SupportSpace Harnesses Community Experts for 3rd Party Tech Support
I had a fun update call with SupportSpace yesterday, and I am more convinced than ever that this is truly the future for consumer support: neutral third parties. SupportSpace, which offers tech support services for PCs and peripherals for consumers, just had their soft launch with 40 expert agents, and have logged over 1500 support sessions so far.
Here’s how it works. The SupportSpace website shows you their list of experts, including pictures, bios, areas of expertise, and member ratings. You can pick an expert to help with your problem and connect with them immediately using chat, phone and remote control. Alternately, you can select from a list of services, such as PC tuneups, printer connections or a Vista tutorial, then select one of the available experts certified for that service. The service currently is free, but after the official go live later this year, expect to pay somewhere in the ballpark of $40 for each solved problem.
There are of course other companies offering consumer tech support services, such as SupportSoft (Support.com) and Plumchoice. The difference, as I see it, is that these companies “own” their resources, i.e., the agents are employees. SupportSpace’s approach is quite different:
- Agents are not employees; rather, they are community members who are paid a commission for successful resolutions, which allows SupportSpace to recruit experts on very granular hardware and software configurations and packages, and then loop in the experts as needed, including doing collaborative sessions when more than one expert is involved.
- Experts are certified, and only support technology on which they have certified expertise–no annoying generalists who know less about the software or hardware than you do.
- Customers select the expert they wish to use, each expert is rated and reviewed (with reviews avaialble to new customers), and customers can designate experts as their ‘favorite’ and use them exclusively if they wish.
Another interesting thing about SupportSpace is that they developed their own support technology platform, including incident tracking, customer profiles, Web collaboration and remote control. A knoweldgebase and self-service options for customers is on the way. The platform is pure Web services and open source, and discussions are already underway with 3rd party ISVs who want to build connectors or applets on the platform. In another year I won’t be surprised to find a full SupportSpace ecosystem, a la Salesforce’s AppExchange.
Why don’t consumers just call the manufacturer/vendor for support? This is the key takeaway for SSPA members:
- Support isn’t core. It comes down to Geoffrey Moore’s concept of “Core vs. Context:” Many companies have a core competency of building technology, but supporting that technology remains context. A basic tenant of Value Added Support is moving support into core–and many companies have a way to go.
- MVS. I’ve written before about multi-vendor support (MVS), and how 30% of tech support cases involve another vendor’s products. And, these support cases take, on average, 4 times longer to solve. When consumers can’t even isolate who to call for a problem (the PC manufacturer, the OS vendor, the printer manufacturer, or the broadband provider, as an example), and too often receive the runaround from whomever they do call, having a 3rd party expert who will never point fingers sounds pretty good.
- Cost. Without a paid service contract the customer may not be entitled to support, and the cost of a full year’s contract, or a steep per-incident fee, is frightening when the customer isn’t sure the company can solve the problem (refer back to bullets 1 and 2). Paying a 3rd party expert who guarantees to fix the problem for a nominal fee sounds much safer.
Though SupportSpace’s initial target is direct to consumer, I think as technology companies continue to struggle with MVS issues, they will increasingly look to service providers such as SupportSpace to fill the gap. Here’s the mantra I think you’ll hear in the future when calling manufacturers for support: “Oh, it sounds like you are having a conflict with the printer drivers. Hold one second, let me transfer you to our specialists on 3rd party technology…”
Have you used a third party support provider? If so, what were your experiences? Please email me or add a blog comment with your thoughts and questions. Thanks for reading!