to do is ask.
Best Buy actually makes little money on the computers they sell. Sometimes they aren’t more than a few dollars over breaking even. They make all their money on accessories and services.
When someone buys a computer, just ask them if they want anti-virus and anti-spyware installed. They say yes as often as they say no, and you just made the store $60 or $70 in pure profit even after paying employees and the software manufacturer.
While we’re in there, do you want us to clean all the demo software off? Sure! 10 minutes of someone’s time, $30 to the store.
Want a new printer and some paper? That’d be rad! Another $30 or $40.
USB cables for that printer? Cost the store a dollar, sell for $16.
I rang one person up for about $600 of extra services on top of his computer once, just by asking him if he wanted X service or Y service. That wasn’t anywhere near a store record either.
I liked my first manager more than my second manager.
Geek Squad is a delicate balance between a sales job and a service job. You have to sell people stuff, but you also have to try to maintain enough critical distance that you can make honest recommendations without trying to push services and expensive hardware on people who don’t need them. If you hard sell people, they stop trusting you and you lose sales later.
My first manager was more service-oriented, and the second more sales-oriented. The second guy also wrote me up once for something that was total bullshit just because he had to punish someone for it. And he cut people’s hours, which pissed us all off.
Aside from going to work for corporate, being an in-home installer was the most coveted of Geek Squad job duties. You don’t have to interact with as many customers, you don’t have to try as hard to sell, and you got to drive the Bug around all day (you’ve surely seen one of these on the road by now). Mostly you could just do your job without anybody much bothering you. Alas, I never got to do this.
The uniforms (white shirt, black tie, black pants, white socks, black dress shoes) would have been bad if I’d actually worn the cheap dress shoes they gave me, but I bought my own all-black tennis shoes instead. We weren’t supposed to do that, but nobody ever gave me any grief over it.
See also: Nikki writing about being unemployed.