Consumers on the Hunt for Quality Tech Support

Technology is all around us. We work on computers, listen to MP3 players, talk on smartphones, snap photos with digital cameras and, well, you get the picture. Technology makes every day life easier — when it works. What about when it doesn’t, or at least when you can’t figure out how it does?

Many consumers are overwhelmed by the headache of figuring out how to use their newest tech toys. Others need help for their PC-related problems at home. Still others want to learn to use the more advanced product features. What’s a less than tech-savvy consumer to do?

“Most people use 10 percent of Microsoft Windows functionality, and there’s so many features they can get confused,” said Greg Coleman, vice president and principal of Service Strategies, a firm that works with companies like Nokia to improve customer support. “That’s a common scenario with many technology products,” he told TechNewsWorld.

The good news is that help abounds. There is a plethora of technology support options available today — remote vs. on-site vs. in-store and national vs. regional vs. local mom-and-pop operations. The challenge is not in finding help, rather, it is in determining whom to call.

What service has the edge in terms of cost, convenience, security and effectiveness? All good questions — now, let’s get some answers.

Remote Control

Remote support should be used whenever possible because it is the simplest, most effective and lowest cost option available, according to Ted Werth, CEO of PlumChoice, a remote computer and home technology support provider. It can resolve 85 percent, or more, of the questions and issues that a consumer might have, he said.

Remote technology services make it possible for certified technicians to access the user’s computer distantly — meaning the customer stays where he or she is while the technician stays at his corporate office. The technician conducts setup, training, diagnostics and repair, all via the Internet.

“There’s no waiting for the technician to show up at your door, no struggling to communicate via phone what’s happening to your computer and no turning your equipment over to an unsupervised and disjointed repair process,” Werth said. “The consumer simply watches as the technician points and clicks through the training or repair.”

Saving Time and Money

Desktop sharing software that has been used in the corporate world for years enables service organizations to help technology consumers regardless of their location, Werth said. Because it can be delivered from afar without the need for a drive, it can be used to cost effectively solve small problems.

“If a problem can be solved in 15 to 30 minutes, or even an hour, the job will be finished and the customer [will be] back to what he/she really wants to do in less time than it would have taken to bring the system to the shop,” Robert Shoemaker, CEO of, told TechNewsWorld.

Consumers can purchase remote services in a subscription model that costs US$24.95 a month. Security concerns of remote access are alleviated by consumer encryption, monitoring and recording.

Experts to the Rescue

In-home technology support — the geek that comes to you to fix your problems — is the most expensive choice for consumers because the provider is dealing with travel time, technician downtime and vehicle costs.

Perhaps the most well-known of these types of services is the Geek Squad offered by Best Buy. Customers can pay as much as $159 an hour for this type of personal service. The service schedule is based on the provider’s availability, much like a doctor’s office. Some consumers may not feel comfortable having a stranger in their home fiddling with their computer. Others find it convenient to schedule an appointment.

Geek Squad bills itself as able to set up, fix or maintain anything that plugs into a computer or a network no matter the make, manufacturer or place of purchase. The Geeks will come to your home, help you in designated Best Buy and Geek Squad stores, or talk with you over the phone to help 24 hours a day. In-home support might not be convenient for travelers, however, Coleman said.

“If your laptop breaks while you are traveling, in-home service isn’t an option,” he noted. “That’s why many people get service contracts directly from the manufacturer when they purchase the hardware. You ship it to the manufacturer and they will repair it, or replace it, quickly.” Beyond the upfront contract cost, which varies, the customer is only out shipping costs.

For less dramatic technical glitches, Coleman said customers are going online for troubleshooting advice. Manufacturers’ Web sites feature bulletin boards and Q&A formats that help customers find solutions to common problems quickly, he said. Ninety-one percent of technology hardware vendors offer tech support online, according to his company’s research. There are free and paid options of Web support.

In-Store Technical Help

Many retailers offer in-store technical help to diagnose and fix computer related problems. This model meets the retailers’ need for a more centralized and efficient service offering, but it requires the consumers lug their equipment into a store and leave it there until it’s fixed.

Stores like CompUSA offer this service, which typically costs about $99 or more. The downside is the consumer loses use of his computer until the store technicians fix the problem. Security is also questionable since the consumer cannot see what is being done to his computer, Werth said.

“Whenever possible, repairs should be conducted with the computer in its operating position because networks are complicated and it is difficult to repair a computer and introduce it to the home and have it work without reconfiguration,” Werth said. While he obviously touts remote service, he admitted that when there is a hardware failure it may be necessary to resolve a problem using one of the other methods.

Personal Consultants

Customers are best served by finding a trusted local technology consultant in their area who can take end-to-end responsibility for all their technology tools and gadgets, said Joshua Feinberg, author of Computer Consulting 101 Professional Kit.

“Large retailers and national computer manufacturers will typically look to point fingers at problems that are outside their control,” Feinberg told TechNewsWorld. “Smart consumers will recognize that a technology consultant, the same kind that helps small businesses in the area, has a lot more skin in the game with building ‘relationship equity’ than a large national retailer or computer manufacturer.”

How do you select a local technology consultant? In much the same way that many seek out accountants, attorneys and doctors, Feinberg said — by asking friends, family members and colleagues for personal recommendations. The downside to this option is similar to the in-store option: loss of control of the hardware and its data.

Making the Call

The telephone is the most popular channel of support, according to Service Strategies’ studies. Sixty-two percent of technology vendors’ service interactions originate through phone calls, and 38 percent are coming through electronic channels, like the Web or submitting a support ticket via e-mail.

“Despite all the other options out there, the phone is still the most prevalent. One of the reasons for that is the interaction and the speed of picking up the phone,” Coleman stated. “In today’s world, people want answers now. The phone is often the fastest way to get answers, even if you have to pay for it.” Sixty-one percent of companies require customers to pay for tech support, according to his research.

There are few companies that have built a national brand to deliver a combination of these services. Which option, and which company, do you choose? Ultimately, analysts concluded, you want service from a company that has established a reputation for providing high value, trusted service.

Beyond this baseline, it’s a matter of personal preference. Some consumers will always prefer phone interaction. Others will hop online and search out the answer. Still others will want to unload the problem on a technology expert. As Service Strategies’ research showed, it’s not always about the cost. More often, it’s about convenience. That means there is room for various strategies to duke it out in the battle for trusted consumer tech support.

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