Verizon Helps The Geek Squad Get Serious
By Matt Pillar, chief editor
When Verizon’s Sorangel Borges-Canigiani called to offer a briefing on her company’s new partnership with Best Buy’s Geek Squad last week, she probably didn’t anticipate she’d be talking with such a skeptic. Sorangel Borges-Canigiani is manager of product marketing & development for medium business solutions at Verizon, and she wanted to talk about a comprehensive new IT services program for small-to-medium businesses, offered by Verizon and supported by The Geek Squad.
The day before the call, I had left my MacBook Pro in the hands of my local Geek Squad, certain that the grinding and clicking that was coming from under the keyboard meant a failed hard drive. I live a long, long way from an Apple Store, so the hour-long drive to Best Buy was my best hope for a quick fix. Just before the briefing I was told by the Geeks that they’d have to send my machine out to Apple and that it could be a week before it came back, with or without the missing data. This news came on the heels of an experience at Best Buy that left me questioning whether the guys behind the Geek Squad counter really understood the difference between trying to save a few family photos and trying to save some twelve years worth of business contacts, my schedule, and some important (and soon due) projects that, due to my own haste and ignorance, never made it off of my desktop. The frustration in my voice was surely palpable through the phone.
Fortunately for her, Borges-Canigiani was joined by Best Buy Director of Strategic Partnerships Brad Howe. I did my best to stifle my frustration, much of which was admittedly caused by me; while I have triple-redundant local and off-site backup for 99% of my important stuff, the remaining 1% that wasn’t backed up from my laptop drive was some really important stuff. Howe and Best Buy PR pro Paula Baldwin did their best to allay my selfish concerns before I let them get on with the briefing.
Borges-Canigiani walked me through the offering, a multi-tiered menu of 24/7 phone and online IT help desk services for businesses, supported in the physical realm by The Geek Squad. Features of the program, offered at a monthly price per seat that ranges from $15 to $25 depending on service level, include security support, device monitoring, VPN support, application maintenance, and on-site dispatch if necessary. According to IDC, the market is ripe for such a service. The firm says worldwide SMB IT spending will approach $542 billion this year, and IT services are a leading component of that growth.
Given my predicament, the team I spoke with was sure to point out that the premier offering includes backup and data recovery services, or they can be purchased ad-hoc with the basic and advanced packages for an extra fee per 5G of data.
Borges-Canigiani told me that SMB retailers are a target market for the new services. “In retail, where tablets and smartphones are increasingly being deployed, there is a specific need for an employee-level service like this. We support iOS devices, as well as any devices running Windows for POS or inventory applications,” she said. The program is designed to offer a complete and ongoing IT administration solution set for applications, servers, and networks via the Internet, leveraging The Geek Squad’s nine call centers and 20,000 field staff for installation, repair, and warranty services when necessary. You can get all the details at http://www.verizonbusiness.com/Medium/products/itinfrastructure/helpdesk/.
While Verizon has a long history of serving the business user and has established itself more recently as a power player in Tier-1 retail, it remains to be seen whether The Geek Squad, accustomed to helping the IT illiterate consumer with his home computing needs, can effectively make the transition to hard-core business-level services. Best Buy assures me the program is in place, and there is no current association with the Geek Squad agents who work at retail; for now, Geek Squad services will be administered exclusively through call centers.
What also remains to be seen is the impact the nationwide offering will have on the retail IT reseller/integrator channel. The retail segment Verizon is after – Borges-Canigiani characterizes the sweet spot of the service as 100 seats or less – has typically been served by legions of small VARs and integrators. These guys are sure to feel pinched by a powerhouse Verizon/Best Buy help desk that claims to offer retail-specific expertise.
As for my own IT woes, I received a call from The Geek Squad the day after my briefing with Verizon and Best Buy. My machine was whole again and ready for pickup. I’m not sure if I have Brad Howe to thank for that (if so, thanks Brad), but in any event I’m a bit less skeptical today than I was when I dropped it off. I’m interested in getting feedback from SMB retailers and the IT channel that serves them. If you’re a small-to-midsize retailer, will you consider the new service? If you’re a VAR/integrator that serves this market, are you threatened by it? Share your thoughts here, or shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.