Should tech support disconnect from retail?

Waiting for the Geek or someone like him.  So you probably noticed that Best Buy (in its never-ending cost-cutting downward slide) just laid off 1200 store employees and while they were at it, they also cut 600 Geek Squad employees.  Just when the AARP discount on in-home services was launched! But it is all part of moving the staff from “repair to relationship,” migrating to a smaller store format, away from so-called ‘big box’ and suffering from competition – from Wal-Mart, Costco, and Sears. Yeah, right. From Sears and Costco (only when in-home service is covered by manufacturer’s warranty and the product is not a Dell).  Let us remember that Best Buy’s Geek service charges $49.99 for in-home visits and that they include products you bought elsewhere -- I'm betting your plumber charges more than that.  The annual membership for this service is quite low -- $199.99 per year -- $17/month or $4.25 per week.

Best Buy seems to only know how to shrink – not innovate.  Of course, Best Buy does not see itself competing with independent IT service providers and national players – like Nationwide ACS or FastTeks or a boatload of others that have offerings to provide residential as well as in-office technical support.  So why hasn’t Best Buy taken this jewel of a resource, spun it out of the retail store, raised the price and the margin, selected geographic regions with a high concentration of tech customers (all ages) and delivered a service that people would be willing to buy for more than $199.99/year?  But oh, Best Buy associates tech support with its in-store product sales business, executives want to combat "showrooming" -- view in the store and then buy online for 10% less – which retailers could combat by price-matching online offers says Forbes. Maybe, but how about offering some new services?

Are you an airline or are you in the transportation business?  Best Buy has not learned a thing from the most basic of business school case studies -- American Airlines – which figured out in the 1980s that it had a resource that every other airline wanted and would pay for – a reservation system.  Best Buy has the talent and trained staff among its Geek Squads to the point where it could re-brand and subcontract those services. What about the training of other tech support service people, delivering online seminars, even forming partnerships with senior housing organizations to support their unattended ‘computer labs’ – perhaps national consortia like Leading Age or ALFA could find a way to profit from having a supported lab? 

And let’s go crazy – why not sub-contract to Amazon or pharmacies?  So a company that sells books about do-it-yourself fixes, books about sneering at dumb computer users and even sells computer warranty plans – but offers nothing at all for in-home support of the products they list, not even a friendly partner relationship. Forget Amazon for that matter -- what if the Geek Squad partnered with retail pharmacies? Bring your film, your computer, your smart phone. While you wait for your prescription, get some help and not just about drug interactions. Go to the film department, get a bit of free tech help from an eager part-time high school student, but then – the in-store helper calls the Geek Squad – and voilà, it’s off to your house!  Maybe even offer profitable fee-based in-home services dispatched from where the customers are already standing.  Use Best Buy’s Geek Squad as a launch pad, learning from their experience.  Why even carriers like AT&T and Verizon could dispatch sub-contracted Geek Squad techs from the counter conversations they hold at the service counter.  And after all, doesn’t everybody -- with our home networks, our multiple printers, our file transfers, our disconnected tablets, our accidentally deleted data and our mangled spreadsheets – don’t we all need just a little in-home help?

Tech Support

We've been looking at this in San Diego since tech support is one of the top issues that our older adults have (and probably keeps them as "late adopters.") Besides in-home repair, there needs to be an education system built that helps people fix their own troubles.

Right now, there a tons of forums online where issues are discussed and solved everyday. YouTube is also a valuable resource for fixing things. If it is a hardware problem, that's another story, but many times we see very basic issues. But, there is no master "pointer" site to this information, although many of our local senior-oriented computer clubs and labs have folks onboard that can help point.

If there is one thing we've learned from Microsoft and the cellular industry, it's that turning devices off-then-on-again is a cure for a myriad of troubles. Remember when phones always worked and reliability was important? Now, reliability is sketchy and rebooting is commonplace. It is a way of thinking that digital natives take for granted.

Susan Estrada

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