If you are like countless Americans, you have probably had or thought about having your computer serviced or set up by the Geek Squad. Purchased in 2002 by Best Buy, the Geek Squad has become the nation’s most visible computer repair business with its ubiquitous advertising, nerdy-but-cool uniforms and supposed technical know-how. Until last month, I was one of them. I wore that fashion disaster of a uniform, sold the services and hid the secret.
Yes, that’s right – Best Buy is hiding something from you about the Geek Squad. It’s called Agent Jonny Utah, or simply “AJU.” Google it, and you find a few scant references on The Consumerist, a longtime Geek Squad hater – but no real details. Dare to ask Best Buy what it is, and you’re lucky to get an answer, and you certainly will not get a straight one. So what is it? What is this insidious secretive program that allows Best Buy to employ underpaid and undertrained teenage technicians? It’s this:
The employees you talk to at the store don’t fix your computer. How could they?: They’re expected to spend most of their time on the sales floor pitching Geek Squad setups, moving from customer to customer like some door-to-door insurance salesman. So who fixes it if the “technicians” are actually just selling? Agent Jonny Utah, that’s who. Agent Jonny Utah is a program rolled out by Best Buy in 2006 that allows technicians in a remote location to access computers needing repair, and perform software repairs remotely. These remote technicians are located (of course) in India. We would hook the computer up, select the service to be performed, and head out to the sales floor to sell some more services while the laughably incompetent Indian technicians attempted to fix the computer remotely.
During my last few months with the Geek Squad, AJU usage reigned supreme in how our job performance was rated. We were absolutely forbidden to repair any computer that we could shove off on AJU instead. Yes, you read that right – they made us actively participate in outsourcing our own jobs. Even worse, Jonny Utah takes on average between two and four days to complete a service that I am capable of completing in six hours. Best Buy didn’t care. The managers’ performance is rated partially based on how much their store uses Jonny Utah, and believe me, their bonus reigns supreme over customer satisfaction. I finally decided to leave the company when I was ordered to lie to customers regarding the AJU program. I brought up the point that it was going to make a lot of customers angry, and I was instructed never to tell them that a remote technician had worked on their computer. If they somehow did find out, I was told always to say I had no idea where they were located – even though I knew from speaking with several of the technicians that they were located in India.
So, consumers of America, bear this in mind before you haul your computer containing your precious data in to a Best Buy: the nerdy looking kid you talk to at the counter isn’t going to fix your computer. A technician whose very existence Best Buy refuses to acknowledge will be accessing your computer. He or she will be doing so from a foreign country that does not have America’s consumer privacy laws, and your data could very well be at risk for theft. He or she will also likely be undertrained, underpaid, and care very little for the quality of your repair. Why should they care? They don’t have to talk to you. Demand the truth from Best Buy. It may well be the reality of the 21st century global economy that outsourcing is necessary – but lying about it is never necessary or acceptable. Be sure that you are equipped with all the facts about who has access to your computer and your data before you make your decision, and do not fall victim to slick marketing and disarmingly bad fashion.