My Best Buy Geek Squad Fiasco – With a Happy Ending
Before I did hardware tech support for a few years in the early 2000’s, I used to tell people to skip warranties on most items (up to a certain amount of value) because they were just a big insurance scam. Cheap consumer laptops in the sub-$500 are especially bad for coming with 1-3 year warranties that cost almost as much as the laptop itself. When it breaks, you’ve essentially already bought your replacement laptop in advance.
Working in hardware support fixing Gateway, Dell, and Apple products, I learned the term “non-economical repair.” This mostly only ever applied to laptops, but essentially the term means there’s so much damage to the machine, it would be cheaper to replace than to repair. Under a good warranty, this means you’d get a replacement laptop. Under a cheap warranty, this means you’d get a new or refurbished laptop at a discounted price from the same store, and they’d consider your warranty completely gone.
Why mostly laptops? Because the inside of a laptop is almost completely one piece. You’ve got your system board that has (typically) a soldered on chip for each function like graphics, sound, wired networking, the cpu, etc. Then you’ve got separate chips called DIMMs for memory (RAM), sometimes a removable module that does wifi and /or bluetooth, and connections out to your keyboard, hard drive, and if you have one an optical drive like your DVD or Blu-ray reader/burner. Since the system board does so much and has so many non-serviceable parts, if you damage any part of it the whole piece has to be replaced. On average, a laptop motherboard can cost more than the laptop itself to replace.
Back in the early 2000’s, Apple laptops came with 1-year of manufacturer support for hardware that failed due to defect, but no coverage for accidental damage even if you purchased the additional Apple Care plans. There are third party companies out there who make their bank on Apple customers that spill drinks on their Macbooks, drop their iPhones in the toilet, or whose Apple Care has just plain expired.
So after hearing one sob story after the next, I became a pretty big advocate of getting a worthwhile computer as the first good step towards a happy computing life, and to buy protection that’s worthwhile to cover your purchase. That means a plan that doesn’t cost as much as a replacement machine, and provides a replacement in case anything happens (accidental damage OR failure due to defect). I’ve heard some people have been able to get their laptops covered by homeowner’s insurance for things like theft or loss due to fire or flooding.
My First Best Buy Computer
A couple of years ago I had a really good job and was making slightly more money than I was used to, so my spending got a little out of hand. I had also just pulled out my retirement from when I worked for the state doing tech support. I paid off major bills. My wife and I had both just started an associate’s degree in Web Technologies, and we had homework to get done. We were going to visit the in-laws but we had final projects due soon, so with the wife’s laptop out of commission I decided we needed to get a new one.
Short on time, instead of taking time to shop around online to get the most for our money, I took us to Best Buy. We settled on a Toshiba Satellite because that’s what her old computer was and what most of her family owns, and they all seemed happy with it. This new one was the desktop replacement style, with a full number pad and an IPS display (you know how laptops typically have weird glares when you tilt the screen and look at them from different angles? IPS basically fixes that). It would play the games I play, run the software we needed for homework, and it was fast and seemed quality made. I paid about $800 plus another $380 or so for 3 years of Geek Squad protection that included accidental damage protection, because I just knew if I didn’t I would drop or otherwise mess this thing up. Which would mean crying myself to sleep at night for quite some time.
Two years went by and mostly, I had no problems with it. It was a great laptop, Toshiba makes a solid product – enough that I bought another one later.
The Fiasco Begins
First of all, let me just say that this is largely intended to be a review of my experience using the Best Buy Geek Squad service to process my warranty repair. Best Buy store locations involved were all super helpful and so were their in-store Geek Squad associates. And ultimately, the issue was resolved to my satisfaction.
A fateful night at work a month or so ago, I set my laptop up on a shelf while I attended to some things. It wasn’t precariously perched, to my knowledge. Through some weird shifting of weight or maybe it just wasn’t as securely perched as I imagined, it fell from that shelf to a larger shelf below, about two feet. It landed on its charging cable side, though, and damaged the port into which it plugs.
The result of this mishap is that for a few weeks I was holding or otherwise MacGyvering implements to keep the cord in position so that it would charge my laptop. I was disheartened because I knew that sending my laptop in for repair would mean not having it for an undetermined amount of time, possibly losing my data, and possibly getting a replacement laptop since the power port is built in to the system board.
When it wouldn’t easily charge any more no matter how I held the cord, I got it to full battery once and then made a thorough backup of all my files, just in case. (Geek Squad will do this for you, for a fee, but if you don’t pay close attention its easy to miss the part where it costs to get them to do it for you.)
And then I made the call.
Setting Up the Repair
On my first call with Geek Squad at the end of March, I talked to a young woman on the phone who was happy to have me deliver my laptop in person to my nearest Best Buy. I explained that the nearest Best Buy is about a 45 minute drive for me, and I couldn’t afford the gas this week to go out that far and still make it to work every day, and I can’t wait because I need my laptop for my business. I had fully expected to setup a service incident and have them mail me a box so I can send it in for service, like we used to do for some of our warranty work.
She said that would be fine, they just usually prefer to look at it in store and let the customer agree to whatever work needs to be done before they send it anywhere, but she would mail me a box and it would be there in 1-2 days.
I’m pretty used to how shipping things works in this day and age – Verizon is great at shipping a package overnight. Amazon prime deliveries are super speedy. And I know sometimes you can’t put a package on a truck to get shipped out same day, and if the next day is Sunday or if your business is closed on the weekend it might be Monday before it even starts to ship. This package took about 4 days to get to me.
I dropped it off with my laptop and cord inside at UPS the next day, and made sure I got a receipt with the tracking number. I put my username and password to my laptop on their sheet, making sure to change all my other accounts and I’d already taken care to make sure my personal data wasn’t super sensitive. (Trust NO ONE when you send your laptop to be repaired – I’ve heard and read horror stories, not necessarily about Geek Squad, of people’s photos being copied, personal info being stolen, you never know – better safe than sorry.)
The Waiting Game
Geek Squad’s people are all very friendly. I received email updates along the way during my repair. They’ve received my package – great! They’ve got someone assigned to it and they’ll be looking at it shortly – stellar! My repair is under way – woohoo! Oh, what’s this? It looks like they’ve got to order a part and it could take a couple of days for it to arrive. OK, that’s not a big deal. I can be patient – and ordering a part sounds promising. If they have a part ordered I might get my same laptop back after all!
I waited for two weeks with no updates. Finally, I checked online again to see my status was waiting on a part still, and I give up and I call Geek Squad’s toll free number. I work nights, so I was thankful they operate 24/7.
On this first call, I am told that my laptop is in a repair center in Louisville, and unfortunately the phone support people don’t have access to the system needed to see exactly what was going on. On these particular models, apparently getting the part can take as long as a month! I said “That’s mostly not acceptable, can you contact them to find out when they expect to complete my repair?” I figured it would be tomorrow before I would hear something, and she said someone would contact me within 24 hours. It was a Friday night, and I suspected maybe since it was the weekend she might have forgotten if they weren’t going to be around until Monday.
Sure enough, the weekend and Monday come and go without a phone call or email. She said they would do both, I got neither.
So I go to check my status online again, this time I get an error like my service number doesn’t exist. I freak out, call back. This time, I speak to a gentleman who tells me he’s going to transfer me directly to the service center. I remind him that I’ve already had a frustrating experience and it would be unwise to cold transfer me to someone where I have to explain myself a third time today.
He cold transfers me, and I get the ringing sound, and then disconnected.
I call back, super pissed, and finally get someone who seems to know what they’re talking about. She says they’ve been having website problems that day, and that could be why I didn’t get to see the status.
They tell me that my laptop is in “junk-out status” – Geek Squad’s equivalence of the non-economical repair. So I tell them I get what that means, I mostly expected that to be the case. I paid for accidental damage protection and I didn’t abuse the laptop. Their advertising even suggests that for a fall of up to 6 feet they’ll cover the repair. She says they’ll be contacting me shortly and probably discuss basically selling the laptop back to them for the purchase price or a depreciated amount since it’s 2 years old at this point.
I get really upset about the possible depreciated value, because that’s not what I was sold when I bought the protection plan. I expected full satisfaction for my plan purchase. She told me to call the nearest Best Buy in the morning and they could tell me more about what’s going on with the “junk-out status” and what the next steps were, or wait a day and the repair center that actually has my laptop should call me.
Waited a day, no call.
This is Getting Old Fast, Geek Squad
I call back, explain myself, then when he suggests he’s going to transfer me, I ask not to be cold transferred – and then I get cold transferred to an automated menu system, where none of the options take you to a human, just more recorded messages, mostly intended for Geek Squad employees.
My second call has slightly more luck, I ended up getting cold-transferred to the 2nd closest Best Buy to me, and the in-store GS associate is super helpful. He explains the “junk-out status” again, and tells me he can go into more detail but basically I need to come into a Best Buy in person, claim my “junk-out status” service number, and they’ll issue me a store credit on a Best Buy gift card for whatever the system decides I deserve.
I explained that my nearest Best Buy is 45 minutes away, and he said if I’d make the extra miles to their store they have slightly better selection and they’d have record of talking to me already.
A Happy Ending
I arrived at the Best Buy an hour and a half later with my wife. We have to wait a little because two families are in front of us with appointments with the limited Geek Squad staff on hand. As one gentleman asks what we need help with, the other remembers our phone call from earlier and says he’ll help us in just a minute.
I nervously go through the transaction and then I get the good news – they’re going to give me the full original purchase amount of my laptop! At this point, my Geek Squad service protection is considered “fulfilled” and so I no longer have any extra protection, but at least I got a replacement laptop out of it. Since I paid a little less than half the price of a new one to get the protection, I’d say that was a decent deal.
The new laptop is a Toshiba Satellite Radius P55W-B5220, a 15″ convertible laptop where the keyboard flips back and it becomes a tablet, and it has a touch screen and Windows 8.1. It has fancy voice recognition software. It’s got a 750gb hard drive (SATA, not SSD), no ethernet port or optical drive, 3 usb ports, one hdmi port, and a built in webcam and Harman / Kardon speakers. I restored my backups and reinstalled all my software and thanks to the magic of logging in with my Microsoft account on the old laptop, I have all my settings right back in place.
I’d like to thank the in-store employees for being competent and friendly. They did a great job. If you do happen to need to use your Geek Squad protection plan in the future, I’d recommend just dealing straight with the store. The phone people, while friendly, mostly don’t seem competent enough to understand concepts like “warm transfer” and liaising for the customer to other departments. And whatever service center my laptop went to, I’m not sure why they never contacted me directly as the phone people indicated. But I’d still be waiting if I hadn’t been proactive about it.
I probably won’t buy my next laptop from Best Buy, and I didn’t buy extended Geek Squad support again for this one. I’m going to take extremely good care of it until it dies permanently, and then I’ll probably shop around online. For now though, it is good to be back in business with an even better laptop, thanks to the Geek Squad.