Quite a few people don’t deal with IT people directly in their line of work. Instead, they do so only when they have problems with the technology we provide. Others experience IT only through customer support channels like Geek Squad. Does Geek Squad give a good impression or bad impression of IT?


You’ve probably seen the black-and-white VW Beetles running around. If you’ve purchased anything from Best Buy, you’ve probably encountered and possibly used them as well. They’re the folks from Geek Squad.

The video above is from TechRepublic’s big brother 60 Minutes and features the consumer side of tech support, specifically Geek Squad. It also mentions the increasing complexity of technology and the need for “geeks” to help fix the problem.

As IT people, we’re often labeled “geeks” or “nerds,” but Geek Squad has turned a stereotype into a brand. As their popularity has grown, their image sometimes seems to lap back over into the IT profession as whole. I’m wondering if that’s a good thing and what we can do about it.

Let’s go to the video

This 60 Minutes piece talks quite a bit about help desk support in general, focusing not only on Geek Squad but also on Indian help desks and the calls that go to the kids of friends and neighbors. It also talks about the cottage industries that have popped up around tech support.

As a moonlighting computer consultant, I probably fall into that area. Even though I don’t have celebrity customers who pay six digits to install home theater systems like Geek To The Stars Paul Austin, I do have a base of individuals and businesses that are good for some spare change and keep me current in the technical field.

Geek Squad founder Robert Stephens has built a large empire around the geek image. As he says, his business plan was around creating a self-effacing tech support person who was friendly and humble. His goal is to create a tech support person who is “nice and fixes it.” Plus he tosses in the bit about having proper hygiene behind the white shirt and black tie.

Along those lines, one interesting statistic in the video is a survey that Steve Kroft mentions which says that 29% of people who make tech support calls swear at the support person. Another 21% wind up screaming. Although I’ve never dealt with that with a customer, I know people who have worked tech support for Comcast in town and have had that experience.

As the piece discusses, sometimes the problems is poor documentation. With more companies outsourcing production overseas, a lot can get lost in translation. Although certainly the manufacturer’s grasp of English is better than my Mandarin, you’re probably more than familiar with how much can be wrong or confusing in manuals.

One of the funniest bits in the video is toward the end. Dr. Donald Norman, a professor at Northwestern and cocreator of the HDTV standards, admits that he has problems setting up hardware sometimes. He says:

Someone complained to me: “You’d need to have an engineering degree from MIT to work those damn things.”
Well, I have an engineering degree from MIT. And I couldn’t work them.

He then goes on to mention the problem that we’re all too familiar with in IT: Function Creep.

Whither Geek Squad?

Having dealt with Geek Squad before, I wonder sometimes how successful Stephen’s business plan of nice, clean, friendly techs who know how “fix it” is. Quite often, I have had to go behind other techs like Geek Squadders, often cleaning up their messes and talking customers down off a ledge.

I can see the usefulness for people who are completely illiterate when it comes to technology, but more often than not I find the Geeks only marginally literate themselves. Perhaps it’s the proof of the old saying that in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.

Occasionally they do come across as friendly. I have noticed, however, a touch of arrogance if you display a modicum of tech savvy and try to get them off the habit of talking down to you about technology. Although this has more to do with anecdotal incidents with individual Squadders, I wonder how they are overall.

It seems like the vast majority of the Geek Squadders I’ve encountered are high school or college kids. There is a Geek Squad repair facility, Geek Squad City, located just south of Louisville, that employs quite a few college students. This may be part of the problem, at least from my aspect. They are just kids and aren’t used to doing proper tech support. Nor are they used to dealing with someone at their same level or above.

Certainly partnering with Best Buy shows the success of the business plan. And the ubiquitous and immediately recognizable VW Beetles show the success as well. I just wonder whether the branding and image bleeds over and affects IT consultants and support professionals.

It seems like we fight the geek and nerd image quite a bit, and here you have a company that enforces and trades off the stereotype. Combine that with pricey service rates and service that is sometimes lackluster, it makes things difficult when you try to sell your own services.