Consumers and small-office and home-office (SOHO) workers often buy their computers from online stores or discount warehouses. They often reject add-on support packages at checkout to keep the purchase price low. If the computer breaks within 60 or 90 days, the manufacturer will handle the repairs, they reason.
However, when the initial warranty period expires and the computer misbehaves or malfunctions, who to call for service often becomes a daunting — and costly — challenge. Big companies outsource maintenance and repairs or have an in-house tech staff. Consumers and SOHO/SMB entities are stranded when computer woes strike.
Computer users from the ranks of consumers and SOHO/SMB workers often have few repair choices. They can ship the ailing machine back to its maker and suffer weeks without it. They can take it to an independent repair shop or service center operating out of a national electronics mega-store. A third choice — which is only viable when hardware failure is not the culprit — is to get technical help from a growing number of online and phone-based repair services. Dubbed “remote PC repair centers,” these Internet-based tech support Web sites are fast becoming an oasis for computer users and small companies that lack IT departments.
“Users are becoming more fed-up and less tolerant of being placed on manufacturers’ service center phone lines too long only to receive sub-par treatment. Today’s computer technology is far more complex,” Bob O’Dell, CEO of PCLive.com, told TechNewsWorld. “Users are forced to upgrade to Microsoft Vista and and newer software upgrades, so we are seeing more demand for fast, convenient support.”
Until now, traditional support provided by brand-specific call centers addressed problems with Windows computer and software issues. Few help calls are made for Mac-based computers and computers running a Linux operating system. Thus, brick and mortar shops and their Internet-based counterparts are best able to help Windows PC users, according to industry watchers.
“The large majority of support is in response to Windows service issues. But we are starting to see a growing need for support for Mac-related issues,” O’Dell said. Because more consumers are adopting the Mac OS platform, PCLive.com will add a Mac service division by the middle of 2008, he said.
PCLive provides managed support and security products for individuals and small businesses. The company offers security software and related services with live around-the-clock support with subscriptions starting at $3.95 and $4.95 per month.
Another Web site-based PC repair service, MyComputerWorks.com, sees Windows customers almost exclusively. No significant remote support is available for Linux and Mac issues, according to Luke M. Ford, president of My Computer Works. The company’s technicians remotely connect to customers’ computers from the Web site over an encrypted connection.
“We’ve been in the remote PC repair business for almost three years and have never had a call for solving a Linux problem,” Ford told TechNewsWorld.
However, a need for Linux support may soon be evident as a few computer manufacturers continue to sell PCs outfitted with Linux. This will especially be the case among small business workers who adopt Linux.
“We don’t see service calls for Linux yet. So far, Linux users are supported by fairly knowledgeable user communities,” said O’Dell.
Another reason for a lack of remote service for the Linux platform is its design. Rather than a one-size-fits-all-users approach, different Linux distributions provide too many individual options. In most cases, Linux support is still very specialized and not well suited for the remote repair model.
“Linux, or any Unix-based system, is inherently more customizable than a Windows- or Apple-based system,” explained Matthew Dworkin, a Geek Squad technician working inside a Best Buy store. The Geek Squad provides a combination of in-store repairs and in-home service calls.
However, in theory, with speed and efficiency a remote technician could resolve issues with the Linux system, change configurations and revise some things, noted Dworkin.
Remote Repair Trend
Online support, or remote computer repair, offers consumers the ability to have a computer technician resolve their computer issues across the Internet. There are many companies that offer these services. The biggest differences tend to be in terms of support, hours of operation and price.
A consumer with an ailing computer contacts the repair service either by phone or through the company’s Web site. The companies typically have their own proprietary technology to remotely access the computer. While the consumer sits and watches data and menus flash across the monitor’s screen, the remote technicians resolve the issues.
In most cases the customer can talk to the technician over the phone while the work progresses, asking questions or providing answers. The downside to this type of service is that if the problem involves an inability to connect to the Internet, there is no way for these remote technicians to get in to resolve the problem.
“A lot of people are disenfranchised with the traditional PC support industry. They are looking for a new best-of-breed support option,” Joel Bomgar, CEO of Bomgar, told TechNewsWorld. Bomgar specializes in providing appliance-based desktop support for individual remote PC repair services.
That dissatisfaction is paving the way for alternative support options. Bomgar’s appliance, for example, allows remote PC repair providers to switch callers’ service problems to an affiliated repair technician who handles Windows, Linux or Mac repair issues. This provides consumers and small-business computer users with a sense of one-stop shopping for their computer repair needs.
A newcomer to the remote repair industry is Support.com, operated by SupportSoft. Its target customers are the nearly three out of four computer users who say they resort to consulting family, friends or coworkers when something goes wrong.
Support.com remotely diagnoses and resolves problems without requiring consumers to take their computers to a store or ship them to the manufacturer. The remote repair service also eliminates the hassle of having repair technicians enter the consumer’s homes, according to company officials.
“SupportSoft is introducing Support.com to give consumers a better way to resolve their technology issues quickly,” said Josh Pickus, CEO of SupportSoft.
Support.com provides a free estimate of the cost of solving a consumer’s computer problem. Typical repairs range in price from $29 to $99. If a Support.com technician fails to resolve the problem, the customer can receive a refund. In addition, the consumer can call back with questions about the service provided for follow-up advice at no additional cost.
Computer super store-based repair shops like the Geek Squad can provide consumers and SOHO customers a combination of local repair service and on-site repairs. Often, this can provide the missing link to strictly remote-only diagnosis and repair and manufacturers’ mail-in repair solutions.
Geek Squad technicians, called “double agents,” do just that. They work in the repair shop inside Best Buy stores and travel to customers’ homes to provide repair service and support on site. Geek Squad also offers phone support with technicians available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
This combination gives consumers a way to get both hardware and software issues resolved conveniently. Prices vary depending on the type of service needed and the complexity of the repairs.
For example, GeekSquad.com offers services ranging from a diagnostic for $49 to a full advanced diagnostic and repair for $229.