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.

Question: How do you handle scheduling, especially when Agents have to go to more than one customer per day?
Answer: We have a highly advanced system that I originally developed myself that is all web-based. Agents have the newest smart phones with wi-fi and are dispatched via web. The system optimizes the scheduling algorithms kind of like how Google Maps auto-routes you efficiently to your destination – ours does that in real time. If there is a cancellation, it will automatically fill your block with the most efficient job nearest your next driving path, and we even print the invoices on your printer and process all the payments so there is no paper involved. It works quite well.

Question: What are the most common and frustrating customer service challenges that the Geek Squad encounters?
Answer: The biggest challenge is probably the capacity issue. How do you staff up and predict what you are going to be needed for? You don’t know when you are going to have a problem. Even though a lot of what we do isn’t repair, it’s “I bought this thing, I want help setting it up”, but how do you plan for that? It’s like an airline – you want to have X numbers of flights, but you can’t have too many empty seats. Capacity and utilization rates are a key problem.

That is why I think applying Six Sigma to that might be kind of interesting. There hasn’t been a ton of research done about service applied with Six Sigma. We’ve been talking with Service Master about their efforts and stuff like that. If you staff too much, your profit drops. If you don’t staff enough, then your phone lines are on hold too long. That is a really tough problem.

If you look at how we tackled the problem (by joining forces with Best Buy), we are able to park that potential energy and capacity and utilize it (that is why we call them double agents – they have a double role) – when they are not on a house call, they can go to the store. We can continue to utilize them for machines that may be sitting on the bench waiting to get fixed.

Basically, it is time versus money. If time is more important to you, you have to pay me more money. I can come out and do it while you wait at your home. If money is more important to you, then if you give me more time, you bring it to me and I will get it done within a couple of days, but will cut you a good price. That is one answer. The new remote service too is another emerging model that works very well. At three in the morning, I can more efficiently remotely fix your computer than sending a house call at three in the morning (I’d have to pay that person a lot of money to get up out of bed earlier). Speed and quality are issues that you are constantly dealing with.

That is a problem that everybody has – so it isn’t a problem unique to us, just inherent in the industry.

Question: What are the most common frustrations customers experience when dealing with the Geek Squad?
Answer: The frustrations are the same. The frustration starts with the computer not working. Their frustrations they may experience with the Geek Squad are things like: the check in process can be a pain and something we are trying to work on. I don’t like the idea may have to stand there for 10 minutes holding whatever it is they are looking for us to fix. We are looking for ways to redesign it through ways like lowering the counter height so you don’t have to live anything up. Ideally, I’d like it so you wouldn’t have to lift your fingers from the parking lot into the store. The physical aspect of that I think is important.

People like things done right the first time. That is the next most important thing. When we are done working on it, they don’t want to have to come back, especially if they brought it in. Plus, they don’t want their computers to be down.

Once that is taken care of, then they like it to be done fast. If you are very fast, but don’t do very good work, all you are going to do is churn bad experiences much quicker. We’ve learned that people will forgive delays if they get specific information and you keep them informed. If they know you are trying, that is probably the most important thing. It is when they think that you don’t care that it upsets them.

We are really in the perfection business, which is incredibly different. It explains one reason why there has never been a nationwide service like this – it is hard to be good at.

Question: How did the Geek Squad getting acquired by Best Buy affect its customer service?
Answer: We dated for a couple of years before we got married. Obviously when you scale from 50 employees to 12,000, you are going to have some glitches in the system. All of the systems we had built independently (like our scheduling software, which was just running up until recently, held up quite well) had to be scaled. It gave us access to resources we didn’t have as a small company. It also created problems. Just like when eBay had outages when they had to scale up to the billions of transactions they do now.

Trying to make our scheduling software talk to Best Buy’s cash register system so you can order service inside the store didn’t exist before, so we had to build that. Integrating with the giant behemoth that is Best Buy took the most work.

Teaching retail, which traditionally only relies on manufacturing to market a product, and then you just sell it when the customer walks in the door. Selling service is not some box we pull off the shelf and put in your shopping cart – we have to kind of explain it and help people understand it and why they might want to consider it. Some of these gadgets are not as easy to setup on your own (like wireless routers).

Question: What is the Geek Squad doing to improve its customer service?
Answer: Simplifying the processes.

To give you a recent example, Best Buy recently went to a concierge-type service. Most companies say press 1 for this, 2 for this, 3 for this. When you call, 1-888-BEST-BUY, they took away everything except for two options. Press 1 if you know what you are looking for 2 if you just want to talk to a human right away. You would think that increases the cost in human to answer those extra calls. On most days, they save money and on busy days, it costs neutral, it pays for itself. People were getting so lost in the IVR system that the extra phone charges were saved and paid for the employees. We are doing a lot of things like that.

The check in/check out process – we are trying to simplify it. We just came out with a new scheduling system, which optimizes schedules. It allows agents to show up faster because it can kind of predict if they are running long. That, in turn, increases the hours that they are available.

Increasing the training that they are provided. We spend a lot of time scaling them up and I never really had a formal training program, and we are starting to put those in place. We launched an internal one where we can track each individual (which courses they have taken, which ones they need, etc.) and tie that so that before they expect the next bonus or raise we can say hey you have to take these classes and certifications. The new Vista that is coming out is an example. Everybody is getting training now for about a month and a half from now when the new home Vista comes out. There is no end.

We are doing a Six Sigma project on redo rates. How can we increase the statistical probability that your computer will be done right the first time (not just the problem you are brining it in for, but also making sure we don’t cause any new problems). Then there are little things like if you leave your laptop with us, making sure to give you the cord so you don’t have to come back to get it. Little things like that – bazillions of details and there are always new ones that we focus on.

One Response to “Robert Stephens – Part 3”

  1. Service Untitled » Robert Stephens interview round-up - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    Feb 25, 07 at 12:53 pm

    […] Part Three Link – schedule management, the common customer service challenges, what The Geek Squad is doing to improve, and more. […]