My experience with CompUSA as an employee and a customer
I started working at CompUSA in November of 1998 as a technician. At first I was happy, surrounded by all the goodies I liked to play with. Reality quickly set in. The service manager had been there 5 years with Computer City and was fed up with the public and everything else, but for the most part with the change of employers. I guess some chairs had flown around the room before I started and not by themselves - I saw some of the broken remains. He refused to go out to the counter and talk to any customers even though they asked for him. The customers would then go to the store manager, who in turn would dump on the service manager, who in turn would dump on us for decisions that we were not empowered to make. Everyone who was a former Computer City manager was on a hit list for replacement by CompUSA staff or hires.
I was a night shift guy. I was often left alone to make my quota of work, answer phones, and work the front counter all at the same time. Many nights, I didn't take a lunch or ate while I worked and consequently didn't punch out for lunch on the time clock. No problem! I discovered months later that the person in charge of time was editing the time records and punching me out for 1 hour without my knowledge (which is against the law) in order for the store to avoid any labor issues. How thoughtless of me, I forgot to thank him. Then there were the sudden involuntary days off without pay to help rescue the department budget.
Lets talk health and ergonomics. Monitors used to hook up to customer's computers were mandated to be on a shelf above the workbench at about the 5 foot level. If you sat down, neck damage was inevitable. It was either that or stand for 8 hours. I had to have one of the broken chairs fixed at my own expense just to be able to sit and work. No chairs were going to be bought for techs.
In the course of my 1 years of employment, they went through 4 service managers. Shortly after I left they laid off or reassigned all but a few of them, even a few they had just finished training. They thought that the business manager could drop by once in a while from across the store to do this more than full time job; dealing with warranty issues, tracking work flow, handling higher level customer complaint issues, reviewing performance, etc. Many jobs didn't get done on time because technicians didn't have the authority to resolve customer/manufacturer/warranty issues. I guess that's one way to stop returns or warranty claims!
Getting things like an ink cartridge to test a customer's printer was not allowed. So what if you didn't have a known good one to test with? No one ever had an answer for that. You just got them from the stock and no one talked about it. It was either that or you wouldn't fix the printer. Then they complained about unaccounted-for inventory and searched everybody's pockets at the door!
And then there were the 8 AM Sunday mornings on my days off when I had to drive in for 1 hour (whoopee) to be at the morning meetings. These were to introduce yet another new manager (old ones disappeared mysteriously) or a new incentive program or to talk about our attitude problems and how to treat customers well (like we were not being treated).
The vacation "request" form reads something like this:
This is a request for time off and is not to be interpreted as a demand! Management reserves the right to alter or cancel scheduled vacation based on businesses needs. Not showing up for work during the requested time when it has been cancelled is grounds for disciplinary action.
Hello! Ever buy a plane ticket, book a motel room, or buy a vacation package? I guess you couldn't afford it anyway. I really thought management might spank somebody right in the middle of the sales floor!
As an employee you can buy items at cost, a perk if you can afford it. I was told one time when buying a hard drive that if I didn't purchase the insurance plan with it (as a show of support for that program) that the manager was "seriously" considering not letting me buy it. Another tech had bought a computer and the warranty for it several years before. It required replacement because the parts were no longer available. The manager coerced him into submitting for the full retail replacement value to the warranty company, gave him the PC at store cost, and kept the difference. I'll bet the warranty company would love that one!
Physical inventory, which is supposed to be done every quarter, failed to get done 5 times as scheduled and when I left the store, they still hadn't done it. Every time they thought they were going to do it, everyone had to come in for extra duty, disrupting their lives and not making plans with their families, only to be told to turn around and go home (without getting paid for any time). Everyone showed up and not one manager had the courtesy to call his or her people and tell them not to come in. Managers called the store from home if it was their day off and told everyone to go home, when they were already at the store. It sure builds up confidence that your leaders know what they're doing and care! And it really helps their credibility too when they say, "It's definitely happening on Saturday, be there or we'll write you up!"
One store had a big software copying problem and fired 5 techs and their service manager over it. All the stores were asked if they could share their techs to help keep up and catch up until new people could get on board. They were desperate. 70 jobs were backlogged - about a week to even look at something. Customer: "Hello, my PC has been there almost a week - What did you find?" Sound familiar? They offered mileage and paid lunches for anyone willing to help out. I went to this store for about a month and submitted all of my expenses to an unwilling manager (he didn't want the hassle). Then I was informed that my old store didn't need me full time and my choice was limited, so I had to drive twice as far through downtown traffic. The manager couldn't remember where my receipts had gone and didn't know anything about the status of my expenses. Finally, when my paycheck, which kept getting sent to my old store, didn't show up on time, I quit (no direct deposit for the peons, only management). My wife had to drive down to the store while I was at my new job and wait for hours for staff to issue a check at the store. They don't like to do things that way! It's not procedure. I had to take CompUSA to the labor board for my expenses which I finally got months later. They had to issue my check to the labor board 3 times before the Board finally got it.
And now for some insider tips:
CompUSA strategy #1: The CompUSA shuffle
Never leave anyone in a position long enough to answer for their actions or what they say. Relocate them or otherwise make them unavailable to answer questions or remember details of what took place only a little while ago. That way, the new person has no idea what you are talking about and will take forever getting answers, if they even bother, if they even can. Remember, they have a full time job doing other things besides helping you! Be patient and don't' be so selfish! They're busy!
CompUSA strategy #2: The CompUSA round-robin
If you are a non-technical person and don't know what the customer wants, transfer them to tech support. We know everything and love to answer all those questions about pricing and store hours instead of meeting our quotas. And the customer is really happy when we transfer them back to the reception phones.
CompUSA strategy #3: The CompUSA excellence
Why bother to train people when they can muddle through on their own By constantly interrupting others trying to meet their quotas; by asking months worth of questions and gathering knowledge one piece at a time? And be sure to humiliate anyone in front of others for making the wrong decision with no information to go on. Make them feel real guilty about what they have cost the store. I wonder what it costs to muddle through?
CompUSA strategy #4: The CompUSA bolt
When the going gets tough, the managers get lost. If it appears that an unpleasant issue is about to come to a head requiring a management decision, you look around and say, "Hey, where'd he go. His coat's gone!" This is probably the most extensive training that managers receive: detection and avoidance of ensuing complaints. Some even get sent to Texas (the home office) for this class. If you want to catch a manager, here's how:
1. Ask for a manager to be paged at the front counter. "MOD to the front". That's Manager On Duty, an oxy-moron (not a dumb guy with zits, although).
2. Watch the store for anyone who looks like O.J. dodging the opposing team and the police at the same time and trying to catch a rental car at the airport.
3. If they're not hiding in back already, identify their location and wait by the door until they come out. Be sure to watch other connecting exits as well. If you here an alarm, check the fire exits.
CompUSA strategy #5: The environmental statement
Don't let employees take home perfectly good or repairable equipment that you have decided to throw away. Just clear the shelves, get out the hammer, break it up, and send it off to the landfill. Ink and toner cartridges, monitor glass with phosphor coatings, PC boards with toxic chemical components, whatever. Into the dumpster it goes. At least when the regional guys tour the stores, they won't find anything out of place or not accounted for.
I started in November of 1998. The employee manual stated that after 3 months, I would be entitled to medical benefits. I filled out the paperwork and gave it to the benefits manager. After 4 months, I asked what was going on. "I'll check on it", he said. No word. I asked again. "It must have gotten lost, fill them out again." I did. Finally, I received benefits after 8 months and many queries. One guy worked there for over a year and never saw any benefits before he left. Note: When you ask a question like this and the person responsible won't look you in the eye, that's an indication of intent. I had to pay my own COBRA benefits for the extra 5 months from a previous job. When I left in April of 2000, they had 44 days by law to send me the COBRA extension forms. I received these forms in January of 2001, more than 8 months later. CompUSA told COBRA that I left in October of 2000. Didn't anybody wonder where I was for 6 months? I had to pay $2564 to make the medical current and retroactive back to October, no help back to April. And then, the CompUSA/COBRA team tried to cancel me over a 1 day miscommunication on their customer service's part about an on-line payment due date. The team had happily accepted the $2564 and 2 months' worth of premiums before that with no complaints. Then, after paying for July of 2001, on the 20th of that July, I got a notice that the insurance had changed and gone up to $593 from $438. And, I was overdue! The new company hadn't gotten paid yet. It wasn't their problem that I had already paid the old one. I had to pay both to stay current. I was reimbursed for the old one 3 weeks later. I guess this is how companies save money on medical expenses!
As a customer, both employed and not, I purchased many rebate items. I filled out the forms, cut out all the tags, and mailed them on time, keeping a list. As far back as two years and to this date, I am out about $600 for rebates that were sent in per their form's instructions. The store manager called me a liar, even when I gave him the copies of what I had sent, and said it wasn't their problem. I would have to go through the rebate center in Texas. I experienced a version of Strategy #2 above, I guess it's company wide. Hours on the phone only acquainted me with all the people who didn't know how to help me and proves that all you have to do is inconvenience people enough and they'll give up. Maybe I'll try Small Claims Court if I can determine who to send the summons to.
That sign that says that the manufacturers honor copies of receipts as agreed to with CompUSA - don't you believe it. MGM wouldn't send me my free DVD with a receipt copy, and the store said it wasn't its problem. A note about rebates: It's not free. They are borrowing everyone's money for 6-8 weeks (more like 6-8 months) and earning interest while you are paying the same on your VISA card. When and if they send you your rebate, they have made their money back on the actual cost of the item and much more. Something you pay $20 to $30 for costs pennies to produce and may even be overstock or soon-to-be-obsolete items. For example, the new version of Windows coming out in a few months will not support that new modem you're getting a rebate on. Not to be condescending but I often thought of the milling customers as herded cattle while watching them shop. "Ooh, it's free after rebates, and we'll need to buy this to use it!" Free CD-R disks after rebate and we'll buy a CD-Writer to make our own CD's. I saw a letter on the Net about the store not having the super-sale/rebate items that were in their advertisements being a "bait-and-switch" scheme. If a few items can be sold at a loss or cost to bring in many more customers, why not. Many people want to go home with something for their effort. No rain checks either. In fairness, I was guilty of these buying patterns before working there. Wake up, people, or grow spots and learn to say "MOO"!
I saw another complaint letter about the cost of printer and other cables. The store makes their money on supplies, accessories, and warranty plans far more than big item sales. Markups can be 3 to 4 times the cost. I once bought a plastic cable organizer that was a 99 cent retail item for a only a penny (cost).
The New Deal...
The current owner of CompUSA is a Mexican concern, Grupo Sanborns. These banditos were recently found guilty of insider trading with the head man's relatives and friends being the beneficiaries. They also stole a south-of-the-border deal from a US company, COC Services Ltd., who had done all of the leg work. If this is what NAFTA has to offer us, I'd rethink the deal. We have enough of our own crooks without inviting in everyone else's. I guess "Free Trade Agreement" means that they are "Free" to do anything they like in the US.
If anyone is interested in legally pursuing any of the above, please send me an email. I believe that Washington State has some of the weakest employment laws in the country. At-will employment where no reason is needed to dump someone is just inviting abuse and retaliation against someone who would otherwise stand up for his or her rights. I guess the politicians know what side their bread is buttered on -- and it's not on our side, because we can't afford the butter! We gave it to them.
After reading this, I'm sure the buying public will have a better understanding about the way they are served(?) and why. Why would you be inspired to do first class job for low pay under these conditions?