San Antonio — The Progressive Retailers Organization was at the Westin La Cantera Hill Coun
TWICE: Where are all of these qualified installers going to come from, now that seemingly everyone is getting into the category? Isn't the industry hitting a wall?
Joe McGuire, Tweeter: It's a big issue. At Tweeter we grow our own. We've always had a large adult education infrastructure because having knowledgeable sales people was always a reason for Tweeter to exist in the first place. We're applying that same rigor to the installer base, where the level of technology needs to be even greater.
It takes nine to twelve months before they're really at a place where they're productive and knowledgeable and can be sent on enough jobs safely, which is a pretty long period of time. We've talked a lot about how to shorten that, but it's hard because there's a tremendous amount of knowledge and data to absorb.
TWICE: They also represent Tweeter in the customer's home.
McGuire: Absolutely. They are the final touch point. If you have somebody on your installation team who forgot to put the booties on after they walked through the garden and leaves big footprints across the living room, then you've just taken all of the great work that everybody else in the company has done and ruined it.
That's one of the tricks of going into the services business. A traditional retailer had one or maybe two points of contact with the customer. When you get involved in in-home services, all of the sudden you have five or six points of contact. You'd better get all five or six of them correct because the customer experience is always going to be as good as the worst one. You can look at it two ways: It's five opportunities to give a great experience, and it's five opportunities to mess one up.
Phil Jacobs, CompUSA: We have had absolutely no problem finding qualified people to be our in-house technicians, or Technologists, which we have had for over 12 years, and to also work with our network. As a matter of fact, last year we put together a partnership with a company called ComputerRepair.com, which has really been phenomenal for us. When a Technologist from ComputerRepair goes out there, they're working for us. The customer satisfaction level has been over 97 percent. That's tremendous, especially when you have someone in your home messing with your stuff and you're that satisfied.
I wish we could get the same kinds of ratings in other things that we do with our business. We have found that the home theater side is a whole separate set of challenges, and we have not yet mastered that.
TWICE: How does Best Buy recruit its services staffs?
Michael Vitelli, Best Buy: The Geek Squad is almost its own cult phenomenon of people that come and work for that organization. It's an amazing thing to watch. I remember meeting my first Geek in the Minneapolis office. I couldn't help myself. I walked over and I said “Do you like being called a geek?” He said, “Yes, absolutely.” They wear the uniform very proudly and they almost go out of their way to make sure that their hair or something about them is unique. They believe in it, and it's a very powerful thing.
For the custom installation side we do training with a number of different groups and third parties that are part of that industry. As Joe said, we try to grow our own. One of the great feeds into the home theater install is the mobile install, because they're working in fairly close quarters that rival the crawl spaces. There are some great, talented people with the right personality from the mobile install teams that are in every store who we can put into the home installation teams.
TWICE: Are these guys selling in the home like Tweeter's team?
Vitelli: They have been and will become salespeople. Inevitably, as great a job as you can do in-store anticipating all of your customers' needs, something else comes up when they are on site. It's a great opportunity to kind of complete the solution in the home.
TWICE: It sounds like a good career opportunity for a lot of kids coming up the ranks.
Vitelli: It is. The Geek Squad is set up that way. You start out as a Counter Agent where you're working in the store. Then you become a Double Agent, and you go outside and can work your way up through the whole litany of levels.
Ross Rubin, NPD Techworld: Nerd … Dweeb …
Vitelli: They're nicer than that, but yes, there are good career steps, which is a good thing for us as far as employee retention is concerned.
Jacobs: We've got to remember that kids today have grown up with technology. Whether it's a network install or helping someone clean up a hard drive, they've grown up with this stuff. The training isn't necessarily so much how to fix something as it is how to deal with the customer. It's really more interpersonal than it is teaching them how to thumb through a manual and find out how to do a quick fix. There are plenty of people out there looking for this kind of employment. It isn't as though we need to send people to trade schools or technical schools or even recruit people from there. There's already a good pool out there to pull from.