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Robert Stephens Interview – Part 4 of 4

Here is the final part of the interview with Robert Stephens, founder of The Geek Squad and a VP at Best Buy. In this part, Robert tells about how they find employees who are passionate about both technology and customer service, how they gather feedback, how the Geek Squad monitors the blogosphere, and lastly, his customer service tips for companies. Robert also talks more about his belief that employees should “protect or improve” the company’s reputation.

This is one of Service Untitled’s most popular interviews and I hope everyone found it informative. Tomorrow, I will post a wrap up of the interview which will be a short post with links to all four parts, along with a quick summary of what is in each part.

As always, comments and suggestions are welcomed. We already have our next interview done (just need to type it out) and another, shorter one with someone else in the works. Also coming up in the next few weeks are two guest writer posts.

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A Long Weekend!

It is a long weekend here in the United States, so I’m going to take the day off. Mostly.

However, in an effort to still give you something interesting to read, I’m giving you this link. It is about one guy’s very impressive customer service experience with Nintendo. There are certainly a few things that similar companies can do (which are fairly clear). Happy reading!

Papa John’s Customer Service – A Pizza Experience

I’ve written a very popular series on service calls, but as far as I can recall, I’ve never written about delivery experiences. I read about one the other day at Phil’s blog, Make it Great. Meikah, Becky, and Maria all wrote about Phil’s experience and I’ll also add my two cents.

  • Redundancy. I don’t know about the pizza delivery industry, but in technical industries, redundancy is important. Can’t they call in another driver or like Maria suggested, have another employee deliver the pizza? Redundant solutions should be available to prevent problems.
  • Work around the system. Robert Stephens says that his employees can break policies if it is for the purpose of “protecting the company’s reputation” – the store manager should have broken a policy and issued a gift card and/or refund to Phil.
  • Keep everyone in the loop. When Phil arrived at the store, the pizza was on a truck somewhere. They should have made him a new pizza for him while he was there and/or started making it as they knew he was leaving – for free.
  • Keep everyone in the loop (part 2). If the store knew there were going to be delays, they should have called and/or emailed Phil to let him know about it and offer other options.
  • Follow-up. The company should have followed up with Phil after the experience. He should have gotten a phone call later in the evening to confirm he got the pizza and later, a nice email or letter from a corporate executive or the manager apologizing and including a $25 or $50 gift card. Don’t be afraid to bribe customers – it may really help make the peace.
  • Apologize. Throughout the entire experience, Papa John’s should have been apologizing, explaining, and fixing. They should train their employees and managers to know how to apologize and to fix things.
  • Watch. If Papa John’s watched the blogosphere, they would have seen Phil’s blog post and dealt with it. Now, they would have to deal with the post on several other customer service blogs and all of the commenters who read about Phil’s experience on them.

I know that if I were in Phil’s situation, I would have given up and ordered from someone else. He was extremely patient and much more mellow about it than an average customer would have been. I admire his patience.

Have a great weekend! If you decide to order pizza, hopefully it will be a better experience.

Robert Stephens – Part 3

This is the third part of the interview with Robert Stephens, the founder of The Geek Squad. In this part of the interview, he discusses how they manage schedules, the common challenges, what they are doing to improve, and more.

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Managing Remote Employees in a Rapid Growth Company

I have talked about remote employees in the past. I constantly encourage companies to utilize remote employees and try to make them work. However, rapid growth companies often don’t have a choice, it is sometimes a nessecity to hire remote employees.

In general, the advantages/disadvantages for rapid growth companies hiring remote employees are the same. I discussed them in this post and will outline them again below:


  • Happier employees.
  • Bigger talent pool.
  • Cheaper.


  • Harder to monitor.
  • Possible problems.
  • Communication.

The rapid growth company I discussed last week is in a relatively small area. The company isn’t in the middle of nowhere, but then again, it wasn’t San Francisco. The cost of living in the area was not really high, but it wasn’t low, either. They are having problems keeping up with the hiring they needed. The bad thing is, though, that they only have one remote employee and aren’t exactly sure about the concept and how it works for their company. And worse thing, is, they really need help.

Firstly, there are some jobs that remote employees are great at and others they are not so good at. Pretty much any job can be adapted so they it can be done effectively by a remote employee, but many are harder than others.


  • Customer service (live chat, email, phone*)
  • Programming (some cases and some setups)
  • System administration
  • Phone* / email sales for lower end products
  • Billing / bookkeeping

Not so good:

  • Some types of programming
  • Phone* support
  • Jobs that deal with confidential information
  • High end sales (where presentations have to be given, clients have to be taken out to dinner, etc.)

* How well a remote employee can do phone support depends on the technical setup of the company. Some companies have it setup so it works really well, others don’t.

It really depends on how the company is and how much the company wants remote employees. Many companies need them, or they will have to accept less qualified candidates and/or pay them a lot more. I believe that making your company “remote employee” friendly is worth it.

For companies that are growing quickly and need them, it is a good idea to hire someone with experience working remotely to help get everything setup. This person can work remotely or in the office, but they need to know what it is like to be a remote employee and be able to see things from an outside perspective. Usually, having this person work remotely helps because they will know exactly what it is like to not be in the office.

A key thing when it comes to having remote employees (as well as in-house employees) is to keep them in the loop. You have to let them know what’s going on and make them feel as if they are included. Otherwise, it won’t help anyone.

What are your experiences having or being a remote employee?

Interview: Robert Stephens – Part 2

This is the second part of the interview with Robert Stephens, the Founder of the Geek Squad and a VP at Best Buy. In this part, he talks about the company’s recruiting, hiring and training processes, about their uniforms, and about the mix between technical aptitude, personality, and customer service skills.

Click “more” to read the second part of the interview.

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Interview: Robert Stephens – Founder of The Geek Squad

I interviewed Robert Stephens, who is the Founder and Chief Inspector of The Geek Squad and a VP at Best Buy a few weeks ago.

It took two phone calls and a good hour or two, but I got the answers to all of my questions. Good answers, too. The interview totals in at about 5,300 words. I really need to keep my interviews short and sweet, but there is so much to ask! So, I’m dividing the interview into four parts over two weeks. Most of it will be posted this week.

I’m doing another interview today was an equally interesting company, but I won’t reveal who it is for a week or two. My only hint is that I have talked about the company before, but have never had a first hand experience with them.

Geek Squad is owned by Best Buy and both organizations are gigantic. Geek Squad has about 11,000 employees (called Agents) now. When the company was acquired, it had 55 agents. Talk about rapid growth.

The first part of the interviews talks about Robert’s philosophy when it comes to customer service and business as well as his background and education. Click the “read more” link to read the interview.

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When (and how) to say no.

So yesterday I introduced a topic on Service Untitled that is pretty popular among companies – when to say no to a customer. That is, when to tell them that whatever they are asking for is not within the typical realms of the service you offer and that you will be unable to help them.

I am sure I have directly conflicted what I just said in the past. I don’t advise companies to tell their customers no, but instead work with them to come up with an alternative solution. Saying no is a very negative thing and can really aggravate customers. However, “when to come up with an alternative solution” does not make the best post title and isn’t quite as straight forward as saying no.

When to say no come up with alternative solutions
Essentially, you should say no when you don’t have the resources to meet the request and/or meeting the request is not within the bounds of the customer service you offer. Retail stores won’t re-arrange your closest for you – it isn’t within the bounds of the customer service they offer. Computer companies won’t guide you through how to use Windows – they help with specific problems. These are examples of requests that the company would have to say no to.

Or, they can come up with an alternative solution. Examples of alternative solutions for the above mentioned examples would be: the store offering a personal helper service that would come to your house and help you with things like that or the computer companies offering a service to train you how to use your computer. These are examples of alternative solutions – they usually cost extra, but are available to customers who want/need such services.

Examples of alternative solutions.
The lady from the company I spoke to told me about how she would frequently have customers ask the company to teach them how to use the software. This isn’t something that was within the bounds of their normal customer service. She didn’t like saying no, but couldn’t have her staff spend 45 minutes on the phone with the customers for each situation. They have lots of tutorials, offer webinars, and a large knowledge base, but couldn’t train each customer.

Here are some things I suggested:

  • Group some of the guides into a “getting started” category that explains how to use the software. Their site wasn’t abundantly clear about what documentation new customers should read.
  • Offer professional training. Charge customers who want to be taught how to use the software. Explain to them that a professional training course is available for $40/hour (or whatever) and that the representative will be more than happy to teach them how to use the software in that time.
  • Video tutorials. Though I believe the company already has them, customers really like video tutorials. There are plenty of companies out there that make great ones for fairly reasonable prices. Or, if you have the software, the time, and someone who can use it, make your own.
  • Make alternative options clear. Include information about alternative options, upgraded service plans, etc. on your web site and support section. If customers are aware of the options before they pick up the phone, it can be quite helpful.

These are just some of the options provide companies can consider instead of saying no. Even if the service is not used frequently, it is there and can help a customer out. It doesn’t cost much to list the service on the addon page and if it helps customers, it is definitely worth it.

I will cover remote employees in more detail next week. Have a great weekend!

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