Best Buy’s shot in the foot needs communications first aid

Steve’s breakdown: We think Best Buy is making a giant mistake hiring a third party to do their Geek Squad work. The Geek Squad is the best thing they have going and to do this must be managed from a communication standpoint. That’s something to pitch!

RICHFIELD, MN: Best Buy is restructuring some of its Geek Squad workforce, eliminating about 400 remote positions nationwide with the aim of outsourcing that work and transferring the employees to other jobs.

“Affected agents will have a job, if they choose, with similar pay and responsibilities,” Jeff Shelman, a Best Buy spokesman, said in a statement. “We very much want to keep them and are working hard to do that, especially because we currently have nearly 1,000 open jobs.”

Employees who do not want to transfer either to a nearby store or to a job visiting customers’ homes will be given a severance package. About 49 Minnesota workers who report to the retailer’s Richfield-based headquarters will be affected by the changes, which are effective Sept. 25.

Best Buy said that it is overall looking to grow its Geek Squad division, which currently includes more than 20,000 employees who provide technical support, repair and installation services in stores, in people’s homes and over the phone and website.

The offering has become a key weapon in Best Buy’s effort to differentiate itself from online competitors. However, Amazon has recently begun dipping its toes in this space by testing a more limited offering of its own in-home consultation and installation services in select markets.

Best Buy sent a letter to the state Department of Employment and Economic Development on Friday saying it was permanently eliminating the positions. The letter was a WARN notice, required by the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act when an employer with more than 100 workers has a large layoff.

The affected positions are on the Geek Squad’s covert team, who often work from their own homes to provide remote technical support. Their work will be outsourced to a third party.

In its letter to the state, Best Buy said it is making these changes to “meet the significant and evolving tech support needs of our customers.”

“We are working hard to retain these highly skilled and engaged employees and are optimistic that many of them will find new roles and remain with Best Buy,” the company wrote.

Best Buy began testing an in-home adviser program through its Geek Squadin select markets last year in which consultants make free home visits to help give customers technical expertise on how to make the most of technology in their homes. It is planning to roll out that service more widely this year.

It also recently launched a pilot for a new service in the Twin Cities called Assured Living aimed at helping adult children set up a smart home network and service to remotely check on their aging parents by using various monitors and devices.

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