ANALYSIS

Customer Tech Support: Don’t Go It Alone

You may have heard of a company called Geek Squad, but what about PlumChoice or SupportSpace? Even if you don’t know their names, you may very well be doing business with them right now. Who are they?

PlumChoice, SupportSpace are both relatively small companies that do business with larger companies, providing top-shelf tech support services to customers. This segment of support services is a very interesting, impressive and increasingly important part of the tech world.

Companies in most every industry today deal with technology. Their employees use smartphones, tablets and computers to send messages and data over wireless and wireline networks.

Typically, companies provide their own service and tech support. Sometimes calls are too complicated for general service department staff, however. Those calls are escalated to individuals more experienced with handling complex problems.

Companies have a choice as to how they provide these higher-level support services. Some maintain advanced tech support departments internally, staffed by their own employees.

However, outside companies may be enlisted to handle these problems — companies like Geek Squad, PlumChoice, SupportSpace and others. Most of these companies are relatively small, but that likely will change over the next several years as more companies need more help providing service to more customers.

It looks as though growth is in the cards for this segment. Companies use these support services to take care of customers who use their products. Companies also use them to take care of customers who are having problems with third-party products.

Who You Gonna Call?

Consider a customer who uses a wireless carrier and has a smartphone like an Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, for example.

The user may have purchased both the device and service from a store operated by a carrier like AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless, Sprint or T-Mobile. Alternatively, the customer could have gone to a physical store operated by Apple or Samsung — or a big box retailer like Best Buy. Perhaps the user placed an order through Amazon or countless other online outlets.

It might be easy for a customer to walk into one store and buy everything, but it can get very complicated for the companies to sell each other’s equipment and services.

The same is true of tech support. Who does the customer call with a problem?

The customer generally calls the company that sold the product. If the problem is with the iPhone and they bought it directly from Apple, they are on target. What if the problem is with the network, though? Can Apple help? That’s where things get difficult.

As technology becomes increasingly important to every one of us and claims a bigger role in our lives, tech support becomes much more important as well — and much more complicated.

World-class tech support is the biggest challenge of all — yet world-class tech support must remain the goal. Customers who are not satisfied won’t remain your customers.

Returning to the above example, wireless networks don’t manufacture equipment, and equipment makers don’t operate a network. So world-class tech support gets tough.

Not My Department

Customers, of course, want their problems solved quickly. When a problem occurs, they call either the equipment maker or the network for help. The worst response they can get is that it’s the other guy’s problem. That forces customers to go back and forth looking for a solution. It wastes their time and increases their aggravation.

The back-and-forth routine loses customers for both the device and the network. It must be avoided at all costs. All the companies are tied together in providing world-class tech support. Every company has skin in the game.

How can companies take care of customers without shuffling them back and forth? They have a choice. They either set up their own very advanced tech support centers or they do business with outside companies like Geek Squad, PlumChoice, SupportSpace and others.

Geek Squad is a good example. At one time, Best Buy operated its own service department. However, as the customer care job grew in both size and complexity, Best Buy acquired Geek Squad to handle its tech support. Now it’s easy for customers to get help, and they love it.

Finding the right company to help your company is a big challenge. Each tech support company specializes in different areas — like wireless, telecom, smartphones, computers and so on. Each helps different types of companies as well.

Each of these companies focuses on its own little niche in the tech world. However, I see this segment growing over the next decade and beyond as more companies realize they must provide world-class service to keep customers and stay in business.

It may be uncomfortable for a large company to rely on a smaller company for support, but in this case it seems to be working just fine. This space will be very interesting to watch.

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a technologyindustry analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he's been watching for 25 years. Email him at jeff@jeffKAGAN.com.

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