Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Best Buy Geek Squad or Joke Squad?

I had a very bad customer service experience with Best Buy's Geek Squad (Best Buy's computer and electronic repairs department) for a simple data backup service. My experience in no way or form appears to be a one-off unlucky, fluke incident. It seems to be just the way Best Buy Geek Squad operates. I am writing this in the interest of other customers who may want to avoid a bad experience. Who knows, this may even be informative to some Best Buy manager who does not know what is happening in his stores and things might get a little better there. (If he already knows what is happening and is allowing it to happen, he is an idiot and should be fired!).

Following is the list of problems I encountered in my experience dealing with the Geek Squad:

  1. Did not get accurate, consistent, honest price quote for the service I needed. At the Best Buy store on Camelback Road in Phoenix, AZ, the Geek Squad guys behaved like a bunch of hustlers.

  2. Never got proper estimate of when my work would be completed. The people who answered my calls were vague and clueless. Often they were inconsistent and contradicted each other.

  3. In both the Best Buy stores I went to, they did not stick to the original date they had given me. The first store told me they would complete in 3-4 days, but at the end of the 4th day, they had not even started working on my computer. I took it from there to the second store, where they initial told me 1-2 days. When the work was finally done, it was on the sixth day!

  4. It was an olympian effort to get hold of the Geek Squad guys on the phone. I had to try several times, be transferred several times, wait for a really long time, and at the end of all that, there was the chance that I would not get anyone on the line and would hang up in disgust. This was a consistent experience in trying to call the Geek Squad.

  5. The Geek Squad guys did not give the impression that they placed value on my hardware, my data, my time. They seemed to have a lackadaisical attitude.

  6. The Geek Squad operation is not professional nor well-organized nor smoothly run. It is a joke!

I spoke to other smaller computer service guys in the city who seemed to have a much better operation and gave much better customer service. I spoke to one guy Rico (rico@palmtreepcs.com), who deserves special mention. I found him on the Phoenix Computer Services Craigslist page. Although I was a total stranger calling him out of the blue on a Saturday afternoon, he spent one hour on the phone talking to me about my problem, trying to diagnose it, trying to help me resolve it. He sent me emails with information (real information, not a sales pitch). He expressed interest in hearing back from me after my problem was resolved to know how it went. And most important, he was honest and forthright in advising me not to seek his service, although he offered it for lesser cost than the Best Buy price, because that would void my in-store warranty with Best Buy. He did that although it meant losing business. He voluntarily lost my business rather than have me lose my warranty, after having spent one hour on the phone with me, trying to help solve my problem. Thanks, Rico. I hope your business (Palmtreepcs.com) grows big and rich. With that kind of helpful attitude and honesty, I know you will do well in life, bro.

Update on Sept 2nd, 2005: Just found this link: Geek Squad Discussion on Gadgetopia.com. There are comments by other customers who have been screwed by Best Buy's Joke Squad, as well as comments from people who actually worked for the original Geek Squad before Best Buy bought them, and some comments from current Best Buy Joke Squad employees. I was right when I said that my bad experience is not an isolated one. Some of the stories there are worse than mine. Former Geek Squad agents have actually confessed to Best Buy forcing them to rip customers' money! End update.

If any of you are still interested in reading my full story, with all the boring details, continue reading below. For the rest, thanks for reading so far and beware of Best Buy's Joke Squad.

Background of the problem:

On the morning of Saturday, the 13th of August, Windows XP on my laptop crashed. I would need to reformat my hard drive and install Windows XP again, but before doing that I wanted to have the data on my hard disk backed up. Since my Windows system was not starting up, the only way to back up the data would be to open the laptop, remove the hard disk, connect it to some kind of a reader and back up the data. I had a three year warranty with Best Buy for my laptop, which was good for one more year. So, I could not have any non-Best Buy person open my laptop, as my warranty would lapse.

Best Buy Store on Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ:

The Geek Squad guys I met at this store were more incompetent hustlers than geeks. One of them quoted me $149 to backup 10GB of data, although the store sign said $89 for data backup services and mentioned nothing about the amount of data. He gave me some b.s. about different rates for different amounts of data. Another guy quoted me $200 to backup my data, run a diagnostics on my laptop and reinstall Windows XP (using my own copy of the software). Finally they agreed to charge me $89 to backup under 10GB of data plus labor charge of $29. Nobody had mentioned anything about a labor charge before. I distinctly got the feeling that they just did not want to backup my data for the $89 as the sign said. Their efforts at hustling was so awkward and so obvious. I had expected a smooth, professional, honest, no non-sense experience. Not some cheap car salesman kinda approach. Anyway, I gave them my laptop because I was tied to them by the warranty and I thought the experience would be the same at other Best Buy stores, which were located farther away from me. They said my backup would be done in 3-4 days.

On the third day, I called them. They told me that they would do it soon and they would call me back. I called them on the afternoon of the fourth day. The guy who picked up the phone told me he would call me back in half an hour. I waited for two hours. He never called back. While I waited for his call, I called a couple of other Best Buy stores in the city and spoke to their Geek Squad guys. I was shocked to hear both of them tell me that they would back up the entire contents of my hard disk for $89, and there would be no labor charge.

My temper went up the roof. I did not trust myself to speak politely. So, I typed out a letter explaining the whole situation and asking them to give back my laptop because I did not want to do business with a bunch of hustlers. I took the letter to the Best Buy customer service manager at the Camelback Road store. This guy (named Ty something) read my letter, went in and brought back my laptop to me. When it comes to services of the Geek Squad, Best Buy's price match offer goes out the window. They won't even match the price of other Best Buy stores. This customer service manager did not so much as offer an apology for my experience, let alone offer to match the price of the other Best Buy stores. He just gave me a lame excuse of their rates being changed recently, and the store signs which quoted $89 for data backup being outdated. Did the idiot really think I would buy that excuse?

I realized the futility of having any further talks with him. I took my machine and went to a different Best Buy store.

This was day four of my system breakdown.

Best Buy Store on Thunderbird Rd, Phoenix, AZ:

The first experience in this store was quite different. The Geek Squad lady I spoke to was polite and straight forward. She charged me $89 to backup my entire hard disk and told me that it would be ready in a day or two. I felt relieved and happy. But my relief was too premature.

I called the Geek Squad at this store the next afternoon. The guy I talked to told me that my laptop was next in queue to be serviced and he would do my data backup as soon as he was finished with the system he was working on. He thought he would start on it within the next couple of hours and it would probably be done either that same evening or the next day, and that he would call me when it was ready. I did not get any calls that evening.

The next afternoon, I called them back. This time I spoke to a different guy who told me that they were very busy and there were some 5 or 6 systems which need to serviced before mine would be. He could not explain to me how my system slipped in the queue from the second position to the seventh position!

For the next three days, I called them daily. Everytime I called them, all they would tell me was that my system was out on their desk and it should be done either by that evening or the next morning. They gave me this spiel for three days! They could never tell me for sure when exactly it would be worked on.

By the way, it is not easy to get these VIP guys on the phone. Everytime I wanted to talk to them, I had to call the store about three times, be transferred to the Geek Squad about three times during each call (despite choosing the right numbers in the automated phone system to be directly transferred), and wait upto 20 minutes during each call before I could speak to someone. Many a time, the phone would just ring and ring and nobody would pick it up. I would disconnect with impatience and disgust. This was my experience trying to call the Geek Squad in both stores - on Camelback Rd and on Thunderbird Rd.

Finally, on the NINTH day since my laptop crashed, I called the store and was told that they had managed to copy all the data from my hard disk to another hard disk, and it was now only a matter of writing that data to the CDs. That would be done in a couple of hours they told me. I waited for almost 6 hours. Then I got really impatient and drove personally to the store. I found that they had just started to write my data to the CDs. They could only return my laptop that day, but the backup CDs would be ready only the next day, the TENTH day since my laptop crashed!

The last day, when I went to the store to pick up my backup disks, I found that they were all put in a plastic bag and left lying in a shelf in their work area. The bag or the disks were not labelled with my name or any other identifying info. The guy who was at the counter had to call another guy to ask him where my disks were and to confirm that they were indeed my backup disks. The attitude and the value they seemed to place on customer data was totally unacceptable.

This whole experience with Best Buy's Geek Squad has been unsavory and dissatisfactory. This is one of the worst customer service experiences I have had in the US. Best Buy should rechristen the Geek Squad as the Joke Squad.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Layer Cake - Movie Review

Yesterday, I watched a nice little gangster movie called Layer Cake. It is a movie really worth watching. The movie plays out in a British setting and is a welcome change to the American gangster movies we are used to. The language of the British underworld is just one of many things which makes the movie interesting. There are plenty of twists and turns in the movie to keep us rivetted to the screen, wondering what would happen next. I don't even remember the last time I watched a crime movie in which I could not guess what would happen next.

The movie is based on a book by JJ Connolly called Layer Cake. The story is about an unnamed cocaine dealer (played by Daniel Craig), who is more of a savvy business man, than an ordinary criminal. The movie starts off with a spiel by the guy about how he ran a quiet, efficient business, how he made a neat bundle and how he plans to leave the life of crime to retire into a safe, quiet life. However, before he can retire, he has to complete two final tasks for his boss, Jimmy Price: a) find the missing drug-addict daughter of a close friend of the boss; b) facilitate the sale of a huge shipment of ecstasy from an unsafe, maverick criminal called The Duke.

Sounds simple enough, but there starts the labyrinthine twists and turns of the plot which gets more complex and tighter each passing minute. It is filled with secret dealings and double-crossings and unexpected happenings. The hero navigates different layers of the British crime world from the bottom-most to the very top (which gives the movie it's name), including petty crooks, terrorists, assassins and rich powerful crime bosses. With each passing sequence, he is pushed into ever deeper and dangerous pits of the underworld and the situation seems to get more and more hopeless, until the plot unravels into a beautiful finish. The movie is full of characters with names such as Clarkie, Duke, Slasher, Gazzar, Morty, Slavo, Kinky and so on.

This stylishly shot and tightly narrated movie is an excellent directorial debut by Producer Matthew Vaughn. I am surprised that this movie is not more popular. I am glad I rented this dvd after watching a trailer on another dvd.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The Corporate Take-over of my Meals

I live in an American city, I mean a city in the United States of America. Listed below are the meals I had on Sunday, 21st August 2005:

Breakfast: Cereal - my favorite Honey Bunches of oats with almonds - with Silk Soy vanilla soymilk; guava juice from a carton pack.

Lunch: Morningstar Garden Veggie burger on Oroweat cracked wheat bun with a slice of Kraft Deluxe cheese, ketchup, mustard, dill relish all from Heinz, and packaged salsa bought from Trader Joe's. My burger also had a couple of slices of a "fresh" tomato from my refrigerator. I washed down my burger with a cheap local brand ginger ale. (I don't remember tasting ginger ale before, but I really liked it ice cold this hot afternoon).

Dinner: Maggi noodles prepared in the typical "2 minutes" style. Boil water, add noodles and the accompanying packet of flavoring powder.

Why am I listing my meals? After all, I am not some celebrity, in whose diet people would be interested. What is the common factor we notice among all the stuff I ate yesterday? Yes, except for the two slices of tomato on my burger, everything else that I ate was processed and packaged food! I am amazed that 99% percent of my one full day's diet is food, which came out of a box and was several days (months actually) old! This must be one of the defining factors in the Americanization of my lifestyle. Yet, I did not even notice when exactly this happened to me. I have had countless meals like these since I came to the US.

I am amazed at how much of processed and packaged food people eat in the US. When I was growing up in India, almost 100% of my diet was fresh, home-made stuff. The milk we drank in the morning was milked from a cow that very morning and the milk we drank in the evening was milked that very afternoon. We bought our vegetables fresh daily. Except for vegetables like onions, potatoes, ginger, garlic, etc. which could be kept for a few days, all other vegetables were bought fresh every day and consumed the same day. We did not have a refrigerator! There was no question of eating left-over food. Either we made sure nothing was left over or we gave the food away to beggars who came looking for left-overs, late in the night or early next morning. When we were kids, often my mother not even let us eat at night, food prepared in the afternoon. All our spice mixes were home-made from scratch. We did not buy packaged spices (except for asafoetida, perhaps). Everything we ate was either fresh or naturally dried or processed at home. The only ingredients of our daily diet which were processed and bought in packets were salt and sugar.

Talking of sugar, what's with the American breakfast? Except for the cholesterol-rich and non-vegetarian omelettes, is there any other American breakfast dish that is not loaded with sugar? In my South Indian home, a sweet breakfast is a rare thing. We had it once in about 1 or 2 or even 3 months. Although there are countless varieties of Indian sweet dishes and delicacies, they are not usually consumed on a daily basis. The only daily sugar in-take for Indians would be in coffee, tea, milk or some other hot beverage. Like me, if you do not sip any hot beverage on a daily basis, your consumption of processed sugar would be very rare and low indeed. In America, 99% of the breakfast is loaded with sugar. At meals, the average person does not drink water. At lunch and/or dinner, the culture - no doubt with ample encouragement and conditioning from soft drink corporations - is to have another load of sugar in soda pop. If not soda pop, it is some alcoholic beverage at dinner. What the heck! What is wrong with simple, healthy water?

In the India I grew up in, fully 90% to 100% of any meal was freshly prepared at home, with ingredients made from scratch. In an average American home, anywhere from 80% to 100% of the meal is processed and packaged food. Even Indians in the US, who stick to Indian diet and cook their own food at home, can't avoid an increase in the percentage of processed food they consume compared to their life in India. This is not a healthy state of affairs.

Unfortunately, this trend is increasing in India also. More and more food is processed and packaged. This will only increase as more and more multi-national food companies setup shop in India, as the local street-corner grocery stores and travelling vegetable carts disappear giving way to grocery super markets, as the Indian public ape America's consumerist culture, as the woman of the house no longer sees feeding the family healthy food as one of her primary tasks. It is a sad change. A change which will reduce the quality of the Indian diet and increase the number of diet-related illnesses in India, the way it is already happening in America.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Why really did Vivek Paul quit Wipro?

Disclaimer: Everything that follows is merely speculation on my part, in my individual capacity. Everything I have written below is based on the information freely available in the public media, like the newspapers and the magazines. I have no access to any non-public or confidential data/documents which support or refute what is written below. Specifically, I don't have access to any information or documents internal to Wipro, nor have I been privy to any discussions, which support or refute what is written below.

Background info:

Rediff Article: Why Vivek Paul quit Wipro: The inside story
Rediff Interview: Vivek Paul: It was the right time to go
Times of India Interview: Why Vivek Paul really quit Wipro

I was very surprised when I heard about Vivek Paul's resignation as the Vice Chairman of Wipro. The reason is that Wipro still has a long way to go in dominating the world software services market, and there are still a lot of great things he could have achieved through Wipro. Why really did Vivek Paul quit Wipro? The question has never been satisfactorily answered.

Vivek Paul's 4-by-4 vision - to make Wipro a 4 billion dollar company by 2004 - was not realized yet. Regarding this vision, Vivek Paul admits in the Rediff interview, "Wipro didn't get anywhere close." Granted that 2004 passed by before the 4-by-4 vision could be achieved. But, I don't think Vivek Paul is the kind of person who would abandon his vision just because the deadline he set for himself has passed. He seems to be the kind of person who would be all the more determined to achieve the vision or something bigger.

In the same interview he says that he asked himself, "Do I declare a new vision and sign up for it?", then decided not to do so, and quit! That is not very convincing!

"The inside story" from Rediff tells us that Vivek Paul quit Wipro because he had become "restless" within Wipro, and wanted to do "something else". It is hard for me to believe that Vivek Paul felt "restless" because he did not have anything more or anything exciting to do within Wipro. There are still a lot of miles for Wipro to travel on its way to the top, and Vivek Paul simply does not come across as a restless young buck who gets bored and changes tracks just for the sake of change. No, if he felt "restless" and frustrated, there must be some other reason.

In the TOI interview, Vivek Paul was asked, "Was there any kind of pressure that forced you to quit?"

His answer: "Well, there was some push and pull. If you have $15 billion ( market capitalisation of Wipro) in family business, how can you not tend to it? I would do the same if I were in his position."

I am willing to bet that the above quote alludes to the main reason for Vivek Paul's departure from Wipro: he did not foresee significant and lasting rewards and returns coming his way for all the work he was doing for Wipro. Granted that Vivek Paul earned one of the highest salaries among Indian professional managers, but that is nothing compared to the giant organization he was building with sweat and soul. When you build something like that, putting the best years of your life and your best efforts into it, you expect more than just periodic compensation and a relatively tiny share allocation.

It is true that Azim Premji has often said that his sons won't have easy unearned right-of-way into Wipro management and start tending the company. However, he has never said that his sons won't get the over 83% of the company that he holds (Source: Wipro Shareholding Pattern for quarter ending Mar 31st 2005, see the percentage sub total of "PROMOTERS HOLDING").

I am speculating that Premji fully intends to retain this over 83% of the company within the family. This must have made Vivek Paul realize that despite putting in so much effort to build up the Wipro business, in the long run, he would be nothing more than just one of thousands of Wipro employees who came, worked hard and left. He must have realized that even after producing great results for the company, he would not have anything really significant (comparatively speaking) and lasting for himself.

I feel that this is really why Vivek Paul quit Wipro. This is also the reason why many senior managers and super-achievers quit Wipro often at the height of their careers in the company, and venture out to work for others or start their own businesses. After spending a certain number of years with Wipro, senior people seem to leave with a certain disappointment, and a belief that they could achieve more for themselves elsewhere. Is that a case of the person growing bigger than his role and seeking higher goals, or is that a case of the person hitting a glass ceiling within the company beyond which he does not see rewards commensurate with his contributions?

Wipro seems to believe that bright young people will come in and put their best talents, energies and efforts to help the company achieve success, and that they will do all this just for the thrills and satisfaction of a challenging job well done. That is true to a certain extent. Every year, Wipro manages to find people - at junior and senior levels - who do precisely that.

However, Wipro should not get complacent and think it is invincible. It should carefully consider the cost of consistently losing senior people, and the effect that has on the company's growth. Wipro is a large, robustly administered company and a senior person leaving now and then may not affect the status quo adversely. However, there is a cost to growth: not only because the senior people take away with them valuable knowledge, experience and drive, but also because these people almost always add fuel to Wipro's competition.

Wipro should realize that it is not an organization like the country's defense forces. Bright, capable young people join the defense forces. They put in good work. They rise to the highest levels. They work for a monthly salary during their entire careers, and retire with a pension. That cannot happen in the business world. In capitalist organizations, people at the highest levels want to own a part of the business and share in the profits. Not just draw a salary and retire, no matter how high the salary is. A company which does not fulfill this aspiration, cannot keep the loyalties of its senior-most people.

Demand the best possible salary from your employer

A recent question/comment on an Indian message board was as follows:

A recent trend in the IT jobs show that people takes it like a business or even we can call it as a blade business(A guy who charges 4% interest per month on the finance, he lend to his customer). Is this professionalism?

Recently I have seen a resume with around 5 yrs of exp and trying for the 8th job!!! Also seen another person in last 1 yr worked with 3 major Indian IT companies!!! How can we call this as Professionalism? What they gain from this other than money? Or do you think money is the only thing we leave for? What about our learning’s, career, growth, value, contribution etc etc? Do we won’t give any priority to these things? Or only money is the first & last priority in our list??

I had just brought this for debate which I believe it’s unethical & un-professionalism. You might have a different opinion… Also this is not against anybody.

There are several questions above. However, my response below is limited only to the part about demanding the best possible salary from the employer. Please keep in mind that this whole topic is in the context of Indian tech companies. My response follows:

I don't find fault with the guys who negotiate the best possible salary for themselves, for the following reasons:

1. Almost nobody in the industry is a passionate artist who works simply for passion and soul satisfaction. Organizations and individuals are always looking to make the maximum profit. It is only common sense and good survival strategy to be as high on the profit/pay scale as possible for both organizations and individuals.

2. The pay scales within a company always grow at a rate much lower than the rate at which pay scales in the market grow. Meaning, the longer you stay in the same company, the lesser you will earn compared to the pay being offered in the job market for the same job and profile. This difference between personal pay and market rate only increases as the years roll. It is almost like a depreciation of the person's worth in the eyes of the company. Believe me, it does not feel good when you have put in years of solid, sincere, dependable service to the company and you see that the company values a newcomer in the market more than it values you.

3. The disparity between what a person is billed for and what he is paid is quite high. The employee is being paid much less than what the company earns from his work. This is the most important reason why Indian tech companies are so spectacularly profitable. For example, I am work at the client site in the US and the ratio of my pay to the ratio of my billing rate is roughly about 40:60. That is a huge difference, when you consider that a typical contracting company in the US pays between 70 - 85 percent of the billing rate to the employee. If you are working offshore in India, this difference between your pay and billing rate would be even higher. So, someone (read, the company) is making a lot of money out of your work. The least you can expect in return is competitive pay, good facilities, good treatment, respect and recognition of your value. How much of all these are you getting? We are not ignorant medieval farmers who can be kept in the dark while middlemen and rich merchants make a huge profit. Yet, that is how the situation is and that is how people are treated by many Indian tech companies. So, if a guy negotiates a great salary from the company, I say, "good for him"!

4. If you have spent a few years working in any company, especially a big company (where you are a small fish in a big ocean), you know what a hassle it is to get satisfactory increments and promotions. Although the policies and rules are supposed to be well defined and everything is supposed to be transparent, that's not the ground reality. There is an element of arbitrariness, luck, bureaucracy, politics, etc. which come into play, making the whole experience of increments and promotions less than satisfactory. So, it is always better to negotiate a great salary and great role before you join the company. Suppose two people A and B join the company at the same time. A joins for X pay and B joins for (X + d) pay. Suppose over the next few years, both of them get average pay increases. Notice that A will continue to get lesser pay than B throughout the career. The initial pay difference 'd' continues to affect a person throughout their career in the company. Heck, it will even affect them when they are negotiating pay with a new company they want to join, if the pay at the new company is based partially on what he is earning now.

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