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PC Fixer Lassos Customers the Old Fashioned Way: Free Services

Getting reliable and reasonably priced tech support for an ailing computer is time-consuming and frustrating. PC users at home, school and work face malfunctions caused by human error, software failure and hardware configuration glitches.

On top of these problems are the increasing daily threats posed by malware and virus infections. The typical home or office user has no IT support to rescue them.

A recent report from research firm IDC concludes that although technology is now deeply entwined in consumers’ lives, consumer support options have not kept pace with needs and are often unsatisfying. Meanwhile, PC support has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. As a sign of this growth, look no further than AT&T’s recent launch of its PC support service ConnecTech.

The Internet is now a fertile field for finding PC support. More options are available besides wading through volumes of user forums for repair solutions. In fact, consumers can now find online support centers with a variety of services and per fix-it costs.

However, can you trust a pay-up-front repair service? How about a free online remote service? Digital Support Technology is a recent startup seeking toimprove PC tech support with its flagship offering. It’s called “PC Fixer,”a free online technical support service that repairs a broad range ofcommon computer problems. These include performance tuning issues,software glitches, problems with Microsoft Windows or Office, and security and maintenance difficulties.

The company provides multiple levels of tech support service, some ofwhich are free. Digital Support also offers a 100 percent satisfactionguarantee or a full refund to those who opt for the pay services.

Selling for Free

Haiying Wang, founder and CEO of Digital Support, hopes his 15-plusyears working in IT for major corporations such as Time Warner andVMWare will give him an edge as he brings his PC support business tothe market. He is leveraging the automatic PC support platform hedesigned with a highly scalable functionality against the alternativesfor PC support available to consumers and SMBs alike without IT help.

Offering remote repair service under a pay-if-you-want-to businessmodel distinguishes his company from the crowd. But will offering afree service get potential customers to regard him as a serious player in the PC repair market?

“The money will come to you after the customer base is there,” Wangtold TechNewsWorld. “We are still working on how to charge for ourservice.”

Creating that base was what presented Wang with his initial problem once hedeveloped his product. After initially charging a fee and finding thatonly 30 percent of the would-be customers were actually willing topay, Wang dropped the charge and settled for the additional traffic offree customers that came to his Web site.

The initialgoal was to build a database of symptoms as the basis for a diagnosisand repair platform. Wang found it very difficult to reproduce aproblem to test a reliable solution. That combination was needed tomake the automated fix-it system a reality.

“I almost gave up right there. People kept telling me what I wastrying to do was impossible, Wang said.

The first solution fell into place as he gradually learned to use theInternet as a resource. He and his technicians searched online and gotthe concept started from help offers from the community. But it was not easyto produce the knowledge index that drives PC Fixer.

More Hurdles

The second hurdle Wang faced was how to quickly identify a problem andfix it. One of his partners has a search engine background, which cameto the rescue.

So the partner got the development team thinking along the lines ofusing reverse search. The process asks the typical search question in reverse: Here is what we have, so what do we need?

The third problem was figuring out how to get users. Wang relied onkeyword searches from Google. He struggled with this approach for awhile but eventually got the solutions in place.

Making It Work

The key to PC Fixer was the development of the knowledge capturesystem. Company technicians created a list of expected issues and matchedeach one to a solution.

“It is a knowledge portal for finding the causes,” Wang explained.

Wang set up a lab with a bank of VMWare virtual machines. With thisequipment a team of 10 could compare and track results.

The labor-intensive process led them to create each repair scenarioand test out the solutions. Then they could recreate the task toconfirm it was reliable.

The Clients

Computer users, according to Wang, fall into two categories when it comes to repairbehavior: One type is happy to fix the problemthemselves once they know what to do; the other category wantssomebody else to do it for them.

“The common ground for both types is to capture the problem. That’swhat we do with PC Fixer,” he explained.

He noticed a gap between the two types of users, though. He needed toavoid the pitfalls of other online PC fix models which case them to fail. To do that, he needed to establish users’ trust first. The free service does this, he said.

The Product

Digital Support’s repair solution is based on a remote process that’s designed to simulate having a technician sitting next to you. Wang sees a steadystream of customers moving to the remote option — but he also sometimes sees that people don’t know what to do with it.

Digital Support offers three levels of remote repair help. One is thePC Checkup with PC Fixer. These tools identify the cause of a given problem andapply a preselected automated solution.

A 1 MB agent downloads to the customer’s computer. The program puts the ailingcomputer through what is essentially a doctor’s exam with a checkupdatabase that lists issues. Each issue comes with an explanation and of problems. The customer clicks the Fix button.

More Help

The second level is Assisted Help. This provides a live remote assistant who can diagnose and repair the problem through remote commands. The live help support costs $19.99 per session.

The third level is Check Performance. This relies on history lists. Itshows what has already been done, and what can be undone.

Digital Support does not perform virus removal, solve printerproblems or fix digital devices or server issues, though Wang said the company will add more services gradually.

“Our first step is to just handle Windows issues. We’ll add otherplatforms later. That presents no tech barrier to overcome. Windowshas so many more problems. We wanted to solve that part first. We canuse the same technology on other platforms. That is much easier todo,” said Wang.

Nice Niche

Digital Support has targeted a ripe area of the market, but making it all work may present a struggle.

“The market has been underserved for a long time,” Matt Healey, research manager for IDC, told TechNewsWorld. “The cost for servicewas more than the consumers wanted to pay. It has been spotty at best.Some services do well; some not so well. But this landscape ischanging.”

IDC sees an approaching storm, he said. More companies are going for assisted repair, and many people don’t care to get involved with learning what’s wrong — they just want it fixed, he said.

“Digital Support has an appealing niche. But it still needs to exercise caution. We don’t know what support model is going to take off,” Healey said.

If the market breaks in Digital Support’s direction, the company willbe sitting pretty, but there are a lot of different models vying toget their share. All have significant hurdles, Healey concluded.

6 Comments

  • Should have added to my previous post that the ‘Mac guy’ is pretty much on target.

    I worked on both Mac’s and PC’s some time ago supporting about 500 of each in arranged in small LANs connecting to mainframes for certain tasks.

    As study done for management showed that fully 92% of our time was spent supporting the PC base.

    I love Macs (Disclosure – I worked for Apple for a time.), but when I went out on my own, my business plan had me supporting almost exclusively PCs. I would have starved to death if I focused on Mac support.

    And before someone suggests I should have ‘converted’ my clients if the TCO for PCs is so much higher than Macs… the response is that many of my clients had software requirements that only were available in the PC / Windows environment. (This was before Intel Macs, BootCamp and Parallels.) Most of the rest were locked into PCs by what they used at work or their ‘friends and neighbors’ first level of support.

  • Years ago General Electric’s locomotive division was faced with the pending retirement of their absolute best troubleshooter. They had been trying to train (no pun intended) replacements for years without success. The replacements would reach a high degree of competence, but none ever managed to rise to the ‘hit it right there with your ball peen hammer’ level of instinctual expertise.

    Short story, they proceeded to build one of, if not the first, ‘expert system’ by gathering all the input they could from their guy before he retired and managed to create a ‘rules based’ expert system that very often outperformed the flesh and blood experts.

    There has been a lot of work done on expert systems since then of which ‘Big Blue’ IBM’s chess playing computer is probably one of the most widely known.

    Seems to me that Digital Support is trying to create an ‘expert system’ that is a combination of their expert’s knowledge and using real world input to expand upon this base.

    Computer hardware and software systems can be complex, but they are logical and can be reduced to a set of rules. (Even the neural net systems seem to follow this axiom.)

    So their success will depend upon the number of problems they decide to solve. If they restrict the ‘expertise’ to the most common problems and leave the rarely seen problems to human intervention they stand good odds of successfully creating a cost-effective system.

    Based upon my 40 years in the business, the most cost effective ‘solution’ to the rare problems is very often to reformat the disk and reload and failing that to buy a new computer.

    There was a time when hardware repair down to the component level was cost effective because the hardware cost so much that relatively speaking people time was cheap. (I can recall spending over $6,000 for a 4 kb memory board. It was 15" square and populated with discrete transistors driving ferrite cores.)

    Today I charge $75 per hour for my ‘expertise’ which translates to my clients being better off buying a new computer than paying me to chase a problem for more than 6 hours. Sticky software problems are often best resolved by backing up the data, reformatting the hard drive and reloading the software. Not exactly elegant, but quite practical.

  • For consumers who don’t want such problems, it’s a simple solution: don’t buy a PC with windows in the first place. I switched to the MAC 4 years ago and have never had the need of tech support, viruses or a system crash rendering all data lost. You may pay a bit more for a MAC but in the long run, it’s cheaper and far less traumatic!

  • yeahright, you can’t compare computers and cars like that, only because they both have windows…

    My suggestion to a tech support company like this in terms of funding would be to solicitate it from the maker of the operating system in question; I’m sure it would serve (e.g.) Microsoft a great purpose – great advertising for one, as well as enabling the happy use of their OS to their customers…

  • Computers are very complex but most problems are SW and can be solved remotly by an experienced tech. That is not the case with a car as most of the problems with the car are "hardware" problems – i.e. a broken part that needs to be physically replaced. A tool like this could be valuable if used by someone who know what they are doing. The live support option is the one that will stick if any of them do.

  • I think I’ll call my doctor. I’m having a heart attack, and I wanna see if he can help me over the phone, then I’ll call my mechanic, and let him repair my car remotely. Why is it idiots think a computer, which is more complex than the above, can be fixed with one-click automated solutions. IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY, and if you knew ANYTHING about computers today, BESIDES what you read in the 20 year old books you read to get your worthless degrees, you’d know that.

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