Saturday, January 13, 2007

PC Repair for the Peons

TechBlog co-poster Jim Thompson recently pondered the trials and tribulations faced by the non-tech-mined seeking quality and trustworthy pc repair assistance: Who ya gonna call?

He described providing a quick and free fix for a milk-abused Dell notebook. After the owner first sought help at a local pc repair house and returned with a $600 motherboard replacement diagnosis...she wisely sought out Jim for a second opinion. Fortunately he tracked the problem down to a bent CPU pin and (apparently with some deft tweezers-work) got it up again, good as new.

Jim links to a YouTube hosted video "Computer Repair Fraud" originally aired by Los Angeles local news channel KCAL 9..

In the investigative report, they checked area pc repair shops for service to the computers. The computers used had been verified to be in perfect working condition. They just self-disconnected an IDE hard-drive cable on each of the units to prevent they system from booting.

And the results? As reported by KCAL 9 reporter David Goldstein:

  • Best Buy-Geek Squad - Mis-diagnosed as having a (likely) bad power supply unit.
  • Circuit City - Fixed for $59.99.
  • CompUSA - Fixed for $119.99
  • Fry's - Fixed for $69.99.
  • Torrence Computer Repair - Fixed for Free!
  • BMI Computers, Inc. - Diagnosed a power short and bad mainboard. $275.00 to fix.

Jim's take?

This was posted at YouTube under the headline “Computer Repair Fraud”, but it doesn’t sound to me like fraud as much as incompetence. Or, to quote Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” Then again, these people are supposed to be professionals, and perhaps such astounding incompetence in that role equates to fraud.

My response?

Fraud–sometimes. Stupidity–I’ve no doubt. Laziness–probably more than a few.

Every so often when the Valca family is browsing the anime DVD titles at a certain GoodPurchase store, Lavie and Alvis try to convince me to consider making a career change to their in-house pc repair business team. (Alvis just thinks the little black and white cars they drive are cool--and they are kinda cute.) I usually let out an audible groan.

I’m quite sure that “many” of the tech's in that pc-repair shop and others like it are generally honest and hard-working folks with family and friends who appreciate the hours they put in. I'm sure quite a few desire to provide the best service-experience for their customers.

And many mom-and-pop pc-repair shops make pc tech's proud in their communities--like Torrence Computer Repair exhibited.

Then again, to me, there also appears to be a certain conflict of interest present. By this I mean that the same folks who are responsible for doing repairs also work for a place that can sell upgraded parts, software, or even entire systems.

Jim Thompson and I (and many, many, other career computer geeks) can easily set up a home user’s computer using 90-100% freeware/opensource software for all their security, cleaning, maintenance, and productivity software needs. Heck. We can even toss in some fun games for free as well. Not pirated copies, but legally and guilt-free "free for personal/home use" or open-source software solutions. (And don't even get us started on free Linux operating systems.)

If I went to work for one of these outfits, I'm afraid I would feel deeply “icky” if I was required to up-sell them commercial products as a solution on a service call--especially if I knew full well a little work on Google and some freeware software on their part could take care of it all at no cost.

That’s why I groan. But that's just me and my internal moral compass at work.

Granted...I know some people don't have the time, or confidence, or technical know-how to approach pc-repair they willingly or not turn to pc-repair shops for work and gladly pay the repair fees. Hopefully they find good, honest and fair service.

In all fairness I haven’t worked for any these shops so I don’t really “know” what requirements and instructions they have for their employees. I did find this interesting post (go read it, I'll wait) "Top 10 Ways Best Buy Will Fix a PC" over on Destructive Incorporated. I cannot personally substantiate the accuracy of the repair service frequencies as listed, nor their costs, but it was very interesting to consider.

Even more fun and enlightening were the post comments some made by (claimed) former employees with a view from the behind the ops-counter. Overall they seem to have a fair-and-balanced discussion going on.

I'm really not picking on Best Buy's GeekSquad (or their competitors). Like I have already said, I'm confident there are a lot of hard-working, well-meaning pc repair tech's working behind their counters. I'm sure it's hard going to strangers' homes and businesses and dealing with their frustrations and equipment day after day.

In the end all pc-repair shops are businesses. Quality and fairness is based on the business's culture/ethics paired with the training and personal abilities of its individual human-being employee's. Like I gave for my reasons for the bad pc-repair experiences observed: Fraud–sometimes. Stupidity–I’ve no doubt. Laziness–probably more than a few. And within all that, enough precious gems to keep people coming back for help.

Seeking vehicle service may be a similar analogy. I wouldn’t consider taking my car to anywhere else but the dealership I bought it at. Others don't trust dealer repair shops further than they could toss their car. Why do I trust mine? Because I've had very good customer service experiences with them. I know enough about car mechanics to feel comfortable "talking shop" with the mechanics and challenging their diagnosis and service recommendations when I feel it's appropriate...but I can honestly say I'd be over my head performing most repairs on a "modern" car beyond working on the brakes, replacing an alternator or hoses or sparkplug's. I can handle the filters, too. But when we get into the suspension, transmission, engine, A/C or electrical system...I may know how it works, but I'm not silly enough to try to fix it myself. I'd gladly pay a trusted and experienced technician to do that work safely and correctly for me.

Maybe that's how the "non-techie's" feel when they desperately look for pc-repair help.

I'm sure they are experiencing a moment of high-stress with all their valued family pictures, bank account records, music files, etc. stored and inaccessible to them on a dead pc. In that moment I've no doubt they will put $$ in the bucket of anybody who can offer them a sermon of PC salvation along with the laying on of hands!

I take great pride in my career information technology profession. Even though it is "in-house" work, and getting my customers' servers, networks, and desktop systems working again is frequently a challenge, I am rewarded by seeing their satisfaction and excitement when their problem is solved…and in knowing that by doing a good job I’m saving everyone I work for additional money when I and my teammates can fix it ourselves and not have to out-source the work. Especially, if it is a solution as simple as blowing clear the dust buildup on a cpu heatsink/fan so the processor runs cool and faster again or pulling a malware infection out of the operating system, or recovering an accidentally deleted report document the user had been working on for days.

I haven't had a chance to work in other corporate/enterprise information technology support settings--being quite honored and pleased to be with my current employer for some time--but I would imagine that these professionals, like me, find much more satisfaction working in that environment rather than doing charge-per-service repairs for customers.

But then, back to the problem…how do John and Jane Q. Public find a reputable IT shop for repairs if they aren’t a “geek” and don’t have “geek” friends/family to seek repair help from? I'm still not sure on that one. Probably their best bet is to ask for references from friends and neighbors, as well as conducting a search on Google in your area and paying special attention to comments and feedback posted by customers. That might lead to an "honest" pc-repair shop and away from some bad ones...or if you are really fortunate, it might even lead to someone like me, or Jim.

Maybe that’s what makes some of us be so patient and willing to help those who ask for pc-repair advice and help…and our willingness to accept pizza, or beer, or just a few $'s in exchange...we know just how hard it is and how frustrated it can feel when you've got a pc problem you just can't fix. And we like a good challenge. It stimulates our minds and makes great material for our blogs.

In the end, it's a good deal for me; I get to do what I love and teach others (as I was taught my IT skills) and as an added bonus, I don’t have to take a shower when I get home--except when I've been tossing network cabling in the ceilings that day.


PS: What's the meaning of "Peon"? According to the Wikipedia, lots of things. Of related interest to this post: "Computing slang: a peon is an 'unprivileged user'—a person without special privileges on a computer system. The opposite is a "superuser." There you go!


Michael said...

Claus - great post (as usual). Seems like every time I read your blog I have work to do on my PC. You're like a free "Geek Squad" but you don't come around in a Beetle... :)

Thanks for helping me keep current and secure!!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kind words, Harmon!

I consider it an even I have an awesome tea-dealer direct in Japan!

That's a good-exchange in my book!


Anonymous said...

I never take my computer to any of the big retail stores because I know they're going to rip me off. That's why I go to local businesses like They're in the Los Angeles are, they came to my office and took care of the issue.

The big guys won't ever do that.