Calling in the Geek Squad can help ring in the changes

Picture: Ian Rutherford
Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Carphone Warehouse’s specialist staff can make the transition from ancient mobile to smartphone pain free , writes Claire Smith

Sometimes you know it is time for a change. I was very attached to my old phone, you can drop it into puddles, the battery lasts for about a week and it even turns into a torch. But, like millions of other people in the UK, I decided it was time to switch to a smartphone.

Not being able to get e-mails on the move was beginning to be a problem – and I thought it was probably time to join the rest of the country in Facebooking at bus stops, sending people pictures of kittens and playing Bejewelled Blitz on the train.

But the move from old-fashioned brick to shiny new iPhone is not without its pitfalls. How do you switch the thing on? How do you make phonecalls? And what kind of data package do you need to sign up to to avoid getting a nasty shock when the first bill comes in?

David Myles, manager of the Princes Street Carphone Warehouse in Edinburgh, offered to get me a good deal. He booked me with agent Jack Wells, of the in-store Geek Squad, to help me find my way around my new phone.

However, we immediately hit a hitch. My old phone used a giant sim card that did not fit my new phone. My contract was with Virgin, which previously did not support iPhones.

Mr Myles got on the phone. The first step was to find out from my existing provider how many minutes I typically used in a month and to work out what deal I would need to sign up for.

“It is all about you and your situation,” he says. “Usually we spend a lot of time helping customers choose a phone. But, in your case, you have the iPhone, so it is a question of working out what you use and what you want to use.

“If people don’t already have a smartphone, there are a lot of potential pitfalls and we don’t want people to end up with unexpected charges.”

We hit another hitch. Virgin wasn’t picking up. Poor Mr Myles was listening to tinny call waiting music for at least half an hour – but he was determined to figure out my usage, so that he could find me the right combination of services at the right price.

Eventually – just as we were about to slam the phone down – someone answered. After talking to three people of ascending seniority and threatening to cancel my direct debit, I was offered a brilliant package. “You have to go for it,” said Mr Myles. “That is a great deal.”

It transpires that Virgin now supports iPhone, although it appears it hasn’t told anyone.

For the next six months, I’ll be on an unlimited data phone contract that costs me half what it cost to run my steam age phone. Whoopee.

David Myles has been at Carphone Warehouse for eight years, after studying retail and marketing in Manchester. For him, it is all about customer satisfaction.

“I came here because I love retail,” he says. “When I first joined the company, it wasn’t quite as techy as it is now: phones were for calling and texting – smartphones had only just come out.

“It is a great industry to work in because the things we sell change significantly over time and the way people use them change as well.”

Carphone Warehouse sales staff are dedicated to ensuring that customers get the right phone and the right call package. But the company’s secret weapon is the Geek Squad – who can tell you how to use your phone, fix it if it gets a bug or a virus and mend it if you drop it.

The Geek Squad lives in an orange box at the back of Carphone Warehouse stores – and, like a lot of hi-tech outfits, it has its own culture. Geek Squad employees are called agents, their headquarters are called Mission Control, the managing director is called the chief inspector –and they all wear tie pins, short-sleeved shirts and white socks.

My assigned adviser is Agent Wells – aka Jack Wells, a young man from Dumfries who studied robotics at Heriot Watt University.

Carphone Warehouse aims for its customers to Walk Out Working – ie to have a phone that is set up to work. However, it is often advisable to book your tutorial a few days after getting your phone so you know exactly what it is that you can’t make it do.

As we decided not to switch my contract but stick with the sweetener deal from Virgin, my iPhone is still not up and running. But Agent Wells pulls out a stunt phone from the store cupboard to give me a tutorial.

In the course of a tutorial, which lasts about half an hour and costs £14.99, the Geek Squad will transfer your data, set up your e-mail, show you how to download an app and even fit a military-tested crash cover for your screen.

One of the most important things the Geek Squad teaches is how to avoid huge unexpected charges by learning to switch your phone to use wifi where available.

The agent will also show you how to avoid running up charges while abroad and how to avoid catching mobile phone viruses. And, amazingly, it is all explained in simple language.

For a man who understands how to build a robot, Agent Wells is remarkably easy to understand.

“We get all sorts of people here: from grandmothers who have never used a smartphone before to kids who know more than their parents,” he says. “We normally ask people to come in with a list of the things they want to learn.

“When you join Geek Squad, one of the key skills you learn is jargon busting. I have been setting up phones for years for friends and relatives, so I have a lot of practice.”

It is also important to find out what customers already know by finding out what kind of devices they have used before. “It is about being respectful of their existing knowledge.”

Agent Wells shows me how to download Bejewelled Blitz, how to get on to Facebook, how to make a phonecall and how to get my e-mails. He shows me how I can download an app that lets me use my shiny new iPhone as a torch.

I’m ready to rock and roll and –thanks to Mr Myles’s superhuman patience – it isn’t going to cost a fortune.

l The free Understanding Mobile Data For Dummies guide from Carphone Warehouse is intended to combat the consumer confusion surrounding mobile data and data charges. For more information visit